In Defense of Monarchy In An Age Of Democracy
20th Annual Faculty Lecture
Santa Barbara City College
Santa Barbara, California
March 25, 1999
Dr. M.M. Eskandari-Qajar (Kadjar)
Department of Political Science
(Copyright M.M. Eskandari-Qajar, 1999
All Rights Reserved )
[This is a modified version. For the complete lecture please order a printed copy from SBCC, Public Information Office, 721 Cliff Dr., Santa Barbara, CA 93109.]
In the brochure you received as you entered this hall today, I end the synopsis of my talk with the words: "It is time we make a case for Monarchy in the Age of Democracy." But the question you might ask and probably are asking yourself is: Why would anyone think of giving a talk in defense of monarchy, in this day and age, in the first place? And even if one did, how does one defend monarchy today? What is there to defend, especially in contrast to democracy? Monarchy, as everyone well knows is an anachronism, a thing out of place in our modern world. Furthermore, monarchy is something negative. The best thing we can say about monarchy is that we are glad it is no more with us, for monarchy was tyranny; it meant abuse of power; it meant oppression; it meant arbitrariness, it was all the things democracy is not. So why, then, would anyone speak in defense of monarchy, especially when all we need to know about the matter is known and settled?
The implied promise of my talk today is that there may still be something to this story that has not been told well, or perhaps not well enough, and that, to misquote Mark Twain "the story of monarchy's death has been greatly exaggerated," as has the notion that there is nothing positive to say about the matter. And so too with the notion that monarchy has no place in our world today. Quite to the contrary!
Let me begin, therefore, by telling you why I chose this topic:
As some of you know, for me monarchy is a matter of family, of blood, of honor. I bear the name of a royal dynasty proudly, and have often, and gladly, spoken about it, not to brag or feign importance, but to uphold and defend the good there was in that dynasty and in monarchy in general. I also have roots in two cultures and countries that have had some of the longest, uninterrupted traditions of monarchic rule -- over twenty five hundred years in Iran and close to a thousand years in Austria. Monarchism, for any Iranian as well as any Austrian, is not a foreign doctrine or an alien concept, and certainly for this speaker, thus doubly familiar, and in many ways very close to home. In a sense, this subject and my interest in it has made me who I am. But if this were only a talk about a personal matter, there wouldn't be much point to it, and thus I hope I will be able to convince you today that my interest in the subject is also a matter of principle not just one of personal preference or familial identification.
My interest in this topic also stems from my observation that the mere mention of the word monarchy generates interest, if not heated debate, among the most sedate and otherwise agreeable of people. For this reason, I have felt that the subject deserves closer scrutiny, both to discover the sources of that latent passion, but also to clear up some of the misconceptions that are at the root of the negative feelings associated with monarchy. And this last point I feel strongly about. Even if we come to decide, at the end of the day, that we still feel the same about our political convictions, it is quite necessary, in my view, that the choice be an educated one. Furthermore, I feel that the mere act of discussing monarchy as a viable alternative at all -- in this age of democracy -- does a great service to the idea of monarchy. The reason for this is that such discussion allows the notion of monarchy to remain accessible for those who might otherwise consider it passé and out of the question.
On the other hand, I am also fully aware that the case for monarchy is a difficult one to make today, not because the arguments in favor of it lack, but because the time and circumstances in which they could have been made more fully has passed. I am aware of that and yet feel that the case must be made because the loss of the opportunity to establish, reestablish or strengthen existing monarchies, will, in my view, have more negative than positive consequences. That our political imagination should be limited to variations on one form of government only -- namely representative democracy -- stunts and impoverishes the political dialogue beyond repair. It also robs cultures of their rich traditions, many of which are intricately linked with the notion of monarchy from time immemorial.
Finally, concern about political systems is, in a very real sense, my job! I am by training a political scientist, and in that field my emphasis has been and remains political theory, or rather -- if my colleagues in philosophy would grant me that -- political philosophy. As a student of political philosophy I look at political systems critically and try to answer the question for myself and for my students, "Which government is best?" Now I know only too well that prominent thinkers in my field, including Sir Karl Popper, have argued that these big questions have been resolved, and that we now only need to focus on the fine tuning of what we have achieved, but for me the question remains an ever relevant one. I have trouble with anyone proclaiming that we have arrived, and that we need look no further.
So for these reasons and more I have decided to invite you on this short journey with me. It is not a journey, the intended result of which is for you to support monarchy in America (although I could make a suggestion for a candidate for king!). The aim of the journey is for you to be willing to keep an open mind about the possibility of monarchy in the world, and if the case arises to support it as good, and in some cases as necessary, or at the least, not dismiss it out of hand. Should you, however, not all become avid monarchists at the end of this lecture, let me assure you now that the fault lies squarely with the present speaker and his shortcomings, and not with the subject of his choice, monarchy!
A word more, before we go on. Let me clarify a few things at this point that I feel might be on your minds as you have been listening to my introduction. Let me say this clearly and unambiguously: An argument for monarchy, is not an argument against democracy. This should be clear from the start. Now an argument for monarchy can be an argument against democracy, and God knows it can be made, but that is not the argument I am making here. As I will try to show, monarchy, as I see it, is eminently compatible with democracy. In fact, in my view, it enriches it. Now, I understand why lovers of democracy might think a "monarchist" is anti-democratic, it is because democracy came into existence through anti-monarchism, but the reverse need not be true. History shows us that. And so I hope I am alleviating any fears that this could be a tirade against cherished principles right at the beginning. My intention is to add, not to take away!
