In today’s culture, despite everything we may disagree about, we seem to share one singular, universal truth: that we must uphold the idea of democracy to maintain a free and just society; anything else could lead to the complete opposite. We are told almost from birth that a society whose framework involves the people casting their votes to choose a wise leader is one that is fair and prosperous. We are told that we might disagree on matters of economic practices, border enforcement, and the extent to which morals should be enforced by our government, but we must never abandon the ideals of a democratic society. To do so is a kind of blasphemy, and those who do are thought to support a dark future in which anarchy rules over a vast land of lawlessness, or in which we must all submit to a tyrannical strongman reigning with an iron fist over a helpless populace. However, after reading Charles A. Coulombe’s Star Spangled Crown, I am convinced that we are not being given the complete picture.
Coulombe’s book explores an alternative reality where the United States is close to the brink of collapse. In a desperate attempt to save the nation from complete destruction, the country severs ties with its republican roots and installs a thing we Americans are taught from birth to scorn: a Monarchy. And yet, Coulombe’s story creates an image of a royal institution that is, in many ways, truly American. It is one that doesn’t just rule over the people, but rather one that leads. Additionally, Coulombe provides evidence to prove that those who support the idea of a Monarchy aren’t just a ragtag fringe group seeking world domination, but rather one with a clear vision and purpose, and with history and facts to back up the claims.
Coulombe’s “Star Spangled Crown” is essentially a trinity of writing, divided into three related books that include: a fictional history, a historical account, and a political manifesto. It is a fictional account of the death of a republican United States and its rebirth into a monarchical one. After the 2016 election causes widespread disaster throughout the country, the following elections continue to escalate the situation. Standards of living decline, and widespread killings, based on divisions of race, sexuality, religion, etc., plague the country as the federal government slowly loses more and more control and more oppressive regulations are imposed. The point of no return arrives when the President loses complete control, most likely due to the burden of saving a collapsing nation, and she kills several government officials before she herself is shot. A desperate Pentagon decides that a monarchy is the only option—no one else has any better ideas—and they select for a king Grand Duke Hans Josef ll of Lichtenburg, specifically due to his young age, immense wealth, as well as for his inheritance linked to previous monarchs who had claims in many areas of the United States. Several compromises and a swift vote in the Senate ends the event known as the Instauration, and the newly titled King James IV becomes the first King of the United States.
This is when the second theoretical book, the most dominant of the three, begins. The historical account of the rise and reign of this first king is written in the 22nd century by a man who is defined as the great nephew of author Charles A Coulombe. His purpose in writing this book is to detail the American Monarchy and how this new system of government works.
Each chapter is dedicated to various aspects of society and how they are affected by restructuring of the American education system to fit the Classical Christian and Great Books programs of small Catholic liberal arts schools today, in foreign affairs, and in the Monarchy’s influence on global events, shown by, for example dealing with a resurgent Islamic State terror organization that has become more powerful in this futuristic timeline, having formed its Caliphate in the deserts of the Middle East. This account explains how such an imaginary monarchy would function and why. It links the traditions of the American Monarchy with those of kings from the West and as far back as Ancient China, and explores both their similarities and differences. One learns a great deal of factual history while reading an account of this fictional one.
And finally, the third book introduces the manifesto for an American Monarchism. While fictional, the story is in many ways the author’s desired vision of what American Monarchists want to achieve and the society they want to create. The political message of the book is most clearly presented in the afterword titled "The Empty Throne" and in the Essential Postlude, called “The Varieties of Monarchist Experience.” These sections of the book explain how the Monarchist movement has a long history, and continues to be heavily active today. What’s more, Coulombe explains how religion, especially Christianity and more specifically Catholicism, has deep roots within the tradition of Monarchy. It is implied that we don’t devote our life to Christ the President, but rather Christ the King. Many Monarchists hold devout Christian beliefs and would integrate these values into their respective societies if they could. This book’s reader would not, of course, turn around and call for a king. Coulombe explains in the third book that this story is “not a call for radical change,” but instead prompts the reader to think and consider if there are better alternatives than the democracy we already know. Although Coulombe desires an American king, he claims to be patriotic and to love the United States, despite having issues with many of its core institutions.
