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“”...nothing is as dangerous as leaving for a long time the power on [one] citizen's hands. The nation becomes used to obeying him and he becomes used to ordering them; from there arises usurpation and tyranny.
Monarchy involves the vesting of state power in one person. Monarchs usually bear the title of "King" or of "Queen", but "Grand Duke" will do the trick. ("Emperor" or even "Caliph" may count as pretentious.) Monarchies differ technically from dictatorships in that there are limits on a monarch's powers, whether this be due to tradition,[note 1] a body of nobles who have some claims on the monarchy (as in much of feudal Europe), or a parliament (originally more of the same sort of nobles) to which the monarch is actually subservient (as in modern European constitutional monarchies). Usually, monarchies are hereditary; the descendants of the monarchs are born to rule. This hereditary factor can lead to problems, since the ruling family (or families) tend to interbreed a bit too closely for genetic comfort. Besides, an inspiring and successful hero-monarch may have indolent descendants more interested in butterfly-collecting than in important matters such as national aggrandizement and personal prestige.
The philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BCE) regarded monarchy as the best form of government, though he considered its corruption (tyranny) the worst. However, Aristotle's model for thinking about states was a Greek city-state, very different from the modern-day nation-state (think current monarchies like Liechtenstein, Monaco, Luxemburg, Brunei ...).
Note that, despite the (quite justified) general revulsion towards most forms of strong monarchy in the modern world, the monarchical concept survived quite successfully for most of history, while at the same time, the working class struggled for survival. In periods before and after the Middle Ages, many of those successes were achieved thanks to blood, toil, tears and sweat of common people who risked their lives and did all the hard work. In the century before the First World War of 1914-1918, many European and several Asian monarchies survived by accepting constitutional limits. During the interbellum period several of these states reverted to royal dictatorships, including Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Thailand, which is one reason for the association of monarchism with the authoritarian right.
With that said, monarchy is not necessarily backward or ultra-conservative any more than republicanism is necessarily more left-wing or progressive; there are quite a number of democratic constitutional monarchies just as there are repressive ones. At its best (or at least when done right), a monarchy can help instill a sense of continuity and community to its realm, with the monarch him/herself serving as a mediator between different democratic bodies; ideals like noblesse oblige,[note 2] not to mention the notion that royals live in "gilded cages" also provide additional checks and balances to power. There have been plenty of liberal if not impressively democratic monarchs. One example is King Juan Carlos I of Spain (reigned 1975-2014), who spearheaded the dismantling of Francisco Franco's fascist polity.
Outside the Arabian peninsula, monarchs (and even royal families) these days tend to leave the governing to the competent and get on with their real job, public relations. A notable exception was Nepal, where the King was both autocratic and incompetent, and was removed by a coalition of political parties and Maoist insurgents (2006-2008).
- 1 Types of monarchies
- 2 List of monarchies
- 3 Restoration of monarchies
- 4 Monarchy in the United States
- 5 Monarchy in Britain
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
Types of monarchies
A constitutional monarchy is where unlike in an absolute monarchy, in which the monarch's powers are limited. This is why a crowned republic is technically a form of constitutional monarchy. Examples include Spain and Thailand. Unlike a crowned republic, the rest of the government can be in various forms. For example, Thailand is a military junta. The term can be quite vague, and often the monarchy is near-powerless or near-autocratic. In modern times, constitutional monarchies are relatively uncommon, with most either becoming crowned republics or remaining absolute.
A crowned republic is a form of constitutional monarchy. It is a democracy with a figurehead monarch, such as the UK and Japan. The monarch has no more political power than any other citizen who is not a politician in that country. This often happens in the situation that a country that absolutely adores its monarchy transitions to democracy (Japan gave up its military to keep it). Monarchs in crowned republics may have no formal power as granted by the constitution (e.g. Japan) or a considerable amount of theoretic power that is never used under normal circumstances. In the UK, basically any political appointment is theoretically done by the monarch "on the advise of" parliament or the Prime Minister and all laws have to receive "royal assent", but in practice those are formalities. Similarly, in Spain the King remains the supreme commander of the Armed Forces. Those powers can become important in periods of constitutional crisis, as seen by Juan Carlos of Spain's response to the coup attempt of 1981.
