2 minute read

Monarchy

Religion

Assessed from a global perspective, perhaps the most common justification given for the rule of a single person is religious. Even in this category, however, many different approaches are available. The ancient Egyptians regarded their kings to be deities, albeit lesser gods in the pantheon. By virtue of his divinity, the Egyptian monarch was qualitatively superior to and at a remove from those over whom he reigned, and his powers were "absolutely absolute," to use Samuel Finer's phrase. Consequently, the king of Egypt was the undisputed owner of all the territories under his control and the master of his subjects, who were all equally inferior to him. The surviving cultural artifacts from three millennia of Egyptian monarchy, such as architecture, paintings, and written treatises, all reinforce this absolutistic image of royal divinity.

The Romans also deified their emperors in the later stages of their empire, proclaiming them to be dominus et deus ("lord and god"). This has sometimes been considered to be a result of the influence of so-called oriental or Eastern monarchic ideas. But it is difficult to gauge how seriously this deification (and attendant absolutist language) ought to be taken, given the persistence of earlier Roman ideas of citizenship and legality. The ideological structure supporting the Chinese dynasties of antiquity, by contrast, approached the Egyptian model more closely. Confucius (c. 551–479? B.C.E.) lent philosophical credence to the long-standing doctrine that while emperors were not themselves deities, they enjoyed the "Mandate of Heaven" in their occupation of the imperial throne. Of course, this mandate did not ensure that the emperors would not be overthrown in a palace coup (any more than the divinity of Egyptian kings protected them against dynastic replacement). Rather, the mandate was an ever-shifting imprimatur that depended upon the emperor's conformity with the fundamental dictates of virtue and equity, in particular the practice of benevolence, according to Confucius.

The monotheistic Abrahamic religions all subscribed to the notion of the divine ordination of kings to some extent. Although the earliest government of the Israelites was a sort of proto-republican federated constitution, the shift to a monarchic regime described in Jewish scripture arose from God's assent to a popular plea for a king so that Israel might resemble the other nations of the region. Israelite monarchy thus emerged as a divine appointment, and kings remained subject to the judgment of God. Once Christianity reached an accommodation with the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, the emperor came to be viewed as a divine agent—free to sin, of course, but a servant of the Heavenly Lord even when he went astray. Christian authors often deployed a microcosmic argument to bolster monarchy: just as God was the king of His creation, so the monarch resembled the supreme master of the universe. Islam also involved religion in the defense of monarchy. In the early history of Islam, the caliph was held to be the agent of God insofar as his conquests facilitated the spread of the Muslim religion and he enforced adherence to the rites of the faith. During a later era, the caliphate was charged in theory, if not in practice, with the imposition of the punishments for violations of shari'a (the vast body of Islamic law).

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Molecular distillation to My station and its duties:Monarchy - Religion, Naturalism, Modes Of Virtue, Limited Monarchy?, Bibliography