Book Review: Star-Spangled Crown

Review by Mark Christensen

Star-Spangled Crown,written by Charles A. Coulombe, uses fiction to take a dive into America's deep history, European roots, and hidden institutional memory. It is part novel, part thought experiment, and part civics handbook. Coulombe is well-qualified to reflect on and apply this royalist lens. As a Catholic loyal to the social and political heritage of Christendom, he serves as Western U.S. delegate to the International Monarchist League, an organization which promotes the restoration of monarchies around the world, and is a member of several royalist, historical, and devotional organizations. In addition to lecturing on a variety of historical topics, he serves as scholar-in-residence for the Catholic publisher Tumbler House.

The origins of Star-Spangled Crown's America are presented early and briefly to the reader. The divisions and failures of the republican system lead to the functional breakdown of the United States government by the mid-20th century. After the intervention of the military, an uncertain and fearful emergency government invites the accomplished Grand Duke of (fictional) Lichtenburg, located in central Europe, to take the reigns and rebuild the country. In Coulombe's telling, the Grand Duke is by his ancestry the inheritor of the Jacobite claims as well as French, Spanish, and other royal lines which contributed to the founding and building of the American colonies. Thus, he takes the name of King James IV, respecting the three prior Jacobite claimants who would also have ruled the American colonies before 1776, had they sat on the British throne. The scenario might seem fanciful, but indeed this story is only intended to set the stage. The rest of the work is a civics handbook written by Coulombe's own (also fictional) great-nephew, detailing the Royal America of the 22nd century.

The core concern of the work is the royalization of America: the establishment of a monarchic order which is distinctly American and universally accepted as the legitimate successor of the Republic. This requires examining America's royal heritages - which are tied to several European crowns - and understanding the memory contained even in its republican institutions. The examination includes the fields of history, religion, law, the state vs federal question, public lands, art and architecture, and more. The story of how each of these fields is reconciled to the royal order unites the book. Thus, the monarchy makes itself felt across society and consciously rejects the liberal myth that political order can be separated from the "private sphere". This review will examine several of these areas, and how Star-Spangled Crown proposes that the Royal America would- and perhaps one day will - view itself.

Coulombe begins our survey with a look at what has passed. How history is taught is a concern for all sovereign powers, since this establishes how those who rule came to assume legitimacy. The American monarchy is no different and does not limit itself to justification by pure political theory. The royal history of the American continent naturally includes the stories of the powers which established themselves here: Britain, France, and Spain most prominent among them. As such, 1492 receives greater emphasis as the beginning of the American story. The Republic is a vital part of the story, but not the whole. In our day, there continue to exist a variety of organizations in America preserving pre-revolutionary historical sites, treasures, and traditions. Upon the establishment of the monarchy, these organizations become enlisted to catalog such artifacts and their relationship to the royal periods of various regions of the modern United States.

Yet the fact remains that much of what defines America developed during the republican period. In establishing itself as the sovereign power, the monarchy must legitimate itself as the successor to the Republic - especially since unlike Augustus, Coulombe's fictional monarch does not make pretense at "restoring the Republic". In doing so, it does not attempt to smear the Founding Fathers of that republic, despite their rebellion against what is considered a rightful and legitimate authority. Rather, the royal telling of the rebellion of 1776 emphasizes attempts made to obtain direct intervention by King George III in the growing conflict between the colonies and Great Britain. George Washington himself is credited as nobly rejecting the position of a usurper when he refused the suggestions of several of his officers to be pursue the title of King. The sympathies of founders like Alexander Hamilton toward more monarchic forms of government is also highlighted as evidence that the monarchic principle per se was not universally rejected by the Founders.

In this reading, the American revolt is not seen as primarily against King George III or the idea of monarchy, but against the policies of Parliament. The King himself is seen not as an overthrown tyrant, but as having failed to intervene at key moments due to the constraints both of politics and of his oath. Both Loyalist and Patriot are accorded due honour. Canadian and other Anglosphere readers may note that despite still being constitutionally loyal to the successor of King George III, no country teaches this comparatively moderate view of the American rebellion today.