An absolute monarchy (not to be confused with hereditary dictatorship) is when the monarch has total control of the entire government. These nations are corrupt, and in spite of the major changes to monarchies in the past few centuries, many of these still exist. Present examples of this are Saudi Arabia and Dubai, and historical examples include France from the reign of Louis XIV to the French Revolution and Prussia from the reign of Frederick William I to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. They are/were often theocratic, usually because religious orthodoxy gives a ruler further control over their governments and subjects. In some cases, the monarch themself is considered God by their citizens.
List of monarchies
- United Kingdom, under Queen Elizabeth II of the House of Windsor.
- Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and nine others are in personal union with the UK
- Andorra, co-ruled by the Bishop of Urgell (in Spain) and the President of France. This is the world's only ruling Co-Principality, although the Bishop does most of the work.
- Bahrain, under King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of the House of Khalifa.
- Belgium, under King Philippe of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
- Bhutan, under King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of House of Wangchuck. He is the second youngest reining monarch; only Emir Tamim bin Hamad is younger, and only by one year. Similar to Juan Carlos II, Jigme Khesar presided over increasing democratization of the country under the Kidu, a tradition where the King's duty is to protect his people.
- Brunei, under Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of the House of Bolkiah.
- Cambodia, under King Norodom Sihamoni of the House of Norodom.
- Denmark, under Queen Margrethe II of the House of Glücksburg.
- Japan, under Emperor Akihito of the Yamato Dynasty; the only country left to have an Emperor.
- Jordan, under King Abdullah II of the House of Hashim - claiming descent from the family of the Prophet Muhammad.
- Kuwait, under Emir Sabah al-Ahmad of the House of Al-Sabah.
- Lesotho, under Letsie III of the House Moshesh.
- Liechtenstein, under Prince Hans-Adam II of the House of Lichtenstein.
- Luxembourg, under Grand Duke Henri of the House of Bourbon-Parma.
- Malaysia, under King Abdul Halim of Kedah; he is also the Sultan of the state of Kedah. Uniquely, each of the nine Malay states has a hereditary ruler; five of those are Sultanates. The Kin is elected by and among the other hereditary state rulers.
- Monaco, under Prince Albert II of the House of Grimaldi.
- Morocco, under King Mohammed VI of the House of Alaouite - claiming descent from the family of the Prophet Muhammad.
- The Netherlands, under King Willem-Alexander of the House of Orange-Nassau.
- North Korea in all but name under Kim Jong-un.
- Norway, under King Harald V of the House of Glücksburg.
- Oman, under Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Al Said; he lacks an heir due to being childless. He gained power by overthrowing his father, Said bin Taimur, in a palace coup in 1970. He is the absolute ruler of Oman (there isn't even a separation of powers), the only Sultan since Oman's independence, and the founder of the Al Said dynasty.
- Qatar, under Emir Tamim bin Hamad of the House of Thani; another absolute ruler, and the youngest ruling monarch at 34. Like his father, he is a pragmatic Islamist, who would rather use Islam for political points rather than policy.
- Saudi Arabia, under King Salman of the House of Saud. An absolute ruler, but one that combines elective with hereditary.
- Spain, under King Felipe VI of the House of Bourbon.
- Swaziland, under King Mswati III, another absolute monarchy.
- Sweden, under King Carl XVI Gustaf of the House of Bernadotte.
- Thailand, under King Bhumibol Adulyadej of the Chakri Dynasty.
- Tonga, under King Tupou VI of the House of Tupou.
