It has long (perhaps throughout the entire duration of British freedom) been a common form of speech, that if a good despot could be ensured, despotic monarchy would be the best form of government. I look upon this as a radical and most pernicious misconception of what good government is, which, until it can be got rid of, will fatally undermine all our reflections on government.
The supposition is, that absolute power, in the hands of a trustworthy and honorable individual, would ensure a virtuous and intelligent performance of all the duties of government. Good laws would be established and enforced, bad laws would be reformed; the best individuals would be placed in all situations of trust; justice would be well administered, the public burdens would be as light and as judiciously imposed as possible, every branch of administration would be as purely and as intelligently conducted as the circumstances of the country and its degree of intellectual and moral cultivation would admit.
For the sake of the argument, let us concede all this, but we must note how great a concession it is, how much more is needed to produce even an approximation of such results than is conveyed in the simple expression, a good despot. Their realization would, in fact, imply, not merely a good monarch, but an all-seeing one. He must be at all times informed correctly, in considerable detail, of the conduct and working of every branch of his government, in every district of the country, and must be able, in the twenty-four hours per day which are all that is granted to a king or queen as to the humblest laborer, to give an effective share of attention to all such responsibilities.
He must at least be capable of discerning and choosing out, from among the mass of his subjects, not only a large abundance of honest and able individuals, fit to conduct every branch of public administration under supervision and control, but also the small number of individuals of eminent virtues and talents who can be trusted not only to do without that supervision but to exercise it themselves over others.
But the argument can do without even this immense checklist of impossible qualities. Suppose the difficulty vanquished. We need only look to the effects such a government would have on its citizens to see how doomed such a political endeavor would be. Such a government essentially is one where one person of superhuman mental activity manages the entire affairs of a mentally passive people. Their passivity is implied in the very idea of absolute power. The nation as a whole, and every individual composing it, are without any potential voice in their own destiny. They exercise no will with respect to their collective interests. All is decided for them by a will not their own, which it is legally a crime for them to disobey. What sort of human beings can be formed under such a regimen? What development can either their thinking or their character attain under such a system? At what point of delegation of individual responsibility and personal action does this become a delegation of life itself?
As Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existentialist once put it, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” Even if we could find a superhuman to be our ensured, despotic monarch, a monarch that allowed us to shirk our responsibility to him, in so doing, we would be making the ultimate sacrifice. We would be giving up at base what makes us human.
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