Kings and dynasties seemed to be buried and forgotten when two recent events revived interest in them. On a frivolous but historically significant level, it was the series of scandals of the House of Windsor that brought Europe’s ruling families brutally in the limelight. The general trend of desacralization is voracious for frequent feeding, and when prelates supply their share of scandals, inevitably the princes join. Who can indulge in more sex and divorce, play hide-and-seek with cameramen any better, and make more shocking declarations to the press?
The other recent event was more serious and significant. When the Berlin Wall fell, near and remote candidates to the vacant thrones of Europe knocked with an unseemly haste at their respective country’s door, arguing that the orphaned nations would eagerly turn to them; after all, they had not been involved in the events of the past 40 years or more. The other royal argument was that ex-kings and new pretenders stood above the turmoil, were thus impartial, forgave all the recent actors—that they had learned much about democracy while in Western exile. They would, of course, point to the one restored royal democracy, Juan Carlos in Spain, forgetting that not popular will but a dictator had put the youngster back in power; they would also point to the permanent kingly and queenly stalwarts in Belgium, Holland, and Scandinavia. As if the position of a king of Greece, let’s say, were comparable to the one in Denmark! The quest for kingship shows, however, that kings, sacralized rulers, are never totally anachronistic, as thousands of years of a universal tradition testify. Let me quote just one, by Hugues de Saint-Victor (1141): “Spiritual power has the vocation to institute the worldly power. . . . Royal power is established by the priests on command by God.” Here, among others, is the root of the “Throne’s and Altar’s alliance.”
The search of ex-kings for their missing throne came to my closer attention as West European acquaintances asked me insistently whether Hungarians wanted Otto von Habsburg back, and what about Mihail’s chances in Rumania, Boris’s in Bulgaria, Leka’s in Albania, and Peter’s in Yugoslavia? I answered “No chance”; except for a nostalgic mini-minority, these nations are not interested in a restoration; neither are their tutelary great powers, nor the Mafias, the democrats, the liberals, the reactionaries, the fishers in murky waters. Each has its reasons. Restoration seems passé. The only country where it is at least imaginable and conceivable is France. Not the Romanovs in Russia, not the Braganca in Portugal or Brazil, but the Orleans in France. Who are they?
Believe it or not, at least 20 percent of the French population would accept a restoration, and another 10 percent would jump on the royalist bandwagon if faced with a fait accompli. One-third of the electorate is nothing to sneer at in a democracy—and France has never been a true, heart-and-blood democracy. Rebellious, often revolutionary, yes; democratic, no. And consider the additional fact that at least 50 percent of the electorate who even drag themselves to the ballot box do so only by routine, in reality bored by the cult of human rights and the democratic process. In short, a prince of the royal house as president of the republic would find a friendly terrain; after all, it has happened before, in 1851, and the result was not too bad: Napoleon III. Louis Bonaparte started as a prince-president and became an emperor. This was still possible with memories of his uncle. But such a coup under the present circumstances is not likely.
On the other hand, the French political class today is incredibly corrupt and, worse, bored. De Gaulle, a General-President (hyphenated heads of state are not a drawback in France), was forgiven for his monumental sins and errors because he cut a monarchical figure, strong in his loyalties and hatreds, and master at pomp and circumstance that all nations, perhaps we in the United States too, love and crave. He was also smart enough to lead people by the nose, such as the pretender to the throne of Saint Louis and Louis XIV—the Count of Paris. De Gaulle made him believe for years that he, the count, would be his natural successor, but while Franco, across the Pyrenees, stood by his word, De Gaulle merely used the count: for the latter’s high hopes both secured the loyalty of the monarchists for the General-President and suggested that a great man like De Gaulle could not have a mere ballot box successor.
Anyway, the Pretender was left high and dry. He did, however, overcome the doubt that only a Bourbon and not an Orleans could become king. The Count of Paris was a descendant of the junior Orleans branch, and his great-great-grandfather was Prince Philippe, nicknamed in the French Revolution “Philipe Egalite” since he had helped to undermine the throne in 1789 and voted for his cousin’s—Louis XVI’s—death! Hence the revulsion of the monarchist camp. However, since De Gaulle’s death in 1970, the Count of Paris has gained legitimacy over his possible rivals—left or right—which would have none of him: they have chained themselves to the flesh-pots of power.