- United Arab Emirates, an "elective" absolute monarchy. Each of the seven city-states has its own hereditary emir. The UAE President is elected by his fellow rulers for a five-year term, but there are no term limits and the office has always been held by the emir of Abu Dhabi. The office of UAE Prime Minister has always been held by the emir of Dubai or his heir.
- The Vatican under Pope Francis, or Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He is both Pope of the Catholic Church and the absolute monarch of Vatican City (modern popes typically delegate responsibility for the day-to-day running of the city to others, but retain the authority to rescind such delegations of power and more generally run things however they see fit); as Pope, he's elected by the Cardinals, and once elected, he holds absolute power, even if the ruling oligarchy bitches about his reforms (there is no such thing as a recall election). Also qualifies as a theocracy.
Restoration of monarchies
The 20th century saw a large number of monarchies dismantled. Notable examples are Imperial China (1911, became the Republic of China and later the People's Republic of China); the Russian Empire (1917, became the Soviet Union and then after the Cold War the Russian Federation); German Empire (1918, became a democratic republic, then something else entirely for a short time, then divided into a dictatorship + a democratic republic, and finally united as a democratic republic); Austria-Hungary (1919), and the Ottoman Empire (fell apart as consequence of defeat in World War I, 1923). After the end of World War II several more joined the club: Bulgaria (1946); Yugoslavia (1943); Italy (1946); and Romania (1947). Greece and a few African and Asian states (Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Afghanistan, Vietnam) became republics (dictatorships, to be exact) during the second half of the century.
There have not been serious proposals to restore the monarchies in any of those countries, except Cambodia (where Hun Sen has been ruling as an autocrat since the end of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror and the royal family has been one of the two entities vying to wrest power from him). However, the former Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria was elected Prime Minister of that country in 2001 as the head of a liberal party, the Simeon II National Movement. He won some awards for his efforts, but was voted out at the next election, and the election after that his party was voted right out of parliament. Following the breakup of Austria-Hungary, emperor Karl abdicated the throne of Austria but refused to step down as King of Hungary, since the monarchy was popular among Hungarians. He was exiled but made two attempts to reestablish himself on the throne before his death in 1922. In the lead-up to World War II, the former Allies started to come around to the idea of putting his son on the throne as a counterweight to the rising tide of fascism, but by then it was too little, too late.
Pretenders to abolished thrones have support among fringe minority groups of "monarchists" and "royalists"[note 3] who believe that restoring their country's monarchy will also restore some fabled former glory. While it can perhaps restore "might" in eyes of their counterparts in another countries, a question arises: at what price? British taxpayers give Queen Elizabeth a budget approximately equivalent to $56 million USs, roughly one dollar per person per year. It is not a great burden for taxpayers, but illustrates the point that royal family/families do live(s) decadent lifestyles by using (some kind of) charity. It is certainly true that that money could be spent for health care, education, etc. However, it should be noted that the amount of tourism dollars the Royal family generates, at about 767 million dollars, far outweighs the cost of supporting them by 15 times . Furthermore, the same could be said for the support of executive households in republics which also reaches expensive amounts. Furthermore, former Presidents - even if they don't hold any actual political power even while in office - are often afforded some rather expensive perks; some are even paid the full salary and given full presidential protection for life. A royal family may be expensive, but at least you normally don't have to pay five kings and former kings at the same time.
A major proponent of returning to monarchies was the Austrian, aristocratic, reactionary, socio-political theorist Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn.[note 4] Kuehnelt-Leddihn believed that most democracies would eventually lead to totalitarianism by the majority, to the point where he claimed that Nazism was actually a democratic left-wing movement primarily inspired by the French Revolution. He also claimed that monarchies would be better able to fight other radical movements such as fascism, which is kind of hilarious when one considers Fascist Italy and Francisco Franco's Spain and the nature of the countries that largely blew fascism to bits. (Kuehnelt-Leddihn promoted these ideas at the freedom-loving National Review for roughly 35 years, and is one of the reasons why the magazine is no longer taken seriously.)
