Monarchy: Some Arguments

One can find advocates for just about anything online, and monarchy is no exception, with no shortage of both pro and anti sites. I will now look at some monarchist arguments and try to analyze them. Arguments for Monarchy – Monarchist Manifesto has a sizable number of them, ranging from the fatuous “In a Monarchy the monarch represents all the people not a certain majority or minority but all the people” to the more serious “Monarchs are by the far the most effective barriers against dictatorships. Had there been a Kaiser in Germany in 1932 I doubt Hitler would’ve risen to power. Had Tsar Nicholas II been in charge instead of Kerensky it is very likely that Lenin could’ve been stopped.” Paralleling the latter argument, Constitutional Monarchy vs Republicanism…? – Yahoo! UK & Ireland Answers features the argument that constitutional monarchies are more stable than pure republics, giving as an example that Adolf Hitler came to power in a pure republic.

There is plenty of counterevidence to the anti-dictatorship argument. King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy did hardly anything to stop Benito Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan was even worse, supporting Japan’s war efforts. So if Germany still had a Kaiser when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor, the Kaiser would either have gone along with Nazism or else Hitler would have forced him to abdicate — or suffer an even worse fate.

The stability argument reverses cause and effect. Monarchies are often abolished as a result of big political upheavals, and nations that do not have such upheavals tend to keep their monarchs. Thirteen British North American colonies’ War of Independence was the end of the British monarch’s sovereignty over that territory. But the other big “Anglo” territories, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, never went through anything similar, and they are still subjects of the British monarch.

Outside the British Empire, France’s monarchy was deposed in the French Revolution, though it made a brief comeback a few decades later. World War I resulted in the end of the German, Austrian, Russian, and Ottoman monarchies, but not the British one, because Britain was less affected by that war than Germany, Austria, Russia, or the Ottoman Empire.

I’ve seen various other arguments, like the touristic value of the British monarchy. However, national-heritage tourist traps do not need monarchs.

So I (lpetrich) do not see a good case for monarchy.

Monarchy: A Few Revivals

Despite the decline and fall of monarchy in many nations, a few nations have recently created new monarchies, and a few leaders have tried to have monarchy-style succession.

The most successful one has been North Korea, which has been the world’s only Communist monarchy. Its first leader was Kim Il-Sung, and in 1980, he chose his successor: his son Kim Jong-Il. When he died on 8 July 1994, Kim Jong-Il became North Korea’s leader. There is now a lot of speculation as to who will be Kim Jong-Il’s successor, but the most likely candidate at this time is his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un.

Cuba may have recently become a second Communist monarchy. In 2008, Long-time leader Fidel Castro has retired and handed his position over to his brother Raul. However, both men are very old, and there is no hint as to who their successor might be.

The more usual succession practice in Communist countries is, however, that of an oligarchic republic, like the Republic of Venice. Leaders have come to power by being elected by high-level Communist Party officials.

There are also some cases outside of the Communist world, and they have been extensions of strongman rule.

In Syria, Hafez Assad ruled from 13 Nov 1970 to his death in 10 June 2000. He originally wanted to be succeeded by his son Basil, but Basil died in a car accident in 1994. So he chooe another son, Bashar, who did succeed him. At this time, there is still no hint as to who might succeed Bashar, something complicated by the rebellion currently in Syria.

In Haiti, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier ruled from 22 Oct 1957 to his death in 21 Apr 1971. He was succeeded by his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who ruled until he was overthrown in 7 Feb 1986.

There are even a few abortive cases.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein wanted to be succeeded by his son Uday, and later by his son Qusay. But he was deposed in the 2003 Iraq War, those two sons were killed in it, and he was executed on 30 Dec 2006.

In Libya, Muammar Khadafy supposedly wanted to be succeeded by one of his sons, Saif al Islam. But Muammar was killed on 20 Oct 2011, the day of the fall of the last bit of his domain. The whereabouts of Saif al Islam are unknown, but of the rest of Muammar’s family, his sons Saif al Arab, Mutassim, and Khamis are now dead, his son Saadi has fled to Niger, and his wife Safia, his sons Mohammed and Hannibal, and his daughter Aisha have fled to Algeria. It is unlikely that either his successor the National Transitional Council or many Libyans will want to welcome them back.

But it should be evident that these monarchies and would-be monarchies are a weak countertrend against the continuing anti-monarchy trend.

Monarchy: Modern Rejection Elsewhere

Many nations outside of Europe have also rejected monarchy over the last few centuries, even nations that had once been colonies of European nations. Of the ex-British-Empire countries, a few have continued to accept the sovereignty of the British monarch: Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. However, several of them have become pure republics, severing their ties with that monarch: the United States, Ireland, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, etc. Likewise, in post-independence Latin America, most nations have rejected monarchies, despite their often having been ruled by strongmen and military juntas. The main exception is Brazil, which had a post-independence monarchy for 67 years, from 1822 to 1889. Post-independence south-of-Sahara Africa has been much like Latin America, usually rejecting monarchy even if not often accepting democracy.

In eastern Asia, monarchies have also weakened or fallen outright. Among notable nations, China’s and Korea’s ones are gone, with the Republic of China (1911, now Taiwan), Communist China (1949, mainland), and South Korea continuing to be republics. However, North Korea is now a de facto monarchy. Japan is now a crowned republic, but Thailand is a less clear case. Though a constitutional monarchy, its official cult of the monarch is rather sternly enforced, complete with punishing people for making jokes about the monarch.

