Monarchism and kingship are concepts that – in the current political and philosophical climate – are seemingly beyond the point of unthinkable. This is most likely due to a plethora of historical examples so archaic that monarchy is often inextricably tied to the epochs in which it existed; the implication being that, were a monarchic system to arise, it would be swiftly crushed by modernity. The unending criticism of monarchy aside, I felt that it might be interesting to explore, and it certainly has been. I am not now, nor have I ever been an advocate of monarchy or totalitarianism in any of its forms, yet I am interested in the metaphysical underpinnings of the components of monarchism. Here, I will be using Revolt Against the Modern World, published in 1934 by the Italian philosopher and esotericist, Julius Evola, as a tool for exploring these components. Though Revolt Against the Modern World is about much more than monarchy on its own, many of the other topics are not relevant to this subject specifically.
Every traditional civilization is characterized by the presence of beings who, by virtue of their innate or acquired superiority over the human condition, embody within the temporal order the living and efficacious presence of a power that comes from above
One of the first things to note about Evola’s chapter entitled “Regality” is his description of pontifex – essentially a type of being referenced in the above quote. Pontifex (traditionally identified as a king) means “‘builder of bridges’ or of ‘paths’,” bridges and paths which connect the realm of the natural to that of the supernatural. The monarchs’ connection between these two realms indicates they are the “personification of life ‘beyond ordinary life’.” The foundation of authority for these monarchs was the reality that they were imbued with transcendent and nonhuman qualities. The roots of such authority were understood to be of an inherently metaphysical character and the idea that this authority would be bestowed upon some man by a community subject to his decrees was a foreign idea in the world of monarchic tradition. On the contrary, the roots of a king’s power were of spiritual authority; that kings were of divine origin, given power to execute “law from above.”
Themes, Rites, and Symbols of Kingship
One of the many recurring symbols in traditional monarchism is the sun, as well as solar features and associations, both visible and invisible.
In Tradition, kingship was often associated with the solar symbol. In the king, people saw the same “glory” and “victory” proper to the sun and to the light (the symbols of the superior nature), which every morning overcome darkness.
Solar symbolism is certainly not exclusive to European monarchism, as these same symbols are distinguishable in – if not essential to – ancient Egyptian, Persian, Indo-Aryan, Roman, and Zoroastrian religious and hierarchical traditions. However, the conception of solar “glory” or “victory” is not merely a symbol, but rather designated a metaphysical reality. The association with the metaphysical realm was commonly “identified with a nonhuman operating force, which the king did not possess in and by himself.” Some ancient Roman representations of kingship combined the auxiliary properties of the sun such as glory, light, and heavenly fire, with the planetary characteristic of a sphere, which denoted universal authority and dominion.
Ancient Egyptian tradition combined the aforementioned auxiliary elements of solar properties (i.e. glory, victory), with the scepter.
In the oldest texts, the scepter is portrayed as the zigzag bolt of lightning. The regal “force” thus appears as a manifestation of the dazzling, heavenly force. The combination of signs represented the concept of “life-force” (anshus), form a word for “fiery milk,” which is the nourishment of the immortals. This word is not without relation to uraeus, the divine flame, at times life-giving, at other times dangerously destructive, which crowns the head of the Egyptian king in the shape of a serpent.
Another element present in many traditional monarchies around the world is that of the “nonterrestrial power or fluid (sa).” The sa is the convergence of the solar metaphysical components into a consecrating power which “gives witness to the solar, triumphant nature of the king,” and from one king, is bestowed upon another in his ascension.
The theme of the king as the “son of heaven” is not only relegated to Europe and the Middle East, but also appears in Far Eastern tradition. Though the source of the “mandate of heaven” bestowed upon the “son of heaven” (in Far Eastern tradition) is not that of biblical authority (i.e. heaven in the biblical sense), the end results still show a plethora of similarities to Christianity and European Paganism.