The Royal America of the 22nd century is not only rightful successor to King George III, but also of the Republic, as King James IV assumes the full rights and powers of intervention which could have averted the rebellion. The first exercise of this power is the establishment of a constitutional succession. As requirements of his accession to power, the King retains the authority to re-write the constitution, and to command the allegiance of all national, state, and local officials. The succession is cemented by the King's insistence that Congress approve the establishment of the new order, thus ensuring that their loyalty is explicitly declared.

Coulombe's thorough knowledge of the historical origins and symbolism of American, British, and other rituals of state is revealed in his chapter on Estates of the Realm. The relationship of Congress to the royal executive is firmly laid out: the job of Congress is to approve the budget, advise the Crown, and approve declarations of war. The American monarch, unlike his 20th century Commonwealth counterparts, both reigns and rules. The Senate once again becomes elected by state legislatures, and is overseen by the King's appointed Lord Chancellor. The factional warfare which tore apart the Republic will not be allowed to resurface in the Royal America.

Coulombe notes that a symbol of Parliamentary supremacy in the Commonwealth is the shutting of the doors on the royal representative - the Usher of the Black Rod - and the requirement of said representative to knock. In the Opening of Congress, the King enters "without obstacle or any delay". The same is made apparent in the giving of royal assent to new laws. When this ceremony is performed in Commonwealth countries in our day, it is a rubber stamp. At the monarch's nod, a clerk replies in Norman French: "le Roy le veult". In addition to "the King wills it", Coulombe presents us with an American ceremony which includes, at least once each time, the euphemistic words of refusal: "le Roy s'avisera" - "the King shall consider it". He notes that the King's veto, unlike the old President's, cannot be overruled.

This brings us to the area of law and judicial power. The American legal system has its roots in English civilization and bears the imprint of royal power, even in its republican form. Coulombe refers to the reader to phrases such as "disturbing the peace" - once understood to be "the King's peace". As such, the ascendancy of a monarchy resolves a number of legal concepts and conflicts which had occurred since 1776.

Most fundamentally, the rule of law ceases to be the sham which it had become in the liberal era. Sir Robert Filmer once noted that ""we must necessarily infer that the common law itself, or common customs of this land, were originally the laws and commands of kings at first unwritten." In our day, the concept of a "nation of laws" obscures the fact that sovereignty lies with those who interpret the law - not just judges, but all manner of committees and officials. With the restoration of the royal center of gravity, the law once again becomes tied to judgement, responsibility, and the honour of the Crown. Rather than expressing the judgement and conflicts of divided sovereignty, the law expresses the King's justice. This means the abolition of so-called judicial independence, and the explicit recognition that judicial authority is derived from the Crown - as is still the legal situation in Canada, the UK, and the other Commonwealth monarchies in our day. However, the American monarchy possesses this power not merely in theory, but in fact, and the King overrules a number of prior Supreme Court decisions under the principle that "no court shall be above the law". This will be of special interest to readers coming from the lens of Moldbug or other reactionary traditions which have criticized the view, held by even a great number of Anglosphere conservatives, that rule of law is in some way sovereign over the Sovereign themselves.

In reality, this is of course only a transfer of sovereign power from the King to the judiciary.

Coulombe foresees several significant reforms to the courts and law enforcement as a result. The role of the courts is to uphold the King's justice by enforcing the law through judicial judgement. As such, no court may rule on constitutional issues - this power is restricted to a body called the Judicial Committee, over which the King presides and which he sits in on as he deems necessary. This restricts the courts to issues of criminal law and civil equity and removes from them the powers to reshape social mores and cultural norms through judicial activism. Implicit within this is the admission that law can and does shape the life of the nation, and must be accountable to a unified and responsible sovereign authority. This is reinforced by the fact that courts at all levels must show the Royal Arms, and the state and federal supreme courts' resumption of their traditional name: the King's Bench.

Readers of Carl Schmitt will be familiar with the power to decide states of exception from constitutional order as being the ultimate proof of sovereignty - this power is exercised during the restoration of order to the most chaotic parts of the country. The King appoints "Keepers of the Peace" to assume authority over all law enforcement, civilian militia, and volunteer forces to establish peaceful government in these areas.

