Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Monarchy in the modern world

Bit unusual for me to write about something that didn't happen over a thousand years ago, but a recent story on the BBC website got me thinking.

Republics are just as old as monarchies. Athens, in Ancient Greece, was famously a republic. Rome was a republic (after being a kingdom and before becoming an empire). Yet, for some reason, fantasy seems far more interested in monarchies.

A Song of Ice and Fire does not have the Seven Republics at war. The Dothraki do not elect a council of leaders.

Democracies and republics are seen as more modern and, by some, a more legitimate form of governance. After all, the leaders are accountable and elected and can be removed by non-violent means by the people. They have a popular (ahem) mandate.

That all makes sense. But if you asked the average Briton today whether they held Her Majesty the Queen or David Cameron/Ed Miliband/Nick Clegg in higher esteem I'd suggest that HM would win rather convincingly. Similarly, advocates of republicanism do face a rather big obstacle when people raise the prospect of a President Blair/Brown/Cameron.

Having an unelected head of state with reserve powers means that the nation can see the monarch as a symbol of unity, whilst retaining the accountability of those who govern and removing them if necessary. It's win-win.

But what if the Queen had the power to veto a public referendum or the will of Parliament? Technically, she does (she could refuse Royal Assent to a Bill and prevent it becoming an Act) but she has never used it and there's never been any suggestion she would. However, in Liechtenstein,a micro-nation principality, the Crown Prince has precisely that power, and uses it. In fact, his powers were increased in 2003.
There was a referendum held on this recently and 76% of those who voted supported the status quo. Now, Liechtenstein is a very small country that uses the Swiss franc and has a population of about 36,000 so it's perhaps not comparable to more sizeable kingdoms, but it is nevertheless interesting that people in the modern world not only tolerate but actively support such a powerful monarchy.

On an unrelated note, I'm thinking of adding an Interviews page (a page being a tab at the top of the blog, like Book stuff and Lore). Only got two right now, but they've both proven to be popular and I hope to get more in the future.



  1. "... it is nevertheless interesting that people in the modern world not only tolerate but actively support such a powerful monarchy."

    I tried, God knows I tried, not to respond to this entry but I can resist no longer.

    I firmly believe in the essential goodness and sense of people. Certainly there are bad folk out there, but at bottom people do instinctively know what is right and correct and what is wrong. They also know, instinctively, that some truths are universal and eternal. One of those truths was given succinct expression by Dante several hundred years ago,

    "It is only when a monarch is reigning that the human race exists for its own sake and not for the sake of something else. For it is only then that the perverted forms of government are made straight, to wit, democracies, oligarchies and tyrannies which force the human race into slavery"

    Almost at DNA level people know that Monarchy is the best way to go. So I am not surprised by this vote in Liechtenstein. I suspect that in the UK if HM were ever to use her powers she would be supported by the majority of the people too (I can't see many English people backing a politician in preference to QEII).

    The sad thing is that, probably largely due to the influence of the USA, we have been conditioned to see that democracy (i.e. the Tyranny of the Majority) is somehow of itself good. Yet the vote in Liechtenstein provides evidence that, when given the chance, people will opt for what is best.

  2. Hey, it's a good thing to comment on my posts!

    I have mixed views about total democracy. I do believe a government must be accountable, and it's hard to have that without democracy. However, that also promotes short-term thinking, division and the desire to massage the truth so that it suits one side.

    I must say that I instinctively like monarchy more than a pure democracy. In America, they have dynasties just as we do, except that they aren't supposed to. Does anyone believe George W Bush became president for any reason other than his father's power and influence? At least over here the hereditary nature of the head of state is intentional.

  3. "I do believe a government must be accountable"

    Accountable to who? And in what way? Most medieval English monarchs took great care to keep the populace on side, those that didn't tended to meet nasty ends or their advisors did.

    With a population thirty times the size it maybe harder, but we now have a communications infrastructure that earlier generations could not have dreamed of. Furthermore lots of government decisions today are influenced not by votes but by newspaper headlines and the fear of what they might mean in terms of votes down the line. With a democracy that often entails bad policy being introduced. With a monarchy it could mean a way of those that hold power keeping in touch with popular feeling but still leaving them the ability to govern for the long term good.

    For a stable state governed for the long-term common good a democracy doesn't cut the mustard, you need a genuine monarchy.

  4. Accountable to the people. As you suggested, it's impossible to govern if the people don't accept that their rulers have a mandate.

    I simply don't believe that a real monarchy/aristocracy could govern the UK today. I don't think people would stand for it. However much they loathe politicians they like the idea that they decide who governs them.