What I liked most about this book is its unique approach of being both novelistic and speculative. It is a one of a kind in it’s treatment of historical fiction. Many alternative history novels are out there, but I found this one refresher from the stream of tales about a nuclear fallout and its aftermath, or the imagined versions of a Nazi takeover after an Axis Victory in World War ll. Additionally, it is original in how it presents its underlying political message. Rather than focus on individual characters, such as in The Man in the High Castle, Coulombe’s use of a story in the form of a historical account allows for a more fleshed out scenario of an alternative reality. Nor does it make obvious what should and should not be present in society like The Handmaid’s Tale. That being said, the book isn’t without its weaknesses. The author’s considerable detail on some topics can grow a little dull, such as the minutiae of tinsmithing or Royal ceremonies. The reader may feel overburdened by the sheer quality of detail related in the history of these various traditions, and those many royal families. I had to re-read some passages multiple times to better understand how something functioned or the times being represented. It is a dense read, and not a page turning thriller by any means.
Still, in my opinion, the most important accomplishment of this book is that it shows while many small political movements fail, the Monarchist Movement has a clear idea of what it wants to accomplish, and is convinced that it can achieve. Every fictional aspect of this projected American Monarchy is backed up by historical examples. The author carefully details how these customs came about and how they would change if brought to the United States.While many fringe groups in the political realm, such as anarchists or primitivists, have bold theories, they lack historical basis to back them up. Monarchism differs in that it draws on a long and complex tradition that spans many continents, cultures, and faiths.
As discussed by Coulombe, many countries with active monarchist groups often have or may have the backing of other organizations, including religious ones. One example is how the monarchist movement in Greece, which is partly backed by the Orthodox Church, has some of its members desiring to take back “Constantinople” and restore the Orthodox Byzantine Empire in one version or another.
After finishing this novel, I visited several Monarchist websites and blogs and found the same pattern: those that adhere to this movement are educated, clear thinkers, educated, passionate, and disciplined. They know what they’re doing, and understand what is needed to accomplish their goals.
Finally, Coulombe portrays this fictional American Monarch not as a power hungry tyrant who only wishes to collect taxes and preserve his life of luxury. He is a concerned, dutiful leader who wishes the best for his subjects, is bound by honor, and wants to serve his country. Nor is he an Americanized version of a dictator. Despite the Monarch’s immense amount of power, the average citizen still has an abundant degree of freedom. Property rights are secured, freedom of speech is still mostly protected, people have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers in a court of law, and one can choose to adhere to whatever religion (or none) they choose, despite the Monarch being a devout Catholic. He is thus bound by not only a constitution, but also by morals and traditions, and may not pursue political actions that defy any of those. This can also make Monarchism appealing to many: it is a Christian movement that adheres to helping both preserve and enforce the values that make up the core of Western Christian Civilization. Coulombe, a traditionalist Catholic, emphasizes why he thinks Catholicism is more than compatible with a Monarchist system of government. In the novel, Catholicism is a far more energized faith than in our time. With the project passing of a Benedictine Reform, which renews the sacredness of the Latin-Rite Church, and closer ties with the Orthodox, King James can more easily rule as a Catholic despite the religious diversity of the United States. What’s more, the King himself isn’t entirely fictional! He may appear to have a convenient list of qualifications, but Coulombe claims he is apparently based on a real royal figurehead whose heir possesses many of the same characteristics.
Reading this book has certainly not made me a Monarchist by any means, as I am very much aware of the corruption and abuses that came about due to monarchies throughout history, regardless of whether or not they were bound by a constitution. However, this novel has shown me that this position can be a viable one in our time, especially due to the turbulence of contemporary America’s democratic process and politics. The candidates we have been presented with for various government positions as of late have not been the best and the brightest of our people (In my opinion, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump prove this point).
Present and past circumstances, in my opinion, make monarchism an alternative worth considering in light of what he have now. I believe that all who love history and are concerned about where the United States is going should read Star Spangled Crown.