Monarchy: How Did It Emerge?

As we have seen, monarchy has gone on a rather precipitous decline over the last few centuries, with many of the remaining monarchs being figureheads who preside over de facto republics. But here and there, hereditary succession of leaders has re-emerged, notably in North Korea and Syria. Saddam Hussein and Muammar Khadafy both wanted to be succeeded by one of their sons, though they failed, and their children are either dead, in exile, or in jail.

Jason Brownlee has written about another would-be monarchy: The Heir Apparency of Gamal Mubarak, about one of Hosni Mubarak’s sons.

He has some very interesting discussion of the question of succession, a discussion which may give insight as to how monarchy has emerged.

Since World War II, many autocratic leaders have been deposed, by coups or invasions or their parties or foreign pressure. But of those who escaped being deposed, he notes two categories of succession systems.

The first is where ruling elites have an orderly procedure for choosing successors. That is typical of Communist countries and other one-party states. You become a leader by moving up in the party and getting the favor of party bosses. But if they dislike you enough, they may remove you, like Nikita Khrushchev. A sort of oligarchic republicanism, like the Vatican and the Republic of Venice.

The second is where they don’t. Such regimes have a “crown prince problem”, where the chosen successors may try to get into power early. To avoid power struggles, and to keep from being overthrown, the safest choice is often a leader’s son. Thus, monarchy.

So monarchy emerges in the absence of alternative ways of choosing successors.


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