Another case for monarchies was made by would-be Archduke Otto von Habsburg, who later became a Bavarian MEP in the European Parliament. In contrast to Kuehnelt-Leddihn, he had a healthy respect for democracies and republics, while also condemning the sort of royal decadence that made the French Revolution nigh inevitable. While the actual defense of monarchism incorporates some conservative ideas,[note 5] at least the would-be monarch also attempted to reconcile it with socialism. Compared to Kuehnelt-Leddihn, this comes across as more palatable, although the man himself for all his support for human rights and the European Union had a soft spot for Franco over accepting refugees.[note 6]
Previously abolished monarchies back in the saddle
That said, some monarchies have managed to reclaim the throne after a Republican interlude. Perhaps the most notable example is England, which went right back from the "Commonwealth" under "Lord Protector" (read, "military dictator") Oliver Cromwell right back to monarchy shortly after the death of Cromwell. Spain even managed to unseat the Bourbons twice (the "Spanish Republic" of the Spanish Civil War was the second Spanish Republic) and endure decades of Francisco Franco only to get yet another Bourbon king upon the death of Franco. Given that Juan Carlos has mostly played his hand well and his successor has not yet done anything truly stupid or offensive, the third Spanish Republic is probably some ways off. Sweden and Norway have both undergone periods where they were governed by different monarchies only to reassert independence under their own monarch later on. Sweden even cycled through three dynasties in the 19th century, ultimately putting a French marshal on the throne rather than going republican. The Netherlands were founded as a Republic, but the Stadholder was a monarch in all but name during the 18th century and it was thus only natural that he be made king in name as well as fact when reinstated during the Congress of Vienna.
Monarchy in the United States
Despite their claims to be a Bibul-luvin' people, the Americans are causing baby Jesus to cry. They not only refuse to adopt a monarchic system of government, but rejected the divinely-appointed monarchy of George III. This is in direct conflict with Deuteronomy 17:15, in which God tells His people, "Be sure to appoint a King over you."
Thus, any American Republican, Teabagger, libertarian, or otherwise who claims to be a Christian is a liar, depending on the extent of Biblical literalism they adhere to. If they are true believers, they should be campaigning for a divine intervention to appoint
a King an emperor of the United States. Anything else is a foul, anti-Christian heresy.
And don't think it hasn't been tried. 19th Century San Francisco resident Joshua Norton believed the US should have a monarch, and so selflessly crowned himself Emperor Norton I of America and Protector of Mexico. He became a celebrity, although his proclamations were ignored. Many regarded him as mad, but harmlessly so, because "he had shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line." His finest moment consisted of protecting Chinese immigrants from an angry mob.
It didn't stop there. In the 21st century, a small political faction centered on Silicon Valley, the Neoreactionaries, has been calling for a US monarchy. In this new-fangled tech-friendly monarchy, the King will be an autocratic leader on the lines of Steve Jobs, because being good at running a tech company, where almost every problem can be solved by reading the friendly manual (RTFM), is a skill transferable to running a country, where almost no problem can be. Neoreactionaries expound their theories in massive online screeds, composed during their copious free time, which shows how good they are at getting dates. However, once installed, His Majesty will
immediately cull his key supporters to prevent any rivals from seizing power themselves give them all horses and fancy titles, which will make them much more attractive. The King will also expel all undesirables, as defined by traditionally reactionary attitudes to race, gender and sexual orientation. What a contrast to Emperor Norton!
Monarchy in Britain
The monarchy of the UK has evolved into the perfect genotype for modern royals, they being neither intelligent enough to think they can run the country, nor stupid enough to think they can run the country — i.e., against the Dunning-Kruger effect, they're not bright enough to rule and they can see they're not up to it.
Prince Charles is a possible exception as he often expresses his views on all matters, being a supporter of environmentalist causes and renewable energy, and… also a great supporter of homeopathy. Stay alive, Liz.
Notable British monarchs
King Arthur was possibly fictional and, if not, was nothing like the character in the legends.