While we are clarifying, let me clarify this as well. The type of monarchy I speak of in my lecture is not absolute monarchy. I know that the word monarchy brings to mind this kind of monarchy, but that is not the form I speak of. Nor do I speak of monarchy legitimized by divine right. That form too belongs to the past and is more appropriately the subject of historical or anthropological inquiry than it is of political inquiry. I speak of constitutional monarchy, and what the essence of that form of monarchy is, I will clarify shortly in my talk.
* * * * * * *
Equating monarchy with principles associated normally with democracy is neither erroneous nor preposterous. Already in Hegel we saw the outlines of the argument, but in Hegel the point is made in the abstract and with reference to a metaphysical framework, the acceptance of which may not be palatable equally to all today. Thus the question becomes, can one make the case for monarchy in a way that does not rely on such a transcendent framework and show its relevance to today's political reality. I believe one can, but first let me elucidate some misconceptions about the notion of monarchy.
Inevitably when one speaks of monarchy, the picture conjured up in the minds of the listeners is the kind that is referred to as traditional or absolute monarchy. In point of fact, the classical notion of monarchy from which we derive the term "traditional" monarchy, precludes the type of rule that was later described as absolute, that is rule of a king who is above the law and to whose will there is no appeal. That form of government was monarchy only in the literal sense of the term meaning "rule by one," but it was not monarchy in any way the ancients or the medieval thinkers would understand it. For this type of rule they had a separate name, the ancients called it tyranny, the polar opposite of monarchy, and the moderns call it despotism. This is the type of monarchy against which revolutions were fought, and it is also the type of monarchy that was responsible for the strengthening of the arguments in favor of democracy and the republican form of government. Though it still exists today, the days of such a system are numbered, and in the last three decades two of the more spectacular examples of this type disappeared through revolution in Ethiopia and Iran. It is safe to say that the remaining absolute monarchies, unless they move towards constitutional monarchy, will face similar threats and possible dissolution as their Iranian and Ethiopian counterparts did not too long ago.
The type of monarchy I speak of today is not what is commonly referred to as absolute monarchy, but rather a related form called constitutional monarchy, already mentioned earlier in my exposition of the views of Hegel and others. Constitutional monarchy differs from its older sibling in this: it limits the power of the monarch and allows for democratic institutions to exist side by side with the institution of monarchy, both complementing each other rather than canceling each other out. Specifically, in this type of monarchy, the monarch is the head of state, and the form of monarchy is retained, i.e., heredity and primogeniture, but the monarch is monarch by will of the people not by divine right, and the people have sovereignty through their elected parliament and their prime minister who is the head of government, i.e., the head of the executive branch.
Now, this type of monarchy can be strong constitutional monarchy or weak constitutional monarchy. The strong type, as I call it, gives the monarch more executive powers, even to the point of vetoing legislation or dismissing parliament and calling for new elections. The weak kind, gives the monarch mostly ceremonial roles but may retain actual powers in potentia for use in extra-ordinary circumstances. The first still involves the monarch politically; the second involves the monarch mostly symbolically. This last type has been called "bicycling" monarchies, in reference to the informal style the monarchs have adopted in the northern European and Scandinavian countries. The first type is not prevalent in Europe anymore, but still exists in the Middle East and in Asia. Seven of the fifteen countries of the European Union, and half of all Western European countries (EU included) are constitutional monarchies of the second kind today, and unlike traditional monarchy, they have fared extremely well. To underscore the source of the appeal of this kind of monarchy for me, I would like to take you back in history for a moment to talk about its origins and development.
The kind of monarchy where monarchs enjoyed powers of decision-making limited by very few restraints other than those imposed by the monarchs themselves, came under increasing criticism and then fire, in Europe, starting with the Civil War in England and the writings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in the seventeenth century. Precedents for the reduction of the powers of the monarchs were already set in motion with the granting of the Magna Carta by King John in 1215. By 1688, with the Glorious Revolution, the power of the monarchy is limited by an increasingly assertive parliament. With few setbacks, the trend generally continues in the direction of more popular sovereignty, until under the reign of Queen Victoria, the power of parliament is firmly established and continues so to our day. In a last feeble attempt to retain control over her speech to parliament, a speech which by then already was written for her by her Prime Minister, Queen Victoria feigned poor eyesight and declared that she was not able to read the prepared speech, whereupon her Prime Minister replied that he would be glad to read it for her in her stead!
Similar developments also occurred across the Channel, first in France and then a century later across much of Europe. Though the French Revolution showed itself to be far more bloody than the forty years of turmoil the British went through to achieve limitations on their monarch's power, the outcome of both political events was a limited monarchy, which at first offered promise of stability on the continent in similar fashion to its counterpart in the British Isles. However, the lessons learned by the British monarchy were not assimilated well by the French, German, Austro-Hungarian, and finally Russian royal houses, so that when international events added their devastation to the exasperation these regimes had caused within their own countries, they could not help but fall and result in the abolition -- rather than reform -- of the institution of monarchy altogether.
