We are not all Republicans now. The American civil war of 1775-1781 did not abolish human nature, particularly the imaginative faculty of the mass mind which invests a mere human family with the charismatic attraction of a dynasty. Thus, at its worst, the American public exalts a tribe of ambitious bootleggers, the Kennedys, to quasi-royal status. At its best, it finds a genuine royal family, the British, irresistible. First Lady Betty Ford naïvely manifested a typically American attitude when she unintentionally slighted some other nation’s sovereign by referring, before the press, to HM Elizabeth II as ‘the real queen.’ By its Windsorite fervor, of course, America not only reveals its psychological need for a monarchy but also bows to the nation that is the source of its heritage.
Yet, in addition to this phenomenon of unconscious monarchism, there is also a conscious sort. Avowed American monarchists comprise a small élite; they are more or less serious, more or less alienated, sometimes British loyalists by descent or by sentiment, more often champions of all dynasties, though with a legitimist bias—Jacobites, blancs d’Espagne, Carlists. Apparent strangers in their own land, it is a bit difficult for them to find something to do on the Fourth of July, that principal feast of the American civil religion; obligingly, however, many American orchestras, ensconced in their outdoor summer havens, will play ‘Wellington’s Victory’ or the ‘1812 Overture’ on that day, hoping to make sufficient noise to exorcise evil spirits—a more intelligible superstition than the superstition of democracy. Few besides the American monarchist will be conscious of the composers’ intent to celebrate the triumph of monarchy.
The manifestations of America’s founding myth irritate but do not intimidate its indigenous royalists; the inner contradictions of that myth emotionally repatriate them. The constitution which virtually froze the eighteenth-century British system in the form of an elective monarchy (which faces a quadrennial crisis of dynastic extinction) reverberates with echoes of its original that belie the republican symbolism of the capital’s neoclassical architecture; as when Richard Nixon excused himself from the charge of obstruction of justice on grounds that ‘the sovereign is above the law.’
Unless he is just an over-sentimental student of history (and there is an urge to follow an antique drum—the Young Pretender’s, for example), the American monarchist is an alienated man. Now there are several kinds of alienation, and when they are all rated against the standard of magnanimity, some are rather grand, some inconsequential, others pathological. The political faiths of modernity comprise no small part of the absurdity of contemporary life as the monarchist perceives it; existential monarchism could indeed be the consequence of Christian existentialism. There is the tsarism of the once-radical Dostoevsky to consider, also the non-resistance doctrine of the Non-Jurors in the face of an anti-Anglican king, and, in the realm of ecclesiastical monarchy, the ultramontane infallibilism of the ultra-royalist Joseph de Maistre, whose Pope had made peace with the regicide republic. The spiritually circumscribed ‘mathematical’ mind of the Enlightenment liberal cannot accept such contradictions. Indeed, the American monarchists who are in the best position to be taken seriously are deeply Christian, and by force of will they have made sense of life as they found it without moving one inch geographically. Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.