John has gone down in history as a Bad King. He was the enemy of legendary outlaw Robin Hood.
Richard I was a dashing military leader played by Sean Connery, notable for spending much of his reign at the Crusades.
James I (and James VI of Scotland) was a man of learning and a power-mad dictator who believed in the Divine Right of Kings, i.e. the notion that the monarch is appointed by God. He ruled both England and Scotland after 1603 but is best known for the King James Version, the bible translation he commissioned which is praised by some for its poetic qualities and by others as the actual literal word of God.
Willliam III was the very Protestant king who took over from James II in 1689. His victory over the Catholic King James in what's now Northern Ireland remains a point of contention there, with "King Billy" still a folk hero to Ulster Unionism.
George III, whilst considered at the time to have been mad, is now thought to have suffered from a skin disease called porphyria which caused him extreme discomfort. This however fails to explain why, in the course of a country walk, he addressed a tree in the mistaken belief that it was the King of Prussia — a nation also renowned for the mental instability of its ruling classes.
George IV was a genius at spending money, accruing millions in debt. He favoured extravagant building projects, fine clothes, eating and drinking. The last two somewhat undermined his sartorial ambitions, as he ended up with a 50-inch waist. He rarely appeared in public because of the derision caused by his spherical shape. he married in secret but later had the marriage annulled and married a second time to pay his debts. He loathed his second wife and may have poisoned her.
Victoria is one of the most iconic of British monarchs for her refusal to be amused and her love of her German husband Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Edward VIII, aka. the Duke of Windsor, is now well known for his affair with Mrs. Simpson and for being a Nazi sympathizer, although it was largely kept from the British public at the time. Thank goodness he stepped down...
...paving the way for George VI, the shy stutterer who didn't want or expect the job, but had to do it anyway, since monarchy is the last remaining form of indentured servitude (as Logue says in The King's Speech).
And finally Elizabeth II, who shows no sign of packing it in.
According to the most influential commentary on the modern British Constitution, Monty Python's Brand New Papperbok (sic), it is advised never to say to the Queen:
"You don't look like you do on the stamps!"
Even if it's true.
- The Chinese "Mandate of Heaven," for instance, provided both a justification for the Emperor's duties and a convenient excuse to depose said ruler if he's not doing a good job at it.
- The idea that those in the nobility actually try to do something deserving of their position.
- Such groups tend to be all over the political spectrum, from far-right reactionaries to even socialists.
- Yup, a nobleman supporting monarchy - I bet you never saw that coming... More to the point, he was yet another product of the venerable Austro-Hungarian Empire that also gave us Friedrich August von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises of Austrian school fame/infamy [delete whatever is inappropriate], as well as some guy with a mustache.
- The essay actually tries to justify the phrase "by the grace of God" stopping short "Divine Right of Kings."
- Granted, he called Franco "a dictator of the South American type."
- See the Wikipedia article on Bokassa I.
- See the Wikipedia article on Caliph of ISIL.
- Hepburn, A. Roman Holiday. J. Paramount Pictures, 1953.
- See the Wikipedia article on Gyanendra of Nepal.
- Amid tight budget, queen is pinching pennies along with rest of Britain, Washington Post
- Because "men are born and remain free and equal in rights" is fascist, everyone!
- "Monarchy vs. Republic"
- Encyclopedia of San Francisco: Emperor Norton
- Finley, Klint (22 November 2013). "Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neoreactionaries". TechCrunch.
- Traditional Monarchy is Neoreactionary
- Environmental and Social Responsibility, Princeofwales.gov
- Prince Charles branded a 'snake oil salesman' by scientist, The Guardian
- See the Wikipedia article on John, King of England.
- TV and film's top eight portrayals of King Henry VIII, The Independent
- William III, BBC History
- The Battle of the Boyne, BBC History
- George IV: The Royal Joke?, BBC History
- King George IV on Britroyals
- New clues to Edward VIII's 'Nazi links', BBC