In addition, the royal authority nullifies the jurisdictional battles of state versus federal power, which existed since the republic's founding. Importantly, the Sovereign is King in each individual state (and several acquired territories) as well as King of these United States - as was the case with his British forebears. Thus, the supreme legal authority in each state is the same as the authority over the whole. As a result, both the agendas of federalist activism and of states' rights are rendered void.

In Coulombe's telling, the re-establishment of political order has necessarily returned a large amount of governing responsibilities to their traditional place in cities and states. However, this is countered by a restructuring of the hierarchy which cements the royal authority. State governors are appointed by the King, and in turn appoint sheriffs and justices of the peace. In addition, mayors of all cities founded by pre-republican monarchs or with a population greater than one million are appointed by the King as lord mayors. The importance of exercising sovereignty over such power centers as New York and San Francisco will not be lost on reflective readers. Thus, legal authority radiates outward from a unified center of sovereignty. The consequence of united sovereignty is a consistent and rational exercise of judgement, impossible under the divided republican order.

Readers of this review will likely be interested in the future of religious belief in this Royal America. The Catholic faith of Coulombe's King is shown to be a defining factor of his character and rule. Coulombe is well aware of the truth that, just as all societies have ruling elites, all elites rule according to a worldview which they promote in society. Nevertheless, Coulombe presents to us a world where the King has not declared any official religion over the whole United States - although he invokes explicitly Christian language in his oaths and declarations, and uses private funds to give endowments to Church institutions. As a point of interest, the Church in Coulombe's 22nd century has seen the end of the Age of Schism; Rome, England, and the East appear in communion and unified by a century of struggle against the Western decline and Islamic aggression.

The King's limiting of congressional power extends to forbidding it the right to establish a national religion. However, he grants states the right that existed at the time of the revolt, when New York, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia were officially Anglican and Massachusetts was Congregational. The Royal America of Star-Spangled Crown sees Utah formally become a Mormon state - though Coulombe notes that since then, the King has never appointed a Mormon governor. In addition, legal attacks on rivals to the American civil religion in schools, such as bans on prayer and Church funding, are reversed. A number of churches, monastic institutions, and even non-Christian houses of worship receive royal endowments and the right to show the royal arms.

In other words, the America of Star-Spangled Crown sees the reverse trend of American religious life in the 20th century. The worldview of the elite and the life of the country is shifting once more. Indeed, this precisely is common thread throughout Coulombe's work: the orienting power of the royal order as it touches the faith, symbols, law, moral order and daily life of the country. Coulombe's fictional nephew references Nathaniel Hawthorne's praise of "the blessed quietude of the Royal sway, with the King's name in every ordinance, his prayer in the church, his health at the board, and his love in the people's heart." The book is a wide-ranging vision of this royalization, and other topics include the military, the arts and education, public lands and the environment, and city life.

Coulombe's work is well worth reading for two reasons. First, the author's deep knowledge of American traditions, rituals, and heritage allows him to present a holistic and detailed vision. Star-Spangled Crown makes clear that while America may be today the center of a liberal world order, the roots of its culture and many republican institutions themselves lie in a civilization which precedes that liberalism. The reader interested in political thought will find this engagement not only educational, but practical. Not only is Coulombe's future America monarchic, but the monarchy in turn is American in body and soul. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the work is Coulombe's invitation to imagine other futures. A core part of the liberal order is the great myth that they are an inevitability against which resistance is a futile struggle with history. Star-Spangled Crown invites us to free our imaginations and shatter the chains with which this myth tries to bind us.

Above all, the work reveals truths to us which have gone unnoticed even by many a royalist or reactionary: the liberal order is not merely political, but has touched all aspects of our lives. The error of the modern conservative is to imagine that a political order can exist which does not ultimately do so. The royal vision of Star-Spangled Crown accepts the orienting power of sovereignty, and foresees a world where that power is once again taken up on the American continent, for the restoration of the world.

This review was originally published on the web-magazine Social Matter.