Thus, as a result of their evolution into constitutional monarchies, the British, northern European and Scandinavian monarchies have contributed much more positively and uniquely to the overall well-being of their respective polities than the course taken by the French and central European royal houses. They have done so by adding the crucial dimension of symbolic representation and continuity to their political systems that only monarchy can add. Additionally, by reforming themselves into the kinds of institutions they are now, those monarchies have complemented and strengthened the democracies they are a part of, by enhancing national unity and allowing for a neutral center in the midst of a sea of politically driven change. This aspect of modern monarchy is not lost on the members of those societies and is one of the reasons why these monarchies are still so popular with the citizens of the above named countries.
Allow me to clarify something further at this point. It may sound strange to this or most any audience to hear the British, Danish or Dutch governments referred to as monarchies when, in point of fact, they have always been called democracies, and that this is what they are known as in most people's minds. The strangeness has to do with the fact that "democracy" refers more to a mode of governance than an actual form of government today, and that the proper name for a government that elects all of its members (directly or indirectly) is a republic. Thus, the American republic, the Mexican republic, the French republic. The political systems referred to earlier are democratic indeed but they are not republics. They are not even republics by other names. They are bona fide monarchies, only of the constitutional kind. Not only that, but they are also working monarchies, i.e. they are more than merely representational or ornamental, even though they are not of the strong kind I described earlier. They are also qualitatively different from the kinds of political systems one finds in their neighboring countries, in that they have retained, rather than artificially introduced, an element of continuity with tradition and with the past that allows their citizens to feel the stability of the political system tangibly. This is seen not only in the importance given by those citizens to the symbols of monarchical presence and of monarchy itself, but also in the popularity and high esteem the actual persons of the monarchs in question are often held as well. This presence of and continuity with the past gives a highly prized modicum of reassurance in an otherwise too maddeningly rapid changing world. It also creates an additional source of legitimacy for systems which, absent monarchy, would have to generate it through popularity contests only.
So if this is the type of monarchy I am defending, let us see what arguments can be made in favor of maintaining it where it presently exists, and for restoring it in countries where monarchy once existed. Let us turn to the first task.
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The Case for Maintaining and Restoring Monarchy
What arguments can be made in favor of maintaining monarchy where it now exists? Why, might we ask, should monarchy even be retained? What benefit is there in retaining an institution that seems to be a leftover from a time gone by?
First let me introduce a caveat here regarding our search for arguments in favor of monarchy. It is impossible to make absolutely airtight and universally acceptable and appealing arguments for any form of government, monarchy or otherwise, and so I will not attempt it here and it should not be expected. That does not mean, however, that therefore this particular form of government is not desirable, nor does it mean that one cannot defend it well. It simply means that in the arena of politics and political philosophy we are dealing with a subject matter that is more protean than that of other realms of inquiry, without making the inquiry less rigorous or relevant. Political arguments are often accepted for additional reasons other than logical unassailability, and over time become accepted truths. Two examples of the kind of "argument" I am referring to are Thomas Jefferson's statements in the Declaration of Independence, that "we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal ," [emphasis mine] and Winston Churchill's oft quoted punch line about democracy being "the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried from time to time."
Having said this, let us proceed and look at some of the scholarly work done on the subject of monarchy, to derive some of our arguments in favor of that form of government. There have been few studies in comparative politics or political theory of recent vintage that have asked and addressed these questions. Most of the literature on monarchy and even on constitutional monarchy dates from the first half of this century and from the sixties. The reason for this may well have to do with the fact that what was said of monarchy before, mostly dealt with the traditional type which was, and even more so now is, on its way out, and with the fact that the focus in comparative politics shifted to theories of development and modernization on the one hand, and in political theory to the humbler task of fine tuning representative democracy on the other.
In the sixties, one of the grandees of both comparative politics and political theory, Carl J. Friedrich, declared monarchy moribund and predicted its impending death worldwide. The Dictionary of the History of Ideas, subtitled "Studies in Selected Pivotal Ideas" [emphasis mine], published in 1973, does not even have a separate entry for "Monarchy." Yet in the seventies and more recently in the eighties and nineties a new interest developed in the study of this dying patient, and in America "Constitutional Monarchy" finds itself the subject of entries in the Encyclopedia of Democracy published in 1995, as well as in theoretical debates, in such journals as History of Political Thought and American Political Science Review among others. This to say nothing of the scores of articles and editorials in more popular publications such as The Economist, Time Magazine, and Newsweek, many of them in the last two years. Renewed interest in the subject is also shown in French political thought, where in 1997 a fairly monumental study on political systems was published, devoting fully one third of the study to constitutional monarchy and its present prospects in Europe. In fact some of the more interesting recent arguments in favor of monarchy have come from continental Europe, notably France, and when not from Europe, they have been made about European monarchies by such a wide range of American observers as Garrison Keillor and William F. Buckley Jr.!
Perhaps the most extensive comparative study addressing the question of monarchy's continued popularity was done in 1976 by Richard Rose and Dennis Kavanagh entitled "Monarchy in Contemporary Political Culture." In this study, Rose and Kavanagh present a series of hypotheses, which they then test to find the reasons for the popularity of monarchical regimes in Europe. Although their study focuses on the British political system, the authors adduce plenty of evidence that their conclusions can be generalized to its northern European and Scandinavian counterparts as well and to monarchy in general also.
