I’ve written extensively about monarchy. And for good reason. We’re all here in great part because we share our criticism, or at least disillusion about democracy. Some critics of democracy come from the long reactionary tradition, going back to the De Maistre and the opponents and the French Revolution. But most of it today, at least on this corners of the internet, derives from libertarians figuring it out that democracy isn’t quite conducive to liberty. Certainly not in a theoretical way. Hans Herman Hoppe put it best, wrote a whole book about it, saying that if economic theory made any sense, monarchy was the best system of government. Moldbug run his whole blog on that. He used to troll Larry Auster in that the modern world suffers from “chronic kinglessness”, then went away praising Henry VII Tudor.
My answer to that is that if you know your history you know that monarchy doesn’t work like Filmer or Hobbes said it did. The theory was good; but an absolute ruler is just that, a theory. In practice power gets exercised by the people who seek power. And a king won’t necessarily seek power. He may be a shy man; or a dissolute hedonist. Or have a strong mother who won’t let him. Or have powerful ministers who craftly dodge his attempts at exercising him his royal prerogative. Modern governments are a mess. Old royal courts were also a big mess. And it’s all written down.
Still, some people keep on not getting the joke. Mostly because they don’t want to get the joke. It’s convenient for them to keep on theorizing in how awesome monarchy is. Filmer and Hobbes were amongst those. The modern Japanese right is also like that.
As I said the modern Japanese right has been organizing for some time around the need to reform the Constitution. Or more frankly, to scrap the present one and come up with a new one. They just won the election and they’re getting to it, but they’ve been planning for some time. In 2012 the LDP, the perennial ruling party, or more specifically the right wing of the LDP, announced their draft for a new constitution. It scraps article 9, which forbids Japan from (nominally) having military forces. And it changes article 1. Article 1 right now says:
Article 1. The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.
And this they want to change into:
Article 1. The Emperor is the head of the State and shall be the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.
You can see the total list of changes here, in very good English.
So anyway, the change isn’t very big. But the whole thing of the “head of state” has the internet right, which like the Western alt-right but 100 times bigger, very excited with talk of having a proper monarch and all that. And all that’s very cool, but they seem to have forgotten to actually ask the emperor. And he’s not playing ball.
In July 13, the whole country was startled when the public broadcaster, NHK, announced that the emperor had the intention of “abdicating”. The wording was pretty ominous, “生前退位”, “abdicating in life”, but the actual wording is “giving away the throne”. The proper wording would be 譲位 “passing the throne to”. The wording kinda meant the emperor was abolishing the institution. That mostly was just a careless journalist not knowing his imperial vocabulary, but still. The very fact of rumors coming out of the imperial household was completely unheard of. And to make it worse, later in the very same day, the Imperial Household Agency, the government bureaucrats who run the palace, denied the whole thing. Nothing to see here!
So not only rumors were coming out of the imperial palace; but there were conflicting rumors. That’s even worse. Something was seriously amiss here. But for weeks nothing happened. Until last week, the Emperor gave a press conference.
First of all, the Emperor is not supposed to do that! He shouldn’t be talking to the people besides any predetermined royal business of his. But he had something to say, and he said it. And what did he say? That he’s old, that he’s busy, that there’s a lot of stuff to do, he’s not able to do it, so he thinks it better if he leaves the throne so that the tasks of the emperor don’t suffer.
The whole thing was weird. Weird in the eyes of monarchists. The Emperor is the royal person. He can do what he wants. He’s not a bureaucrats with tasks to do. That’s secondary. But the Emperor doesn’t see it that way. He mentioned the word “symbol” 8 times. Because that’s his job under the current constitution, to be the “symbol of the nation”. Apparently he feels very strongly about his job as a symbol, and wants someone to do it if he’s unable to. But that’s not the idea of the monarch that people have these days. He’s to be the head of state! The symbol thing is just some word. But he doesn’t see it like that. He feels he has a job. He feels like the right wants to change his job. And he surely doesn’t want to do it. He doesn’t even want to be there when the whole thing happens.
The left has rushed to argue that this is the Emperor’s way of protesting against the rightist shift. And they have a point. Imperial sovereignty in pre-war Japan led to the military declaring war to the whole world in the Name of the Emperor. And the Showa Emperor, Hirohito, the present emperor’s father, grew to resent that. When the famous Yasukuni shrine went fascist and declared that the war criminals punished by the US in the Tokyo trials were also enshrined there, the Emperor never again visited the shrine. His son, the present Emperor, has never gone himself. The Imperial Household is not amused by rightist nostalgia of pre-war Japan. They are in the left.
And if the present emperor is in the left, you haven’t seen his son. The crown prince, Naruhito, is married to a Foreign office bureaucrat, who is always sick, unable to do her princess duties, unless she has to go to Europe. Then she’s always healthy and stays long periods of time shopping in Paris. She hates the imperial bureaucracy, and they hate her back. And the crown prince is fully on her side. He has protested several times on how the imperial bureaucracy treats women badly. You know where this goes.
And, to make matters funnier, the crown prince has one only child. A daughter. Which under the present imperial household regulations, can’t inherit the throne. There was some attempt at reforming that, and allowing a future empress. But then the crown prince’s brother had a baby boy, and he became the next in line. But once the crown prince becomes the Emperor, he will most certainly push to reform the law to get his daughter on the throne some day. And he will have the full support of all the Japanese left.
So you have a monarchist right, which dreams of traditional monarchy, fighting a leftist royal house who wants nothing to do with it. They want to be fancy bureaucrats on a salary doing a “symbol” job. But the right doesn’t care. Their monarchism isn’t about the monarch. It’s just some convenient Schelling Point they got to make friends amongst themselves and sell bullshit to the populace. Which is what politicians do.
And you could say that of any political idea. The content is secondary. The consequences are completely besides the point. What counts is what works in the political arena. What gets retweeted. What gets you votes. How ideas develop depends on that, not in actual internal logic or likely consequences.