This force [mandate of heaven] that comes “from heaven,” according to Lao-tzu, acts without acting (wei wu wei) through an immaterial presence, or by virtue of just being present… When this power is unleashed, the forces of common men, according to Meng-tzu, bend under it as blades of grass under the wind. Concerning wu wei, a text says:
“By its thickness and substantiality, sincerity equals earth; and by its height and splendor it equals heaven. Its extent and duration are without limit. He who possesses the sincerity, without showing himself, he will shine forth, without moving he will renovate others; without acting, he will perfect them.”
Similarly to European monarchs, the Chinese monarch also acted as the “center” between heaven and earth, through which the “mandate of heaven” could be imparted to his subjects. The concept of the monarch as the third power between heaven and earth is perhaps the most frequently recurring idea across all time and throughout all peoples, nations, and kingdoms. This role of centrality was dubbed “Immutability in the middle,” the meaning of which may imply that the middle is precisely where the virtue of heaven is manifested.
The last symbol of kingship which seems relevant to discuss here is that of the circle or wheel. In the center of this wheel is the monarch, who acts as an immovable pole that spins the worldly forces around him, yet keeps them in orbit. This, of course, is an abstraction of one of the prime functions of a king, in that all earthly things move around him, as he is the son of heaven, on earth to execute the mandate of heaven. There are two excellent examples of this to be found in history. The first example is that of the Indian Cakravartin:
We may consider the Hindu notion of the cakravartin, or “universal king.” The cakravartin may be considered the archetype of the regal function of which various kings represent more or less complete images or even particular expressions whenever they conform to the traditional principle. Cakravartin literally means “lord” or “spinner of the wheel.” This notion brings us back to the idea of a center that corresponds also to an inner state, to a way of being, or better yet, to the way of Being.
Another historical example of the archetype of the wheel is the samsara or the “stream of becoming,” which the Hellenes called the “wheel of generation” or “the wheel of fate.” The center of the wheel remains motionless, symbolic of the balance and stability of the monarch, who is not subject to samsara, and can subordinate the activities of lower natures (non-aristocratic citizens) to the higher power by which the king is imbued. Further explanation of the archetype of the wheel is found in the writings of Confucius in The Analects: “The practice of government by means of virtue may be compared to a polestar, which the multitudinous stars pay homage while it stays in its place.” That which orbits around the center of the wheel is subject to the concept of “revolution,” or “the motion occurring around an “unmoved mover”.”
The concept of the wheel is certainly similar to (and was depicted as) a copy of, or a part of the cosmic order, where a central being (the sun in the case of the universe) sits, and around this being, all things move. Some of the attributes of regality in this polar model of monarchy are glory, centrality (polarity), stability, and peace. It must be noted that the notion of peace is specifically defined by inner peace, and not by peace which one might call forced or external. Perhaps another model of the archetype of the wheel could be a “3D model” in the sense that multiple rings, as orbital paths, revolve around the center. In this case, the orbital path of a higher dimension could contain another point or pole (nevertheless subject to revolution) that represents the sacred; whereas the orbital path of the lowest dimension could contain a third point or pole also subject to revolution which would be representative of the human and earthly. Yet, this is only tangentially relevant to the subject matter at hand. In closing, here is another quote regarding Plato, and his writings on Zeus as the center of all things, as well as the cakravartin.
Plato’s reference to the place where Zeus holds counsel with the gods in order to reach a decision concerning the fate of Atlantis: “He accordingly summoned all the gods to his own most glorious abode, which stands at the center of the universe and looks out over the whole realm of change.” The abovementioned notion of cakravartin is also connected to a cycle of enigmatic traditions concerning the real existence of a “center of the world” that exercises this supreme function here on earth. Some fundamental symbols of regality had originally a close relationship with these ideas. One of these symbols was the scepter, the main function of which is analogically related to the “axis of the world.” Another symbol is the throne, an “elevated” place; sitting still on the throne evokes, in addition to the meaning of stability connected to the “pole” and to the “unmoved mover,” the corresponding inner and metaphysical meanings. Considering the correspondence that was originally believed to exist between the nature of the royal man and the nature produced by initiation, in the classical Mysteries we find a ritual consisting of sitting still on a throne.
All quotes within this essay were taken from Revolt Against the Modern World, written by Julius Evola and translated from the original Italian manuscript by Guido Stucco. This translation was published in 1995 by Inner Traditions International.