This post is probably quite unnecessary, since most everyone these days takes it for granted that of course democracy is better than hereditary monarchy, but I nevertheless want to balance my earlier post on this subject with one looking at the relative advantages of democracy over monarchy — again focusing on the mechanism of succession and its consequences.
As before, I will be using king in a generic sense which includes queens, presidents, etc.
The king’s blood relatives are his natural allies. Those who stand a chance of becoming king themselves should anything happen to the reigning king are his natural enemies. The system of hereditary monarchy so arranges things that these two groups of people are identical; it intentionally pits family loyalty against ambition.
In my previous post, I emphasized the positive side of this — how family loyalty can put a check on the ambitions of potential heirs, thereby strengthening the polity by reducing the number of people who actively seek the king’s downfall.
The other side of this coin is that sometimes ambition wins the struggle against family loyalty, turning potential heirs against their own flesh and blood — and then these unnatural monsters come to power, a distinctly unlikely development in a democracy. Democracy produces Nixons and Hitlers aplenty, but only hereditary monarchy can father forth a Nero.
Another point in favor of democracy is that mass elections do tend to ensure that kings meet certain very basic standards of competence and normality. Of course many democratically elected leaders are scoundrels, and some of them are relatively incompetent — but I feel pretty safe in saying that the U.S. has never elected a president with a two-digit IQ and never will. Nor do 12-year-olds win elections, or people with serious mental illnesses. Under the hereditary system, though, all of these things are possible — and, given enough time, inevitable.
Is there anything in politics more tragic than Marcus Aurelius — who, reign he never so brilliantly, was helpless to escape his fate of being succeeded by Commodus? It wouldn’t have happened in a democracy.
In the end, hereditary monarchy makes the same mistake as democracy: it tries to eliminate the need for human choice and human responsibility by having the king chosen automatically by an algorithm. A fundamental rule of politics ought to be no important decisions made by algorithms, all important decisions made by individuals. It can be helpful to take into account such things as family relationships, the voice of the populace, etc. — but no such consideration ought to be allowed to become “automatic,” to make the decision by itself without the mediation of an actual human being.