Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
Can a monarch really make whatever law he or she wants? If a person is living in a monarchy, does he or she have any right to resist an unjust law? One could argue that the person does not, since after all, in a monarchy every inhabitant is a subject of the king and all rights proceed from him.
Such was the question posed to me in a recent discussion about Saudi Arabia and its monarchical state. In point of fact, though, monarchs do NOT have the authority to set whatever laws they desire. In fact, if monarchs possessed unlimited authority over its subjects, there would be no objective defense to the Declaration of Independence or for the separation of the United States from England. If the power of a monarch had truly been all-pervasive, then King George III would have been free to rule England and the colonies in whatever manner he wished. There would have been no parliament, and there certainly would have been no Magna Carta.
In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The term "Governments" in the Declaration was all-inclusive and captured monarchies.
Moreover, he wrote, "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." (emphasis added)
If monarchs were able to do whatever they wished, none of the concepts espoused by Jefferson and battled for by our Founders would hold true.
The concept that monarchs had restrictions placed upon their authority dates back to the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Augustine during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Both men agreed that even in a monarchy, the scope of a monarch's authority was limited.
To be sure, monarchs were placed on the thrown by God, but their call was to take care of His creation on earth and to act as a steward. The moment monarchs abused their power (such as by killing a journalist without affording him any due process), the monarch breached his contract and would be subject to removal. One difference between the beliefs espoused by the two men is that Augustine said the removal of a rogue monarch should be effected through prayer while Aquinas actually allowed for the forceful overthrow of the man.
The bottom line is this: no nation, including a monarchy may create laws that allow it to dismiss the rights of its citizens. Doing so goes against the basic understanding of government in western culture and the basic precepts of natural law. The question then naturally is, do these same concepts apply to an Islamic state practicing not under natural law, but under Sharia law? The answer to that question awaits the actions of Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and serves in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com to arrange a lecture or book signing.