Saturday 1 October 2016

The Sleeping King

'The Kingdom of Heaven lies within'. Endless repetition might have dulled our senses somewhat to the significance of this phrase, so it's worth re-iterating that in the last analysis all things of value lie within the human heart and imagination. This isn't to imply that there is only the human heart and imagination. Far from it. The inner and outer interlink and dovetail together, a prime example being our latent sense of Royalty, this intangible but seemingly inbuilt human awareness of a Royal principle at work through the vicissitudes of the historical record.

Monarchy, seen in this light, is a natural and organic form of government, understood intuitively by individuals from widely varying backgrounds and levels of intelligence. Legitimacy is conferred from above (the Divine) rather than below (the people), but Monarchy remains part of the natural order and stands at a  substantial remove from random and artificial systems of government imposed on pliant, submissive populations. The Monarch is a symbol of his or her people's liberty - a guarantor of freedom of conscience and speech - existing not so much to rule as to serve. This Christological function finds expression in, among other places, the tales of King Arthur and his Knights, where we find a body of lore and a central mythological motif common throughout Europe and beyond - that of the Sleeping King, destined to wake at his country's hour of need.

The hold of Monarchy on the human imagination is markedly weaker today than at any time in the past. Since the Reformation and Renaissance, the focus and dynamism of the West has revolved around the external world, to the detriment of the inner milieu that animated Medieval mystics such as Julian of Norwich and inspired the construction of the great cathedrals of Canterbury, Wells, York, Durham, etc. Society has been de-sacralised and rationalised to such a degree since that it has become increasingly difficult for supra-rational concepts like Monarchy and religious mysticism to gain any degree of purchase in the contemporary imagination.

This link between Divinity and Royalty is a crucial one. In a well-ordered polity the Sovereign acts as God's regent; so when, for example, the Medieval French kings abrogated power from the Pope, they unwittingly undermined their own legitimacy and raison d'etre. Their lust for hegemony only succeeded in tipping the balance of the natural order askew and sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

Once this natural harmony is thrown out of kilter it becomes very hard to restore the balance. The French Revolution and the bloodbath which followed are suitable illustrations of the chaos which results from a shaken hierarchy. In the 1790s, however, matters had not yet descended to such a pass that the situation was wholly irretrievable, and Napoleon's more or less principled autocracy restored a little of the equilibrium and saved France from unmasked brutaliy. But by 1917 the world had been de-spiritualised to such an extent that the fall from revolution to tyranny was able to take place largely unimpeded. A semi-Arthurian figure like Bonaparte would have been unable to make an impression on post-1917 Russia simply because he belonged to a different era where the Royal principle still commanded a central (if somewhat diminished) position in hearts and minds.

C.S. Lewis famously remarked that 'one can tell the extent to which a man's tap root to Eden remains intact by his attitude to Monarchy.' Inner and outer harmony begin to disintegrate when this tap root, this intangible and utterly mysterious quality, is weakened and subsequently severed. If Man - the microcosm - falls into step with natural hierarchical patterns, then the outer world - the macrocosm - flows likewise in a harmonious fashion. The human heart is the point where microcosm and macrocosm meet, and it is here that the future of Monarchy - our own future as free and independent persons, in other words - will be decided. The heart is the throne of the Sleeping King. We will flounder and struggle to restore kudos and depth of meaning to Royalty in the outer world unless we come to acknowledge this Royal aspect within.

It will be a stiff task. Ours an obtuse, chatter-filled, technologically-driven age, where talk of 'hidden kings' and suchlike will inevitably appear obscure and inaccessible. Nonetheless, the responsibility and challenge is ours to start setting a creative, imaginative agenda, through our thoughts, words and deeds. There are forces arraigned against us, powers of iron and stone, seeking to rob us of vision, reducing us to impotent cogs in a vast collective machine or, failing that, to mindless, zombified consumers, the hungry ghosts of Buddhist iconography. 

It isn't good enough. Not for ourselves - the inheritors of Arthur and inhabitants of his holy realm. We are more, much more, than economic units shuffling around like atoms in some demented free-market disco. Our lives are more, much more, than a shapeless, rough and tumble scramble for comfort and security. Life is, or ought to be, an adventure, an exercise in nobility, and the traditional job of Monarchy is to serve as role-model and exemplar in that respect. 

As for us - as for the future - well, Restoration starts from within, with a heightening in our level of consciousness and a deepening of our perception. Our task, our mythological function and responsibilty, is a twenty-first century quest for the Golden Fleece - to unveil the Monarch within and awaken the Sleeping King.


Bruce Charlton said...


This is a thought provoking post. I thin kyou are correct about monarchy, but I also thnk that there is a bottom up aspect to the relationship between a monarch and the people; so that the people can, do and should hold their King or Queen to account if he or she fails to rule them in sibordination to God's will. Of course, this can only happen when the people are united in a common religion.

The conditions for a proper monarchy are actually rare - typically the good monarchs are just one reign, for one reason or another. I suspect one of the greatest monarchies was the Ancient Egyptian - there seems to have been an unique harmony and spiritual to that civilisation. Byzantium was the nearest Christian equivalent - but there was a great deal more conflict.

In particular, it seems to me that, overall, *hereditary* monarchy with a rule of succession based on relatedness either does not work, or else is too weak a principle to vercome the problems that beset it. While an element of heredity is valuable, there most be a larger context to which the monarchs themselves conform.

The question is whether this kind of monarchy is also our destined future - and here I think probably not. I think this was probably a cultural and spiritual phase which we have left behind (this is the view argued by Jeremy Naydler).

Whatever is the future form of government (clearly the current Western 'democracy'-media non-system is comprehensively self-destroying and will kill any society that tadheres to it) must come after a spiritual awakening; a good King can only come by divine appointment to a people who welcome him in their hearts - he cannot be imposed upon them. At present the Western peple's would fight against a wise and just King.

We should not forget Queens - since although they are rare, they seem to have been especially influential, and beloevd, in England's history - Elizabeth 1 and Queen Anne were both greatly loved, although only Elizabeth was a real ruler, Anne apparently made some key decisions which decisively changed the history of Britain.

Anonymous said...

An interesting feature of Byzantium (so I have read) was the theoretical continuity of the priority of SPQR - which occasionally came into action in practice (as it had, to a certain extent, in the expulsion of Nero). (It is curious to think that St. Paul seems to have been a part of the PR of that SPQR, as Our Lord was not.) With the development of interest in Roman Law in the west, this became an important political-philosophical 'matter', the relation of (especially) the P to 'sovereignty'.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - In passing - The Eastern (at least Russian) Orthodox view is that the continuity of the Roman Polity, constitution (= SPQR) ended with the Communist revolutions of 1917, and especially the martyrdom of Nicholas II; although it could be restored (Fr Seraphim Rose believed that this Restoration had been prophesied - although that does not make it inevitable).

Anonymous said...

Interesting! I don't think I've ever heard that - and somehow never tried to think about it as possibility or whatever! I like the way (some) Orthodox Churches can still function as in Patristic times, just choosing someone in need to call to Holy Orders on a parish level - but I wonder how the Patriarchate of Constantinople might be related to the Roman Polity via (curiously!) the way the Ottomans regarded the 'Rum millet'? And, come to think of it, what, I wonder, of the Republic of Venice (up till 1797, was it)? I suppose my own thought is that the paradigm can be enacted such that, e.g., the Republic of the U.S. enacted - and in some sense still enacts - a version of SPQ.

David Llewellyn Dodds