Monday, April 24, 2006

A bad argument for (hereditary) Monarchy

Deogolwulf’s train of thought is this: Typically, in a (hereditary) monarchy, the person who gains power didn't seek that power. In a non-monarchical republic or democracy, the ruler is usually someone who did. So, the hereditary monarchical method is likelier to produce a good ruler than the non-hereditary monarchical. What is common to those who seek power is a desire for power, whether as a means or as an end. So, the crucial premiss, which one rather has to winkle out, is something like this: All else being equal, a person who desires power is less likely to use it well (if he gets it) than one who doesn’t.

I maintain that the premiss is false as it stands, and that it is, anyway, irrelevant to the argument for monarchy.

Some preliminaries: It isn’t true that heredity ensures that the monarch is someone who didn’t seek power. History abounds in examples of the hereditary principle abused and manipulated by those who most certainly desired power. Second, it isn’t true that only hereditary monarchies have rulers who did not seek office. Late 5th century Athenian democrats chose the members of their executive council (the boule) by lot; every man over 30 was eligible.

To show that Deogol’s premiss is false, I need to show that its negation is true. I’ve already given some argument for that, but suppose I try to show that David Duff's rebuttals don’t overturn my argument.

David first argues as follows: Most people do not desire political power; in fact, most people view politics with feelings that range from utter boredom to complete detestation. Therefore, the odds on a hereditary ruler actually wanting the job are fairly small.

Even if one grants the premiss, the conclusion doesn’t follow, because the argument is an instance of the fallacy of division : from the fact that most members of a class share some property, it doesn’t follow that most members of a subclass of that class share that property. After all, most animals cannot speak, but it doesn’t follow that most humans cannot. From the fact (if it is a fact) that most people do not desire political power, it doesn’t follow that a hereditary ruler doesn’t desire political power. It would help if David pointed to some fact about people that accounted for their supposed indifference and aversion to power, and then showed that that fact was just as well-distributed in the class of hereditary monarchs.

Second, David's argument, if true, proves too much. If one believes that most people do not desire political power, and that those who do not desire political power are likelier to exercise it responsibly than those who do; then isn’t the most reasonable course of action to randomly choose one’s ruler from the class of most people? But that isn’t really compatible with hereditary monarchy.

David’s second argument: The likelihood of A being responsible in the use of power depends on his character, a deep desire for political power is already an indication of a character fault, so it’s not the case that the person who desires power is likelier to be responsible in its use than the person who is indifferent to power.

First, I deny the second premiss. That A desires political power is insufficient to establish that A’s character is flawed. Commonsense suggests that one judge A's desire for power only after one has inquired into the motives for that desire.

Second, I was careful to include a ceteris paribus clause in my (original) argument from commonsense. That argument proceeds thus: take two people, A with a desire for X, and B who is indifferent to X. Assume that all else is equal between them. Commonsense suggests that A is likeliest to be responsible in the use of X if his desire is satisfied. This is only to be expected, since what one desires is valuable to one, and one is likely to be responsible in the use of what one considers valuable. My argument isn’t refuted by the suggestion that a desire for political power is in itself a character flaw. For that is false. Even if it were true that a desire for political power is a character flaw, the ceteris paribus clause absorbs its force: A and B are now equally flawed in character, but it’s still true that the one who desires X is likelier to use X responsibly when his desire for X is satisfied.

Let me now try to show why Deogol’s premiss is irrelevant to the argument.

Suppose it is true that those who do not desire power are likeliest to be responsible in its use. So we need a method of choosing a ruler which maximises the chance of the ruler being indifferent to power. The most reasonable way of doing so is to choose a ruler at random from the class of all adult members of the population, à la the ancient Athenians. No hereditary monarchist ever accepts this consequence of his position. Indeed, the hereditary monarchist confines the class of eligibles to that of (usually male) people related to some arbitrarily chosen person. All of which suggests that the power-indifference premiss isn’t what is doing the real work in the monarchist argument, hence its irrelevance.

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