Owen Samra -- Monarchy

Here is an essay on Monarchy by Owen Samra:

Unit 5: Political Revolutions and Governance Essay

Many different types of governments have been used over the course of history. As the world has evolved, many countries have started to use a democratic system-but the old standard, in places like France and Haiti, were monarchical systems. This is a system run by a family, or monarchy, who continue to rule over a long period of time - anyone in the family can become the ruler when their former dies. While this could lead to a stable government without too many major shifts, it can also create disparity, as one family ruling can lead to one opinion and political idea ruling. This creates an unfair system which can easily hurt the population, as it did to the people living in France and Haiti. Therefore, monarchy can help us understand the French and Haitian revolutions by giving us context on how the people of those nations were ruled.

The monarchical system of government has been around since 9000 B.C. when people started settling into permanent civilizations and started farming. These civilizations found that they were in need of a leader, and eventually this evolved into the monarchical system. These systems were good things, as Thomas Hobbes notes in his work, The Leviathan. He says, “Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man. … In such condition there is no place for… knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In this quote, Hobbes demonstrates how settled societies are necessary because they create order and prosperity. He then continues to talk about his own opinions on monarchy-that one king or ruling family is needed because multiple people having a lot of power can be dangerous. Although this is just Hobbes’ opinion, we can use it to show how monarchy can be a volatile system. He even says that all citizens should: “authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, [the king] or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner.” Obviously, one person ruling can be catastrophic: if that person makes a bad decision, no one can change it because, like Hobbes said, they have given up their rights to that leader. This concept can help us understand revolts against monarchical systems because it shows why people would be upset under that type of government. Often, what Hobbes says citizens need to do: give up their rights: doesn't even happen as someone could be born into a monarchical society where they cannot govern themselves in any way and don’t have any control over that fact.

Monarchy was a large part of why the French Revolution happened. People were unhappy because the monarchical system didn’t provide them with what they needed. France had a lot of problems in the 18th century. The monarchy’s treasury was about to go bankrupt and in addition to that, taxes were raised for the French citizens. Many people were unhappy with this change, especially wealthy citizens. The king, Louis XVI, instated an old system that split the people into three groups: the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. Representatives from these groups formed a national assembly, however, they turned against the king and wrote the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen’. This declaration reinstated the rights that people had, which they felt were being taken away by the monarchy, and this started an entire revolution as people realized that they were being treated unfairly. As the French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, it was “‘manifestly contrary to the law of nature… that a handful of people should gorge themselves with superfluities while the hungry multitude goes in want of necessities’”. The way the French government was running the country was completely unfair. They literally let people starve while everyone in the monarchy indulged in whatever they wanted. Understandably, the French citizens revolted against the king and the monarchial government. We can also connect the monarchy and the problem - those problems happened because of the monarchial government. In a system like the one in France, there is only one opinion being demonstrated through the law. This leads to less variety in a government. And especially if that government starts doing a bad thing, they will continue it because they don't have any opposition. This leads to a cycle of unjust law and keeps poorer people from getting out of poverty. In a different type of government, there may have not been a revolt because of the government changing hands. This shows how monarchy started the French revolution.

The revolution in Haiti was also caused by a monarchy, however, this monarchy was spread out across the ocean from France to Haiti. The revolution in Haiti was not only a revolution against slavery, but one against France and the other countries that had a part of enslaving people in Haiti. Haiti, then known as Saint Domingue, was one of the richest colonies in the world-but that money wasn’t close at all to being spread out evenly. 500,000 people had been enslaved on Saint Domingue by the French, and they were held in horrible conditions and were forced to work to their death. However, much like the French nobility and the commoners, only the nobility, in Haiti this would be white people and enslavers, got money and riches. Because of this unfair system, the enslaved people of Saint Domingue started a rebellion. It ended up being one of the only successful slave revolts in history. “It was a symbolic break with Europe... On January 1, 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the new country’s first head of state, declared, ‘I have given the french cannibals blood for blood; I have avenged America’” Although the people of Haiti freed from slavery, they were freed from something else too - European control. The French colonies had all been greatly controlled by France all the way from Europe. This type of control was even like a monarchical system in the way that people in Haiti couldn’t change the government-they were literally too far away from France to do so. In return, the Haitian people separated themselves from Europe as we saw in the above quote, and started their own fair government. This shows how monarchy affected the Haitian revolution.

As we have seen, monarchy has had a largely negative impact on Haiti and France. Those two countries aren’t currently under a monarchy, however there are still some countries that are. Saudi Arabia and Oman currently have a king/sultan, and there are many other countries that have a split system - for example, Britain has the Parliament but still recognizes the Royal Family. We now need to consider if a monarchy is still/ever was a good system of government, or maybe that it is a good idea. In John K. Thornton’s work, “I Am the Subject of the King of Congo”, he explains that many former kings in Kongo were good: “Modern anthropologists recognize the widespread central African image of the blacksmith as a conciliatory figure who resolves conflict and is gentle, generous, and unselfish.” He also explains that these kings were successful and their ideas spread all the way to places like Haiti, then called Saint Domingue. So, we can conclude that not all monarchies, like the ones in France and Haiti, were bad. In general, this happens with every form of government-sometimes it depends on the leader(s) and not the form of government. However, a monarchical system seems like it is too easy to abuse-giving one person all the power can easily lead to corruption like it did with King Louis XVI in France. We can use this knowledge to understand other governments too though. As humans, we naturally want power. When someone has too much power, oftentimes they begin to misuse it. In any system of government, no matter if it is a monarchy, one person should not have all the power.