Thus, the Count of Paris has been trying and trying. He has portrayed himself as a conservative to France’s New Class (industry, media, liberals, socialists). This failed, so he tried a populist tone (labor, the socialist left wing). One of the intellectual magazines calling itself royalist in its title has even flirted with the new communists and the Arab immigrants, while the count’s right-wing supporters are pulling him in the opposite direction. After all, the last Bourbon pretender, more than a hundred years ago, announced his program “to reawaken 1789” as an alliance of king and people! This, too, has a long tradition in France.
Last year I received a book, nicely inscribed by the Pretender’s eldest son. Prince Henri, Count of Clermont. It is smartly titled Adresse au futur chef de l’Etat, which can be understood in two ways: advice to the next resident of the Republic—whoever he may be—or a program for the author himself in case he becomes prince-president. To the reader’s pleasant surprise, the work does not only stand out among the “princely literature” of today, it stands out, period. The author has no wish to hide his origins and status; he fully claims his royal lineage, “the forty kings who made France” since Hugh Capet (ninth century), as the monarchist saying goes. This natural and modest stance, not at all overdone (he mentions that as a soldier in the Foreign Legion, a malicious corporal assigned him to latrine duties, and that he was once invited by the local Madam to have lunch with the “ladies”—something unimaginable in an Anglo-Saxon country), is both charming and fitting, and lends him credibility. A random list of what the Count of Clermont is for and against: for the power of customs, against the legalism of the bureaucratic state-apparatus; for the prudent assimilation of North African and other immigrants who show loyalty to France; against the treaties of Maastricht and Schengen which rob France of her sovereignty; for the integrity of the family through financial support for each child, therefore against abortion; for a more active foreign trade against the invasion of American products, whether films, videos, or others earmarked in the GATT treaties; etc. The list, with each item separately and competently discussed, amounts to a kind of New Deal, an effort at modernization which does not jeopardize the world’s richest cultural heritage.
The author does not fall into any of the traps allowing the critics to say, “Well, it is easy for him, for what he writes is gratuitous.” What he writes, indeed, should be measured and evaluated against the background noise of boring vacuities of the political class, arrogant, cowardly, and demagogic. The author has, after all, at least the same rights as a Chirac, Barre, Bahadur, or Jospin to judge the French situation, that of a decadent ex-empire kept, through its own fault, on a “European” and trans-Atlantic leash. Let us bear in mind that what the prince proposes and promises is fealty to a French tradition: the regularly occurring revolt of the nation, whether led by Joan of Arc against the English occupation, by the young Louis XIV against the power of the feudal remnant, by Napoleon who “cleansed the revolution,” or by De Gaulle against the country’s second-rate status. These rebellions were accomplished without the curse of an ideology; they were pragmatic, although with a strong faith behind them, summed up by Charles Peguy as: “God created Frenchmen so He may have people to converse with.”
All this may not secure the throne, not even the presidency. Yet what Prince Henri writes in this book is henceforth on record. France’s present situation is such that mere survival as a consumer society would wipe her out as a nation. Squeezed between a stronger Germany, whose imperial-romantic penchant can never be discounted, and an imperialist United States, with its economic-missionary zeal, France’s diplomacy is listless, amateurish, and submissive. The insane notion of European unity makes her governing personnel hesitant, her citizens unsure whether they wake up tomorrow to a Disneyland status. Bernanos wrote that France must be saintly and heroic, or it is not France. The prince does not allow himself to say this, but he says far more than any member of the political-intellectual class would dare even to think. And it is pure common sense.
Perhaps this stems from the tradition of the “people’s king,” a tradition always cultivated by the throne. Historiography since the revolution has tried to falsify that concept and show the king as a despot. It is a false concept, as shown by the recent work of Gaubert, Furet, Chaunu, among others. In days before the rise of an irresponsible bureaucracy, ordinary people felt closer to their king. The big question in France is whether a monarchist restoration would reinstill this feeling or merely create a redecorated parliamentary (or even presidential) regime, neutralizing the monarch, perhaps turning him into a politician with debts to the “restorers.” Constitutionally and financially tied, not he but the International Monetary Fund and the Deutschmark would rule, as they do today all over the globe. This is what “globalism” means today.