We are fascinated by monarchy. Although years have passed, the royal wedding in England and the imperial funeral in Tokyo still rank among the all-time media events. On the other hand, humanity has chosen other forms of government, and in a functional sense, the institution of monarchy no longer exists.

The Torah teaches that Mashiach will be a king, restoring the dynasty of his ancestor David. This concept presents a challenge for modern man. Even an individual who is able to think of the Redemption as an imminent reality, and who appreciates that it will be Mashiach whose teachings will initiate this age of knowledge and peace, may gulp at the idea of serving a king.

The existence of a king — an absolute monarch, not merely a ceremonial figurehead — is foreign to our world view. Our difficulty has to do not so much with the fact that in a functional sense monarchy has ceased to exist, but with the fundamental concept at the heart of a subject-king relationship. We are not willing to subjugate our lives to another human being. On the contrary, democracy and the concept of rule by consent have become accepted as absolute values by most developed cultures and societies.

What is the motivating principle for this consensus? Fundamentally, a commitment to the principle of equality — that all men are created equal and deserve equal rights.

The expression of this ideal in contemporary society is, moreover, a pragmatic one. It is understood that if the ideals of democracy were followed to extremes and a referendum were taken before every step by a government, society could not function. The current compromise — representative democracy — still allows individuals a direct role in determining the future of the society in which they live, yet keeps leaders responsible to the populace.

There is, however, an inherent difficulty with democracies. Their essential motivator is enlightened self-interest; in essence, people are saying to each other, “Let us build a culture that will allow us all to be happy.” This approach often accentuates the lowest common denominator, ultimately stripping people of the prideful self-worth that leads to purpose-oriented growth. This is not a necessary byproduct of the democratic ideal, but in actual life, people often fail to live up to their ideals. Lacking genuine inspiration, democratic societies often suffer from a vacuum of direction, which causes time, principles, and values to be sacrificed to enable a host of petty desires to be fulfilled. Slowly, the drive for meaningful achievement and excellence is eroded.

This has been the fate of earlier democracies. We have seen periods of growth and success, but once that success is achieved, each such country has grown fat and declined. This happened to England in the early part of the century. America is grappling with such a downswing at present. And to all appearances, such a cycle is already at work in Japan, for the microchip has accelerated not only the speed of information transfer, but also that of cultural development and decline.

Is there an alternative? The Torah1 states that Israel should be ruled by a king. In his Mishneh Torah,2 Maimonides describes the appointment of a king as a mitzvah, and states3 that kingship within Israel is not merely a temporary phenomenon, but rather was granted to David and his descendants forever. Continuing in this vein, he describes the Messianic ideal as centering around the person of a king, Mashiach, who will renew the Davidic dynasty.4

This is not because democracy was unknown in his time. On the contrary, Maimonides was well-versed in Greek philosophy, and was aware of the concept. He extols the virtues of monarchy because this is the Torah’s ideal.

From the Torah’s perspective, mankind’s rejection of monarchy has been due to the failure of kings, and not to the failure of kingship. As humanity as a whole progressed, kings who did not live up to their office could no longer command obedience. But these were the faults of the individuals, not of the institution.

Monarchy is not only a viable system, it is a preferable system — provided the king fulfills the role outlined by Maimonides for a Jewish monarch:5 “In all matters, his deeds shall be for the sake of Heaven. His purpose and intent shall be to elevate mankind’s faith, and to fill the world with justice.”

Though a radical notion, we who have experienced democratic society can also appreciate the primacy of such a form of monarchy. A desire for short-term satisfaction rather than long-term growth and purpose plagues most democracies. It can be overcome only by inspired leadership. What sort of leader would this be? One who has no desire to show authority, no fear of being unpopular, no immediate desire to be loved, and who shows selfless devotion to his people.

What are the chances that such a leader could emerge in a democratic system? Quite low. It’s true that in developed democracies, the rise of a leader who flaunts his authority and desires coercive control is a virtual impossibility. But how many people who do not fear becoming unpopular and who do not seek the immediate approval of their constituency will be elected, and reelected? And with all due respect to our politicians, in a society whose fundamental motivator is self-concern, selfless devotion to others is a rare commodity.