Two sets of observations they make are of particular interest here in view of my thesis on the importance and relevance of constitutional monarchy today. The first has to do with the relationship between constitutional monarchy and political authority, and how monarchy adds an additional dimension to the "justifications for endorsing authority" under democratic governments. The other has to do with how monarchy has behaved to retain its acceptance in modern polities. Let us look at monarchy and political authority first.
The notion of authority in democratic settings is a complex one. The first to talk about this in modern times was Max Weber. Weber distinguished between three types of authority structures, traditional, legal-rational and charismatic. It is legal-rational authority, i.e. authority based on impersonal rules and regulations, that is associated with democracy most. But impersonal rules and regulations are not sufficient for authority to exist in modern systems. Two additional components are required as Rose and Kavanagh point out: 1) diffuse support for the institutions of a regime, and 2) compliance with its basic political laws. Regarding this second requirement, impersonal rules and regulations help, in that in democracies, laws are considered a manifestation of the will of the people and thus imply their consent even if in fact legislated and promulgated by their representatives. However, the first requirement, that of diffuse support for institutions, is more difficult to achieve. For it to be present universally, there must exist many instances of reinforcement of that support in society. This support is normally provided through agents of socialization, such as school, family, the media, but often it is not focused enough, especially in democracies. For this reason, an institution so intricately linked with the notion of tradition and support of the status quo as monarchy, is eminently predisposed to foster just this kind of support, as long as monarchy itself is not the object of lack of support in the first place. But as Rose and Kavanagh have shown, lack of support is a problem constitutional monarchy does not have in Europe today. Monarchy in this case reinforces democracy and strengthens it, adding a centripetal and necessary aspect to the system's efforts at stability, especially necessary in view of the fact that modern democracy, by definition, is centrifugal and atomistic in its celebration of individualism.
Continuing on the theme of the relationship between monarchy and enhanced political authority in democracies, the authors also argue that "[i]ndirectly, ... monarchy may increase political authority by encouraging a generally deferential attitude among the masses of society toward authority in a variety of social manifestations." One of these "social" manifestations of authority is elites. To test this relationship between monarchy and deferential outlooks, the authors asked respondents whether they agreed that elites are best suited to govern a country . The authors found that "[a] majority agreed that people with the most education and people born to rule make the best governors." This finding meshes well with the established fact that elites, in any political system -- including republics -- naturally expect deference to their decisions, and thus monarchies are doubly useful in enhancing the chances of the political system to instill deference to authority in this particular respect and for the sake of stability that would result from it. For political advisors and practitioners of politics, this last point is of course worthy of note! On the other hand, I am also aware that in a society that relishes its irreverent stance towards politics and politicians, this last point also may not be palatable to all. The point, however, about elites in democracies expecting deference was made by an American writer, David Halberstam, about an American elite, President Kennedy's advisors, and though we may argue that elites need not necessarily get what elites feel they need, the fact that the sentiment is raised in a setting as ostensibly anti-elitist as the American one, is, if nothing else, interesting.
The other observation Rose and Kavanagh make has to do with how monarchy must behave to retain its acceptance in modern polities. Even though the authors find that at times, people welcome an even stronger function for monarchy -- for instance when monarchy presents an additional "restraint" upon the elected executives of their countries -- their final conclusion is that for monarchy to survive and prosper in the democratic setting it must be willing to withdraw from the political fray.
Regarding the "restraint" on government that monarchy presents, since the study was done in England, "government" refers to the elected executive branch. Thus in view of the absence of American style judicial restraints upon the British government, given the peculiar nature of that system, this potential role for monarchy provides for an implied check on an otherwise almost unfettered executive (a point that should be appreciated by an audience used to the American system of checks and balances!) The question then becomes, is this a universalizable principle in favor of monarchy in general, and the answer must be that in cases where an additional, impartial -- because non-political -- check is needed, monarchy is uniquely positioned to fulfill that role. Any other entity in democratic settings, being itself subject to one or another restraint or political pressure, cannot discharge that function when it is most needed, namely in times of disagreement or partisan quarrels among the dominant political groups or among the branches of government.
However, regarding the necessity for monarchy to withdraw from the political fray if it is to survive in today's world, the authors are unequivocal:
A good monarch cannot save an unpopular regime, and a bad monarch is an argument for the establishment of a republic. If a monarch is to survive, he requires the creation of a constitutional order in which he becomes a figurehead. The job of maintaining authority is the task of politicians whose careers are transitory. If a monarch also becomes engaged in this work, his career is likely to be transitory, too.
Though this last point may hold true particularly for the remaining European monarchies, differing views have been raised by analysts of monarchies elsewhere in the world. One of those is Gregory Copley, editor-in-chief of the journal Defense and Foreign Affairs, whose 1990 study on monarchies around the world makes just such a point. While some of his conclusions on monarchy's viability and desirability match Rose and Kavanagh's, and his study focuses mostly on monarchies in exile and their chances at restoration, Copley also addresses monarchical traditions in countries where Western democratic notions may still need time to mature. Commenting, for instance, on the heir presumptive to the throne of Libya, Prince Idris al-Sanusi, now in exile in London, Copley states
Prince Idris, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed and therefore a spiritual leader as well as a temporal one in Libya, walks a fine line between his devotion to democratic monarchical structures and traditional Middle Eastern monarchy. But he is sensitive toward the traditional roles of leaders in the Middle East.
