As I scan the lineup of usual suspects for the upcoming presidential election, I experience a growing desire for something that should profoundly perturb the libertarian within me.
There are times when I would rather be ruled by an old fashioned warrior king instead of a president.
No, I’m not pinning for the “good ol’ days.” It’s a matter of choosing between two non-consensual rulers. Preferring a punch to the face instead of the groin doesn’t infer that you enjoy being punched at all.
What it boils down to is this:
- I’d rather be ruled by someone who’s got grit.
- I’d rather be ruled by someone who doesn’t carry on as though I consented to their rule.
I can’t speak for others, but when I see the president, or any high public official, traveling under high escort, surrounded by a paramilitary of body guards as befitting the paranoid mindset of our allegedly democratic government, I can’t help but wonder how pitiful it would seem to ancient warrior chieftains like Vercingetorix. Naturally, they had their escorts. Among Anglo-Saxons, the housecarls took blood oaths to defend their leader to the death. But these kings could fight on their own. Try to imagine Obama or one of the Republican leaders fending off attackers in hand to hand combat. The sight would be gloriously amusingly, but also embarrassing.
Until relatively recent times, a ruler was seldom an armchair commander. If he were expected to maintain their place on the throne, he would personally lead his men in battle. He wouldn’t sit in a nice office three thousand miles away, wearing a three piece suit as he makes a short phone call that results in the destruction of an enemy force.
No, a warrior king would charge himself or, in the case of Constantine XI, make a final stand and die in front of the gates of the city that bore his name. If D.C. were to fall to invaders, how many political leaders would go down fighting?
The differences between kings and presidents today may seem technical, as kings of old were not separate in their conduct. Like today’s politicians, they were often notoriously immoral, kept a harem of concubines, saw violence as the first solution to problems, and used treachery to defeat enemies.
Yet, they weren’t cowards in the sense we understand it today. If you were going to be a king, you had to possess certain kind of courage and decisiveness, because to fail usually ended in having your head lopped off.
At the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror personally led his Norman troops against the Anglo-Saxons; they too were led by their king, Hard Godwinson, who fought to the death. Richard the Lionheart, as his name suggests, was famous for his bravery in battle, which is also how he died.
And then there’s Julius Caesar. Led a brilliant siege at Alesia against the Gauls, charged into the fray when the ranks were breaking. Wrote incredible literary works, had oratorical skills matched only by Cicero (when was the last time you read the works of a recent politician, besides perhaps Ron Paul, and found it engrossing?)
A butcher Caesar was, no doubt, but if I have to choose, I’ll pick the competent butcher whose capacities and abilities demand fearful respect over the sniveling puppet on a string who considers it bravery to order a drone strike on a Third World village from the Oval Office but sends out a minion to face a barrage of questions by reporters about the morality of such an act.
It’s easy to imagine a president ordering troops to fight. It’s impossible to think of him actually fighting himself. Not out of practicality but cowardice. They don’t believe in it enough to die for it.
Again, these rulers of old were not morally superior to our current crop, but there is something to be said about a man who will risk his own life for his claim to ruling over a territory. I find the blunt honesty of the approach more tolerable than the sneaky, back-scratching to back-stabbing, back-room political scene that plays out in D.C. This certainly went on in palaces and castles, but at the end of the day physical confrontation was always possible.
Today, rather than charge a battlefield and defy death and defeat to gain the highest title, candidates earn their claim to the modern throne by placating milquetoast men and swooning single mothers. During debates they are asked questions insulting to anyone above the mentally retarded, only to offer pandering answers in order to appeal to a certain demographic so easily placated by bread-and-circus tactics.
If you’re going to be a despot, spare us the shameful spectacle of groveling to those whom you intend to oppress (and, yes, I realize there were plenty of pathetically inept, weak kings throughout history).
Which leads me to the next thing that makes a king – at least Post-Reformation kind that ruled by divine right – more preferable; there is no illusion of consent. I have no more control over who is elected president than if he were appointed by primogenitor. The only difference is the honesty of the situation which, if you think about it, matters when it comes to your mental sanity.
Of course, one can say “he is your king,” as they were wont to do when trying “traitors,” but they can’t say “you consented to his rule when you voted.” As King Arthur noted in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you don’t vote for kings (whether strange women lying ponds distributing swords is the best basis for a system of government is another matter).
John Locke demolished the concept of the divine right of kings in his treatise, but there is one silver lining to such a belief; it doesn’t insult the intelligence of the subjugated by insisting that they consented to the king’s rule even as they take up arms against him. I find the honesty of the position more refreshing than the incessant projection by modern statists that I consented even as I scream “I do not consent!”
Then again, maybe it’s not so much the idea of the presidency itself I dislike as the quality of the men we have as president, a reflection of our current state of affairs. Candidates today tend to come from the upper class, groomed and prepared for a life living off of taxpayers. They’re educated in Ivy League schools, but nevertheless their beliefs are fraught with a poor understanding of history and the failures of government. Charlemagne, an illiterate who died trying to learn how to read, had a better grasp of what constituted a real education.
They aren’t leaders in the sense that people naturally follow them because they are going somewhere; usually, they go wherever they are told by campaign managers and public relation specialists. Their forced mannerisms and superficial demeanor give off a Stepford Wives aura, the sense that no matter who we vote for, they are the Manchurian Candidate.
Compare this to Andrew Jackson, his politics notwithstanding; fought in the Revolutionary War, face and hand slashed by a British officer for refusing to polish his boots. Personally led a ragtag collection of Frenchmen, Americans, Indians and pirates against the British at the Battle of New Orleans, then fought in the Creek War. Rather than fake outrage when insulted or libeled, he challenged men to duels; during one of them, he was shot three inches from the heart and still managed to not only remain standing but kill his opponent.
Teddy Roosevelt was a terrible president, but only a real man gives a speech after being shot in the chest by a would-be assassin. Ran a ranch, left his cushy post in the Navy to charge up the San Juan Hill in Cuba. He’d never get my vote, but he would earn my admiration.
A hundred and fifty years ago, our presidents were typically self-made men. Even Teddy, born into wealth, had to earn his strength after being born sickly and frail. As detestable as the politics of Lincoln were, he started out dirt poor and self-taught himself into becoming a lawyer. Yes, I understand some presidents, like Clinton, grew up poor, but poverty in 1809 and poverty in 1940 are not comparable.
They also weren’t stupid. Ulysses S. Grant was by no means a scholar or writer, but his autobiography was well written. Lincoln, again, wrote his own speeches which, in terms of rhetoric, are far superior to the pandering messages aimed at our modern day subspecies of Boobus Americanus. It takes a strong command of the English language to write something like Gettysburg Address, a wonderful piece of political prose that describes the opposite of what actually happened.
I tire of the pretending. We pretend that we, the individual, are important in the selection of a president. The whim of a few political party bosses constitutes a greater influence. Most of the time, people voice their opinion at the ballot box when there are just two choices, both of whom selected because they remained within the paradigm of allowable political opinion.
Imagine if a man were to dress himself up in military attire, have a crown put upon his head, and march out in pomp and circumstance with a weapon in hand and a banner unfurled as he makes his way to D.C., proclaiming himself king by divine right. Though he doesn’t stand the chance of a cockroach in broad daylight, he possesses the fortitude and courage to fight for that rule and die if need be.
I would obviously not cheer him on. But if I have to choose, as we’ve so often told, between the lesser of two evils, that sort of imposed ruler would be preferable to what’s being offered to us now.
I’d say it can’t get any worse, but that’s usually when it does.