In pointing to the need for leadership in the business world, it has been said: Managers are people who do things right, leaders are people who do right things. This also applies in the realm of human relations and social dynamics.

The primary elements of leadership are vision and value-oriented purpose. A leader must introduce a perspective which inspires his followers and motivates them to purposeful growth. There are inherent obstacles to doing this in a democratic society. For doing the right thing often involves a measure of personal sacrifice, at least at the beginning. How easy would it be for an elected leader to convince people to follow his plan if doing so involves giving up opportunities for immediate success and satisfaction?6

Moreover, right and wrong are rarely black and white in today’s world. To chart a path for his people in the gray areas, a leader requires a mandate of trust that is not dependent on their fickle whims.

Plainly put, the less a leader needs to worry about what his people think of him, the more he can devote himself to promoting their true welfare. If he is constantly in need of their approval, he will be sorely tempted to win that approval by playing “election politics,” catering to their desire for immediate satisfaction rather than dedicating himself to their ultimate wellbeing. Only a leader who does not have to worry about the strength of his position can focus his attention on the true nature of his people and seek to develop their potential over the long term.

Ideally, giving a leader a position of established authority should not bring him to divorce himself from his people’s thoughts. On the contrary, successful leadership depends on the constant identification of a people with its leader, a continual sharing of a sense of purpose. He must communicate with them, for the most effective means of encouraging a following is not by force or bribery, but by inspiration. Nevertheless, to establish a basis for this communication a leader must have — in addition to his own resources of inner strength and purpose — a secure position of strength and power.

Is not monarchy a more proficient system than democracy for cultivating such leadership? Would not the strength of a king’s position make it possible for him to dedicate himself to others more effectively than if he were required to go out and win their votes time and again?7

Another virtue of monarchy is the dynamic of empowerment that lies at its heart. Monarchy depends on the whole-hearted, uninhibited commitment of the subject to the king, a commitment made knowingly and thoughtfully, not on the basis of blind faith or witless obedience. Ideally, this will awaken a similar commitment on the part of the king, motivating him to dedicate himself to the welfare of his subjects without thought of personal concern.

At a given point in our lives, most of us have experienced a parallel to such a relationship. We have looked up to a parent, a teacher or an employer for much more than what was demanded by the terms of our implicit social contract. We saw them as a source of inner strength and meaningful direction, and put our trust in them, inviting their authority. And this enabled them to impart strength to us; their example and commitment empowered us to develop our own hidden resources.8

In a similar vein, our Sages taught:9 “The servant of a king is like a king.” For by making a willful commitment to a king, a person steps beyond the petty concerns of his ego, and this opens him to the inner strength and purpose which the king radiates.

It can be argued that these advantages may be true in theory, but the institution of monarchy has not functioned according to these ideals. Throughout history, kings have shown themselves to be no more refined than mankind as a whole.10 Indeed, this is the main reason societies have, at great sacrifice, chosen democracy. For the right to choose our leader is a safeguard against being manipulated by an unjust, self-serving monarch. By holding a leader accountable to his people, we make sure that he shows concern for their interests as well as for his own.

Such a check against the abuse of power will not be necessary in regard to Mashiach for two reasons: a) Mashiach will represent the ultimate in personal refinement. He will be a Torah sage whose sole concern will be for the improvement of mankind as a whole.11 b) Mashiach is charged with a mission, to improve the world at large and usher in an age of knowledge and peace. This mission can be fulfilled only with G‑d’s help. Were Mashiach to abuse the authority he is granted, he would not receive G‑d’s assistance.

Earthly monarchy stems from and serves as an analogy to our relationship with the King of kings. The purpose of a Jewish monarch is to teach the people self-nullification to the king in order to heighten their feelings of self-nullification to G‑d.12 Thus the reinstitution of the monarchy by Mashiach will ultimately lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy:13 “G‑d will be King over the entire earth. On that day, G‑d shall be One and His name One.”