This sensitivity to tradition, however, does not imply that a restored monarchy in Libya, or for that matter elsewhere in the Middle East, will be autocratic, but rather that once the basics of rule of law and human rights are guaranteed, those monarchies may have additional as well as different ways of reflecting the will of the people compared to the one way by which the West has traditionally done so, the ballot box. The example of Jordan stands out here as the kind of monarchy this relationship would point to. The same sentiments were expressed by its new king, King Abdullah on the occasion of the death of his father the late King Hussein: "Democracy is not something that can be done overnight," he said. "It is a learning experience. It is also a discipline. Because we have a democracy, it does not mean that people can take things into their own hands." The only element missing from this statement to make it capture the tenor of the time is the word "yet," but inevitably that too will become part of the vocabulary of Middle Eastern monarchies, and in so doing they will have preserved themselves as the necessary links between the past and the future I believe them to be. The fact, however, that this readiness for more popular participation is still absent in some of them, does not necessarily make them autocracies of the kind present day Middle Eastern "republics" are such as those of Libya, Syria and Iraq, and yes, also unfortunately, Iran.
Continuing his arguments in favor of monarchy Copley states: "Perhaps what is most significant today is the fact that the differences between modern constitutional monarchies and modern democratic republics are not as great as those who live in republics seem, without reflection, to believe." So what do monarchies add that democracies do not provide, all other things being equal? Copley answers "monarchies afford their people an even greater identification with their head-of-state than elections give to the presidents of republics." And this identification coupled with "the unbroken line of symbols which have been woven ... between monarchs and subjects over centuries," provides for a fulfillment that mere republics cannot achieve.
Last year, The Dallas Morning News published a series of articles on the world's monarchies, largely substantiating the points made above. The question raised for the readers was how can "a system of government that exalts one person above everyone else because of birth instead of talent or achievement" still thrive? "Why has an institution which has outlived its political usefulness still survived?" The answer, according to the historians interviewed, "lies in the ability of monarchs to fashion a contemporary role for themselves, to use their gilded lives as bridges to a more glorious past, to embody country -- to become, in the countries where they still flourish, flesh and blood Uncle Sams." A second reason has to do with the fact that monarchs are symbols of unity. In countries split by ethnic tensions such as Spain or Belgium monarchs flourish because they symbolize the entire nation, and in countries like Iraq or former Yugoslavia, monarchies could flourish for the same reasons once the violent tensions have subsided.
Referring to the success of the monarchy in Spain under King Juan Carlos, the article continues quoting Spanish historian Javier Tussel: "Monarchy works in Spain because we are a very divided country. ... King Juan Carlos stresses respect for regional differences, so that now you feel Spanish, but you can also feel like a Basque or Catalan." The fact that the king recently gave his blessings to the marriage of his daughter to a Basque popular figure of course helped, as did the fact that the king spoke the Catalan language on a visit to Barcelona not long ago, a gesture no Spanish king had done since the Middle Ages.
The same is true of the Belgian king. The article points out that "the Belgian king is one of the few commonalities shared by the country's ethnically and linguistically divided inhabitants. When King Albert succeeded his brother, the beloved King Baudouin, five years ago, he took the oath of office in French, German and Dutch." This may not seem like much to us, here, who are not as aware of the symbolism of language and ethnicity in Belgium and the long ethnic struggles between the Walloons and the Flemish who form modern Belgium, but for the Belgians it made all the difference. Of course a less sensitive and historically aware king may not have been as helpful, and so individual monarchs and their personalities matter. Yet, paradoxically, though reliance on personality is one of the greatest criticisms of monarchy by those used to elective office, in my opinion, this is also one of monarchy's great sources of strength. True, Rose and Kavanagh say "a good monarch cannot save an unpopular regime, and a bad monarch is an argument for the establishment of a republic," but there is also a corollary to this, that a good monarch may strengthen a good regime even further. And who is willing to argue that this is any different in republics. Do personality and individual character and characteristics not matter in republics? In this aspect too monarchy may not be that alien a concept as some make it out to be and the article in turn reiterates Copley's earlier point by stating:
"The old view that democracy and monarchy are fundamentally incompatible has been proven wrong. ... The Scandinavian countries, the Benelux countries [Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg], are among the most ... progressive and highly developed democracies in the world. Yet they seem to have the most consolidated monarchies. Even in Britain, where the House of Windsor is under fire for its imperial lifestyle in an unimperial age, most seem to favor reforming the crown, not abolishing it.
In view of this, the question really should be why aren't there more monarchies in Europe rather than less? Why have countries that traditionally had monarchies like Austria, France, Germany, Russia and Turkey-- to say nothing of Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Albania or Italy and Greece -- rejected them with such finality and not returned to them when the opportunities arose?
Answers to these questions abound. The reality of the matter is that world-wide only two monarchies were restored in countries that formerly had monarchic traditions: the first example is Spain; the second is Cambodia. The circumstances of Spain's restoration of the monarchy are, of course, peculiar to the case of Spain, since it was Spain's dictator, General Francisco Franco, who actively groomed, and then with his death effected the return of the monarchy to Spain. But as with the case of the restoration of Cambodia's monarchy, the circumstances leading to these two restorations could be used as universalizable principles for the restoration of monarchy in general. In many of the countries were monarchies once prevailed, there are now dictators or strongmen who could be persuaded through Franco's example to facilitate the return to monarchy in order to ensure their own legacy in similar fashion to General Franco's. In many other circumstances, with the present collapse of regimes that formerly were monarchies, the international community could follow its own example when it made it possible for Prince Norodom Sihanouk to return to his country as King Sihanouk. In either case, conditions prevail now in many countries, Yugoslavia, Romania, Albania, Rwanda, Iraq, Libya, Syria, to name but a few, where such a transition modeled on the two examples above could conceivably be achieved, with beneficial outcomes for the countries in question.
