The King is Dead, Long Live the King

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Gentlemen’s Quarterly UK translated some interesting excerpts from newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron’s book Macron Par Marcon (Macron by Macron)

“Democracy is always presented as if it were incomplete, because democracy is not enough by itself,” says Macron, elaborating that there is always something missing in the democratic process; some sort of void.

“In French politics, this absence is the presence of a King, a King whom, fundamentally, I don’t think the French people wanted dead,” said Macron. “The Revolution dug a deep emotional abyss, one that was imaginary and shared: the King is no more!” According to Macron, since the Revolution France has tried to fill this void, most notably with Napoleon and then Charles de Gaulle, which was only partially successful. “The rest of the time,” said Macron, “French democracy does not manage to fill this void.”

French Democracy is not alone in failing to fill this void. From Homer’s Iliad to the Eighteenth Century, the Occident had a nuanced understanding of leadership: the Rex/Dux partnership. Rex is Latin for King, and Dux is Latin for leader, in particular “War Leader”. Think Agamemnon/Achilles, Arthur/Lancelot, Charlemagne/Roland. But from the regicide of the French Revolution, through the toppling of monarchies after World War I, the West has conflated the role of Rex and the role of Dux in the term “leadership”.

While a Dux accomplishes tasks, implements strategies, the Rex creates the vision, creates the strategy and the milieu within which the Dux operates. The brilliant Lancelot needs an Arthur. As Hans Herman-Hoppe points out in Democracy: The God that Failed, monarchs see the nation as their private property and tend towards prudence in state affairs in order to pass or their property to their heirs. In Arthurian legend, “the land and the king are one.” In other words, the telos of the monarch is to maximize the potential of the land. When the king rules with justice, the land and the people flourish.

In the Iliad Agamemnon is neither the greatest warrior (Achilles is), nor the most cunning (Odysseus is), but he has the most to lose. He organized the expedition to rescue Helen and committed the most personal wealth. Every warrior in the Iliad can become a hero, remembered forever for his exploits on the battlefield no matter if he or his side wins or loses in the end. Except Agamemnon.

The telos for each warrior is excellence in battle, the telos for king Agamemnon is the success of the whole enterprise. His heroic name will be remembered only if his men succeed. The most important thing that Agamemnon has to learn to do is sublimate his personal will and desire to the will of his men and the goal of the whole expedition. He may be the first monarch in history who has to build consensus. He creates and protects the space for others to operate at their highest level. Here, will of the people and will of the king must become one.

Macron’s insights are important. Democracy is not enough. Democratic republics elect temporary caretakers of the nation, whose vision often extends no farther than the next election cycle. As Hoppe points out, temporary caretakers tend to deplete the wealth of the nation to win short-term political victories, whereas monarchs seek to increase the wealth of the nation, the Commonwealth.

This caretaker/owner problem also exists in business, similar to the principal/agent problem. Modern corporate governance has been notoriously short term in pursuit of quarterly returns. The conflation of Rex and Dux into “leadership” literature and training negates the mutually beneficial roles. It leads to emphasis on task-accomplishment even when bereft of vision and negates the Regal check on Ducal charisma and ambition.

Work is one of the ways that we participate in God’s creation, the second-most enjoyable way to procreate. A monarchic vision of the sovereign space of work enlarges the timeline and allows for work to become craft, allows for more creativity, for more learning and innovation, instead of work being a series of tasks to be accomplished before play time.

The longest, continuously-running organization in the West is the Roman Catholic Church. Like Agamemnon, St. Peter was neither the most brilliant nor the strongest. G.K. Chesterton describes the moment when Christ chose Peter:

“When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward — in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.” -Heretics

The kings may never return, but we should encourage leaders to disentangle the two roles of Rex and Dux, to develop a monarchic temperament both to create the long term sustainable space for doing work well, as well as the milieu within which task accomplishment is tied to a bigger picture of human excellence. The land and the king are one. The people and the king are one.  The land and the people are one.

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