3000 years ago the Prophet Samuel spent a whole “chapter” – whatever that may have meant in real time – warning the Jewish people against restructuring their tribal society into a monarchy.
Samuel talked about how this re-structuring would hijack the people’s labour for the royal elite, how the people’s rights would be eroded, what would happen to their access to land, how their wealth would trickle up to the crown, and how their young people would be marshalled into wars which would serve royal interests and not the common good. (It all gets spelled out in summary form in I Samuel 8).
Jesus taught his disciples (in Matthew 20 & 23, Mark 10 and Luke 22) that they were to be a counterculture, living their lives without a hint of the kind of feudalisation endemic to wider (his word was “gentile”) society. Chains of command and obedience, with an unaccountable elite and a disempowered serfdom, were not a part of his divine vision for human society. “It must not be so among you,” he told his followers. And in his own relations to the civic and religious social structures of the day, Jesus showed his disciples what he meant.
My study of history began in earnest in high school. Our curriculum began with a look at ancient Britain’s Feudal Order and the Heptarchy. By beginning there our syllabus framed the country’s history as a sequence of tableaux, dramatising the struggle away from feudalism and to other forms and structures. Government by crown or unaccountable powers, the feudalization of society and the trickle-up of wealth of course do not need to sport the name of “monarchy.”
In the UK and Australia, for instance, many crown powers have long been co-opted to the office of the Prime Minister. In these countries it is the Prime Minister who will appoint ministers and judges, determine the speaker of parliament, call royal commisions, appoint quangos, in the UK create new “lords”, distribute honours, and take our young people to war, for instance. The Australian Prime Minister, apparently, can abrogate all Australian legal authority – as did John Howard a decade ago – to turn boats around mid ocean in order to avoid having to process the claims of asylum seekers – by invoking British crown power to trump even the highest of Australian laws.
The financial trickle-up, about which Samuel so graphically warns, can be seen in many streams of economic life. In the USA the average comparison of an employee’s salary with that of the CEO is 1:350. Include USA CEOs and the pay of their offshore sweatshop workers and you will reach mathematics that are hard to fathom -1:50,000 in one well-known corporation. And when captains of industry are spared heavy taxation or are enabled by law to move their profits off shore – so that we don’t lose their talent to the world market for CEOs – clearly the question of distribution of wealth is as live as ever.