Getting back to the question of why so many of the monarchies of Europe disappeared, there is of course the matter of war. The First World War swept away many of the monarchies in question. But why this war and not others before it? Historian Anthony Devere-Summers answers the question this way:
The horrendous cost to human life in the First World War was unacceptable to the people who lost the struggle and received nothing in exchange for that sacrifice. Armed with a greater respect for individual liberty than their forefathers they challenged the military tradition and sabre rattling concept of [the] government that had led to the war. Their monarchies were very much part of that tradition, and they paid the ultimate price in defeat.
And so the Austro-Hungarian, the German, the Russian and the Ottoman Empires fell. In the case of Russia, a revolution was added to the deathblow, a revolution that in great measure became possible because of Russia's involvement in the war. Yet though the monarchies were swept away with the cry for freedom, in their place -- and I might add because of the vacuum created by their absence -- came terrible dictatorships. And then came World War II, and what World War I had left intact of the monarchies in question, World War II finished off, but for very different reasons. Again Anthony Devere-Summers:
The monarchies that fell at the end of the Second World War were victims of either fascism or communism, and only participated in the Second World War by default. Although weakened by the loss of the mighty empires in 1918 which dealt a severe blow to the invincibility of monarchy, they were not unpopular with the ordinary people and only lost power when their opponents resorted to dishonest plebiscites, and intimidation of the masses. Monarchy was not the root cause of the Second World War.
Following these cataclysms came the Iron Curtain, which precluded the restoration of monarchy East of Vienna, and foreclosed the possibility West of Vienna because of the visceral reaction to anything that might even remotely sound like strong centralized government, given the recent madness of Fascism and Nazism. And so valuable time was lost, and alternatives that could have been considered were not because time and circumstances, history, had decided against them. But this was not just the case with the recent losers of World Wars I and II. History also played a strange twist on the prospects for monarchy's restoration in France.
The story of France's monarchy and its fall is the cause celebre of any discussion on the subjects of monarchy and democracy. Many know the intricate detail of the Fall, the Restoration and the Fall again of France's monarchy, but few people know of the events of our century that would answer the question why France does not have a monarchy today. The monarchic system was abolished in France for the last time with the defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the capture of the emperor Napoleon III at Sedan. True, for legitimists the reign of the Napoleons did not constitute continuation of France's monarchy, nevertheless France's form of government last was a monarchy under the Second Empire. Then it disappeared. I hold that it need not have, however. And though the two intervening World Wars gave little time for a revival of the debate, when France would face its constitutional crisis at the end of the Fourth Republic, a golden moment for monarchy re-appeared, and it had no less famous a spokesman than General De Gaulle himself.
It is no secret that France's political system with its unique mix of presidential and parliamentary powers, has the strongest presidency among the world's representative governments. De Gaulle with his proposed amendment for direct presidential elections in 1962, cemented that strength into what has often been referred to as France's "elective monarchy." This arrangement, of course, makes perfect sense for a country with the kind of history that France has had. For the French, a strong executive, even under the most revolutionary times, was never a foreign idea. It always brought France together and allowed her to go on. Thus France's fascination with the Napoleons, and thus also her embrace of De Gaulle.
But when De Gaulle created the Fifth Republic, the paradigm he had in mind was not a republican one at all. His mind's eye was on the monarchic past of France and also a possible monarchic future, though as it turned out, instead of ushering her into monarchy again, De Gaulle decided to keep the mantle for himself and ensure for France an elective rather than hereditary monarchy in republican form! The elements of the "monarchical presidency" of France are 1) its national character -- the president of France is the president of all of the French due to the direct election without electoral college; 2) his near imperial power of emergency rule through article 16 of the constitution; 3) the power to appoint the prime minister, and finally 4) the power of the president to dissolve the national assembly almost at will.
The intricacy and peculiarity of De Gaulle's thinking on this subject and its undeniable link to the idea of monarchism is revealed by De Gaulle in several passages from his own memoirs were he comments that the direct election of the president occurred to him because France did not have recourse to "heredity, the sacred rites of investiture or absolutism" anymore to enable her to ensure continuity and legitimacy for herself as she was able to do under the monarchy of the Ancien Régime. Jean-Marie Benoist, one of the participants in a1985 symposium in Paris on the concept of monarchy, explains this feat as follows:
It is thus the form of monarchy, capetian and hereditary, that the constitution of the Fifth Republic achieves by elevating the president to a level that allows him to transcend even the contingencies of a presidential majority. If the president, like the king of France, finds himself to be the president of all the French, then he cannot remain a prisoner of the majority that elected him. To quote Decherf: "To every majority he opposes unity; to every change, permanence."
But the story is still more intriguing than that. Not only was the presidential power in France designed by De Gaulle to mimic its monarchic past, it was actually meant to become a monarchy only of the elective kind. What kept De Gaulle from taking that last step was his hesitancy on whether his choice for king would be accepted by the French. This at least is the official version, but there is a great deal of documentary evidence to support this thesis. It was only when he became convinced that this would not work that he decided to keep the mantle himself.