Curiously, in the Middle East and North Africa, many nations became independent as monarchies, with the exceptions being Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia, and Algeria. But even there, some of these monarchies got overthrown, those of Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran. The remaining ones are Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, with varying amounts of progress toward constitutional monarchy.

So not just in Europe, but just about everywhere over the last century, monarchy has been going downhill and getting rejected outright.

Monarchy: Modern European Rejection

In Europe since the Middle Ages, there have been several republican city-states, some of them very long-lived. One of them was Venice, whose Doge (supreme leader) was elected for life by the aristocrats. The Republic of Venice lasted 1100 years, from 697 to 1797, when the Doge was forced to abdicate by Napoleon.

The oldest larger European state with a continuous republican existence is Switzerland, dating back to the founding of the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1291. However, most other ones stayed monarchies until recently. When Oliver Cromwell took over England in 1653, he made England a republic, but after his death in 1658, England’s monarchy got restored. France became a republic in its revolution of 1789-1799, but its excesses provoke a monarchical reaction, and France then alternated between monarchy and republicanism before settling down in the latter state late in the 19th cy. In that century and up to World War I, most successful European nation builders preferred monarchies: Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Greece, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania. Finland almost got a monarch, but that war got in the way.

Yet republicanism had an early success, the nation formed from Britain’s rebellious North American colonies late in the 18th century. Its first President, George Washington, was a very modest leader. Not only did he have no desire to become King George I, he rejected titles fancier than “Mr. President”, and he quit at the end of his second term. Some of the Founders recognized the radical nature of their political experiment; John Adams wrote a Defence of the Constitutions, 1787, drawing on Greco-Roman, Swiss, Dutch, and recent-city-state experience.

He included “monarchical republics”, where monarchs share power with legislatures in what we more usually call “constitutional monarchies” and sometimes “crowned republics”. But in many nations, as the years went by, the legislatures took over more and more of the business of governing until many monarchs became figurehead leaders and their nations de facto republics. Queen Elizabeth II is the best-known such monarch.

But after World War I, no new European nation got a monarch, and over the years, several monarchies came to an end: Portugal, Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Russia. The only restored monarch has been King Juan Carlos I of Spain, on 20 November 1975. So active monarchy is essentially gone from Europe.

Monarchy: Early Rejection

Though monarchy had been very common in premodern large-scale societies, there are a few that had rejected monarchy, notably the classical-Greek city-states and the Roman Republic.

Greece first became literate in its Mycenaean period, but all the writing was bookkeeping records without much on their society’s politics. Its writing was lost with the destruction of the Mycenaean palace society around 1200 BCE, and Greece became literate again some centuries later around 750 BCE. This is about when the Classical period starts, and Greece was some independent city-states with a shared culture. Monarchy often faded in them, and politics often featured tumultuous contests between ordinary citizens, aristocrats, and strongmen.

But in the middle of the 4th cy. BCE, Philip of Macedon conquered Greece, establishing an overall monarchy, and over the next few centuries, his successors strengthened their control against revolts and the like.

Turning to Rome, it is rather difficult to tell when our sources’ history becomes reliable. Its supposed founder, Romulus, was described as the son of a god and a virgin (where have we heard that before?). The Roman Republic was described as starting from the overthrow of a bad king in 509 BCE. It had two consuls as its supreme leaders; they were elected for terms of one year. It also had various councils and officials, notably the Senate (Latin, “the elders”). As in Greece, it had lots of conflicts between aristocrats (patricians) and common people (plebeians). But as the Roman Republic conquered more and more territory, it suffered from various social stresses, and in its last century, it suffered lots of strife and civil war. Near its end, Julius Caesar, a successful general, returned to Rome with his army in 49 BCE, setting himself up as strongman. He had rather successful rule, but some opponents assassinated him on 15 March 44 BCE. This led to more civil war, and it ended with general Octavian becoming unchallenged leader in 4 January 27 BCE, ending the Republic.

Centuries later, the Greek and Roman experience would inspire many Europeans pushing for democracy and republican government, including in Britain’s rebellious North American colonies. When the rebels won and wrote a Constitution for themselves, they named their upper legislative house the Senate. Advocates of that Constitution wrote their Federalist Papers with the pen name Publius, after a Roman-Republic politician, and their opponents wrote under pen names Cato and Brutus, other Roman-Republic politicians.

Monarchy: A Long History

What is monarchy? Rule by a king/queen, an emperor/empress, a grand duke/duchess, a prince/princess, among numerous titles, but that begs the question. Monarchy (Greek, “single ruler”) generally means rule by someone who is descended from his/her predecessor or was selected by his/her predecessor or predecessor’s family, and sometimes both.

The opposite of a monarchy is a republic (Latin, “public thing”), and in a republic, the leaders are selected by the citizens or by some council of aristocrats or other dignitaries. What we call representative democracy (Greek, “people rule”) is a kind of republic.

The line between monarchy and republicanism is not a sharp one, because some nations have mixed systems or “constitutional monarchies”, “monarchical republics”, or “crowned republics”. In some cases, the monarchs are not involved in day-to-day governing and are essentially figureheads, making their nations de facto republics.

Though many nations are now crowned or pure republics, that is rather unusual over humanity’s recorded history. For all the 5000+ years of recorded history, many of not most large-scale societies have been monarchies, and many of them have entered recorded history as monarchies. One may attempt to extrapolate further using archeological evidence and cross-cultural comparisons, but that method has obvious difficulties.

Some monarchies have been very long-lasting, at least if one allows for conquests, coups, abdications, and interregnums along the way. Overthrowers of monarchs often become monarchs themselves, succeeding those that they overthrew, thus providing some continuity. The resulting line of monarchs can continue for centuries.
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