Benevolent Blue-Blooded Rulers or a Royal Mess?
A total of 26 countries globally have monarchies; while most are now simply constitutional, there are still royals with absolute power. Is a monarchy an undemocratic and antiquated remnant of history, or have the remaining kings and queens successfully adapted their roles to modern society?
On April 23, the British royal family welcomed its latest progeny when William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were delivered of their third child. His Royal Highness Prince Louis is fifth in line to the throne of Great Britain and the Commonwealth nations and once again draws attention to the long-established monarchy.
Historically, the throne of a country such as England has been the cause and prize of many battles, evidenced by the numerous royal lineages that have come and gone over the centuries, from the Tudors to the Hanoverians. In modern times, the principal role of a constitutional monarchy is to represent stability and promote national pride; it is a fine tradition that has adapted to modern needs while retaining the dignity and majesty of historical kings and queens. Though the sovereign in this contemporary situation does not have the political or executive role of an absolute monarchy, which these days is only present in a few countries, they still play an important role in the identity of the nation.
Studies have indicated that sovereign states have higher social trust and better cohesion, which generally may be linked with lower rates of crime and corruption. In fact, royals were perceived as the least corrupt public figures in an index published by Transparency International. In comparison to the seemingly never-ending newsreel of politicians who have abused their power for money or status, there have been few modern monarchs who have done the same.
The public personas of many royal members are cultivated through their lifetime of training for the role and their high social standing. By nature, these people are born into their roles and have time to become exactly who they are required to be. Through a lifetime of public service, they are able to gain great respect from their subjects, as is often evidenced through the national response to their deaths. Before passing away in 2016, the late Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej had reigned for over 70 years, during which time he supported many projects as part of his royal patronage of Thailand’s poorest. A year-long period of national mourning saw over 12 million people pay their respects to the King in person, in recognition of his humility in the sovereign role.
While constitutional monarchies provide a national figurehead, a throne with some degree of actual power also has the benefit of greater continuity and reliability in comparison to a wholly democratically-elected system of government. In general, political parties do not consider the future state of the nation when they are not in power — the prime focus is the maintenance of an electoral majority. Furthermore, the turmoil that arises towards the end of each government term only ever brings uncertainty and political unrest within a nation, destabilizing the economy as well as the populace’s trust in those in power. A monarch, however, not only remains as the leader for a much greater period of time, but also has the desire to preserve national economic and political health with long-term solutions, so that their offspring may also rule in a time of prosperity. As is more clearly described by sci-fi author Douglas Adams, “One of the many major problems with governing people is that of who you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. So who should rule if no one who wants to rule should be allowed to?” The clear answer is a monarch.
Finally, as is especially obvious in the case of the monarchy of Great Britain, having a royal family is a great boost for tourism. Visits and tours by the royals around the world generate international media attention, which encourages people to take a trip to see the famous cultural heritage sites and witness the pomp and spectacle of the regular public ceremonies first-hand. The Royal Wedding of Will and Kate in 2011 reportedly generated about 1 billion GBP for “brand Britain” through global media coverage and increased tourism across the UK.
Monarchies still have real roles and value, even today. Rather than condemning them out-of-hand as unhelpful relics, let us continue to appreciate them for the modern benefits they bring.