Here are some of the documents that point to this critical moment for the restoration of France's monarchy only a few decades ago. And here, therefore, is also the proof that monarchy can still happen in France today, i.e. that there is nothing intrinsic in the system that would keep monarchy from replacing the presidency and giving France a constitutional monarchic system along the lines of the British system only with slightly more power for the king of France than the Queen of England has under that constitution.
Benoist quotes the following passages from conversations of various French political commentators with De Gaulle. I think they speak for themselves! Quoting Michelet, Benoist states
I do not think I would be revealing a state secret, if I stated that in the mind of the general the succession that was most logical was that of the heir to the kings of France. This may appear paradoxical and disconcerting, but those in the know realize that there is nothing in this reflection that could oppose itself to the very democratic idea the general has of the institutions. All know well -- one only needs to refer to the letters the general sent at the time to the Count of Paris -- what the general felt about the monarchy. I do not think I am twisting words if I say that the regime he desires for his country is a sort of monarchy, not hereditary, but elective. That much is clear. But it must have no doubt occurred to the general that the Count of Paris had not made himself known enough to the public at large and to the general electorate, and that in the eventuality of an election his success was not sufficiently assured for the general to fully engage himself in the political effort that would have supported the Count.
Citing an interview of De Gaulle with Philippe Saint-Robert, Benoist continues
The general told me as he came in: "We have restored the monarchy. It is an elective monarchy, not an hereditary one." At this point the general looked at me to be sure the point was registered. I protest: "But, mon General, I never thought that one could restore hereditary monarchy."
"Yes you did. And so did I, by the way."
And lastly this from an interview of De Gaulle with Alain Peyrefitte, the author of Le Mal Français: "What I have tried to do is to achieve a synthesis between monarchy and republic. A monarchic republic, I inquire? If you wish. But I would rather say a republican monarchy."
All of this is of course corroborated in other sources as well, notably from an interview with the heir presumptive of the throne of France, Prince Henri of Orléans, the Count of Paris, on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday in 1998. In this interview there is also additional light shed on why the monarchy was not restored in fact by De Gaulle, though it was restored in spirit as we have seen.
Due to the Law of Exile promulgated in the Third Republic in 1886, which forbade the heads and heirs of the Bourbon/Orleans and Bonaparte dynasties to remain in France, Prince Henri found himself in exile until the end of World War II. During the war he had joined the French Foreign Legion under an alias, Orliac, and attempted to fight for his country. But France was defeated before he could join the armed forces and so he remained in North Africa while enjoining his countrymen to resist the Germans by "all possible means." It was at this juncture that De Gaulle, in exile in England, asked the prince to join forces with him in the Free French movement. The prince refused arguing that he was above political factions and that he wanted to represent all the French, the Free French as well as those of and under the Vichy government. The effort backfired badly, and the prince lost out on both scores. He was shunned by Vichy France and by Free France. As Anthony Bailey states, quoting De Gaulle on this occasion: "Had the Count of Paris joined me in London in 1940, he would have become France and we would have done great things together." This pithy comment suggests therefore additional reasons why De Gaulle "doubted" whether the prince had made himself sufficiently known to the French public to assure success in an election. The reasons may have been more personal! Whatever the case may be ultimately, however, what these passages prove is that monarchy was not meant to be counted out from a modern France, and that the possibility is still wide open today.
Throughout in these vignettes one thing becomes clear. Monarchies were not defeated and abolished in the court of reason. They were not put aside because republics had the better arguments. They vanished because of the unleashing of cataclysmic forces that swept them up in their torrential currents. Yet in doing what they did, monarchies were neither more nor less guilty than any other government has ever been with regard to its relations to the rest of the world. It is just that in their case, history was less forgiving!
* * * * * * *
Allow me to lead toward a conclusion the way I began, on a personal note. I began my story by telling you about myself, and how monarchy is an integral part of who I am. It is in my blood, for better or for worse, and my hope of course is that one day I would see the return of monarchy to my ancestral land, Iran ... Persia, and see this return as a blessing for that ancient land and not a burden. Of course I wish the same also for France and for Austria and for Russia. After all I am a monarchist! And so I also wish it for many other countries for which I believe monarchy to be very beneficial without in any way taking away from the progress they have made in the direction of freedom and justice and human dignity. If anything, as I tried to state in this lecture, I think monarchy would greatly add to the richness of this fabric and, yes, ... ennoble it!
In a way I say all of this also with a kind of sadness because I also know that some countries, in all likelihood will never have monarchies, or at least not by any stretch of the imagination. Among those countries I count the United States. And I say it with sadness because I do think that a society is enriched, strengthened and ennobled by such a continuity with the past, perhaps not its immediate past, but nevertheless humanity's past and thus our universal heritage. Of course, I also understand that much of that heritage has been maligned and it has been made fashionable to do so in the name of progress and even in the name of scholarship. But the fact remains that the increasing absence of this ancient institution in the world and the thinning of its ranks has robbed us of a calm and dignified center in the midst of our storm tossed politics, a reminder of principles we still long for but dare not verbalize, at least not consciously. How else do we explain that a people as ostensibly anti-monarchic as that of this beautiful country would refer to the period of the presidency of one of its most popular and charismatic presidents as "Camelot," and mourn, in much the same way the people of the legend did, its premature loss and the tragic death of its "king"?
