November 1916: Node 3, the monarchy


We are continuing Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “nodal analysis” of the Russian Revolution.

The hero of the story is Vorotyntsev.  He’s home from the front.  Through him we see that the Germans weren’t so much the bad guys.  Russia and Germany had more in common with each other than with England and France. Vorotyntsev knows the Tsar is incapable of correcting society, but it would be far worse to throw one’s lot with the forces of revolution.

We see the true genius in Solzhenitsyn’s writing in that he is capable of giving air-tight cases for and against monarchy.  We will resolve this antimony at the end.

Against the Monarchy

1) Tsar Nicholas allowed himself to get played by entering the war.  The terms of the war were dictated to him by Britain and France (207).

2) Nicholas smarted from his defeat in the Japanese War, where he was perceived as not taking an active enough role.  He decided to assume full command of the military in this war.  That was a big mistake.

Nodal Point: The Russian army was defeated in the West in 1914-1915.  “One of the most destructive consequences of our defeat in the West was the flood tide of refugees.  The waters had risen and no governmental channel could control them” (220).

Another problem was Russia’s size and army: it was too big.  It fought upon old Napoleonic principles.  What was needed was “an army of crack troops” (278). Russia’s supply lines were unwieldy.  She was still doing logistics for moving huge numbers of horses in a railway age.

Of all people a female history professor gives a moving defense of monarchy.  

For the Monarchy

A female professor, Olda Andozerskaya, gives a most unprogressive defense of the monarchy.  It’s romantic, far-fetched, but quite beautiful (and no worse than 2020, or 2016 or 2012 or 2008 or…you get the idea).

1) Monarchy does not mean stagnation.  “A cautious approach to the new, a conservative sentiment, does not mean stagnation.  A farsighted monarch carries out reforms–but only for those whose time is ripe.  He does not go at it mindlessly, as some republican governments do, maneuvering so as not to lose power” (340).

2) An established line of succession saves a country from destructive rebellions. Political strife is reduced. We might respect a republican government because of Romans 13 (JBA), but we don’t actually respect it.  We know they probably lied to get to office and even if they do fulfill their promises, it’s only to pay off a debt.

3) Persuading a monarch is no more difficult than a republican government.  A republican government has to persuade the public, and that public is often at the mercy of ignorance, passion, and vested interest (341).

4) A monarchy doesn’t necessarily make slaves of the people.  A commercial republic is just as likely to de-personalize them.  Why is subordinating myself to a faceless electorate (and the unelected bureaucracy behind them) preferable to a monarch?

5) Solzhenitsyn faces the biggest objection to monarchy: what happens when you get an idiot?  His answer is probably the best in the literature: “”The accident of birth is a vulnerable point, yes.  But there are also lucky accidents.  But a talented man at the head of a monarchy, what republic can compare?  A monarch may be sublime, but a man elected by the majority will almost certainly be a mediocrity” (342).

Solzhenitsyn goes on to list that republican governments have their own Achillees’ heels: ambitious politicians, a morass of red tape hampering reform, etc.   And his interlocutor asks a very uncomfortable question: why should we suppose equality and freedom to be preferable to honor and dignity?  Maybe they are, but we rarely hear arguments to the point.

Anytime a republican points out that monarchies make tyrants possible, the monarchist should reply that a republic is just as likely to descend into anarchy and civil war.

So, who is correct, the monarchist or the revolutionary?  In terms of argument and greatness, the monarchist clearly wins.  Unfortunately for the monarchist (and humanity), Tsar Nicholas is too little, too late.


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