And so I want to end with a look at Iran and share with you my thoughts on the past and future of that country which is so much a part of me. Persia (as it was then called) and Ottoman Turkey were the first countries in the Middle East to have attempted to create genuine constitutional monarchies. Though Turkey's was even more short lived than that of Persia, interestingly their fates were very similar and interlinked, as were their royal families. Those two histories are brought together for us here, today, in the person of Princess Nadine Sultana who honors me beyond measure with her presence at this lecture.
On September of 1906, the Qajar (Kadjar) king Mozzafar-ed-Din Shah signed the Electoral Law of Persia. Then, on December 30, 1906, a few days before his death, he signed the Fundamental Law of Persia, providing the country with a constitution modeled on the Belgian and French examples. The 33 articles of the Electoral Law and the 51 articles of the Fundamental Law gave the country a bicameral legislature, separation of powers, checks and balances, an executive modeled on the French system with a monarch as head of state [what I earlier called "strong constitutional monarchy"], and guarantees of fair representation and political rights for the people of Persia. This development brought Edward G. Browne the famous chronicler of the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1906 to proclaim jubilantly:
Does history afford many instances of a nation making such conspicuous advances in public spirit and morality in so short a period as were made by the Persians during the period under discussion? I venture to think that parallels will not easily be found.
And though this early victory for constitutionalism would have its setback in 1908-09, constitutionalism would ultimately remain in Persia until its demise through a British engineered coup in 1925 against the legitimate government of Persia under Soltan Ahmad Shah. A discourse on the reasons for this betrayal of the hopes of the Iranian people would go beyond the framework of this lecture, but is well documented in books on the subject and needs no further elaboration here. Suffice it to say, however, that it is most ironic that a country like Great Britain with such pretensions to democracy would have been the engineer of the downfall of Iran's constitutional government. The demise of a constitutional monarchy in Iran, and its replacement by an absolute monarchy after the freeing of the democratic energies and aspirations of the people of that country resulted in pent up frustrations that would manifest themselves throughout the reign of the Pahlavis -- as the dynasty would be known that succeeded the Qajars (Kadjars) in 1925. These tensions finally resulted in the abolition of monarchy altogether with the theocratically inspired revolution of 1979, replacing rule by kings with rule by priests for the first time in Iran's twenty five century long monarchic history.
To the trained observer of Iranian history and politics one point remains clear and easily discernible. Iranians, when given the opportunity would choose to follow an individual who represents strength and stability. It is part of their collective political psyche and part of their national myth. It is also true, however, that Iranians also prefer this individual to be just and heroic and fair-minded, and that they would opt for such an individual, given the choice, over a strongman. This too is part of the national story. We see it in our great epic the Shahnameh or "Book of Kings," in the heroic figures of Rostam and Zaal and Jamshid and Fereidoun, we see it also in what Michael Fischer in his path breaking book on the Iranian Revolution, calls the "Kerbela Paradigm." This paradigm is a struggle for justice embodied in the figures of the early Shi'ite Imams Ali and Hussein, and we see it still in the emotion the name Mossadegh evokes in the minds and hearts of many Iranians, despite the fact that this unusual leader combined in himself both the characteristics of the strongman and that of the just hero for Iranians.
There is also a further irony in the Iranian predicament today. It has to do with the fact that the priests who are now in charge of governing that country, have traditionally opposed unjust rule due to their Shi'ite heritage and have also simultaneously shunned political office due to their quietist bent. This was true of Shi'ite history in Iran from the beginning, even though their leaders, mujtaheds and ayatollahs of great renown, have had important roles in influencing political outcomes in Iran since the nineteenth century when the Qajar (Kadjar) kings made their acquiescence indispensable and their blessings part and parcel of the legitimacy of the monarchy. And yet despite breaking both precedents this time around, they have been embraced by the people of that country enough to be able to maintain themselves in power for twenty years, and now find their rule even acceptable to such lovers of democracy as the government of the United States, if, that is, we are interpreting the recent flirting by this government with the Iranian leadership correctly and the description of its new leader by U.S. authorities and the press as "the elected moderate president of Iran" as sincere.
What is the lesson in these recent developments in Iran for us here today, listening to a lecture on the virtues of monarchy over those of republics? I believe it is this, that despite official proclamations to the contrary, Iran still has a monarchic tradition built in to its very soul, and that this tradition also combines a search for justice and fairness and dignity. What is absent from its political practice today is the form of government that embodies those qualities as well, constitutional monarchy, a form of government fought for by the generation of the last turn of the century and now absent from the political scene of Iran only because the political practice of the decades from 1925 to 1975 was so contrary to those early ideals that it evoked such strong counter reaction; a reaction resulting in a cataclysm that propelled us even further back than where we were pre-1906. The tragedy is further compounded by the fact that the memory of monarchy only remains in a tarnished form in Iran today, if at all, and that there are very few voices that would remind the generation of this turn of the century and new millennium that monarchy is still an option, and not only that but a good option to boot. And so in Iran as in many other countries, lack of memory or knowledge results in lack of political imagination, and lack of political imagination results in less than ideal political circumstances. But that lack of imagination is not just a home grown phenomenon but also one that is encouraged from abroad, and as I have tried to show early on, also present in the literature of some of the most prestigious opinion-making journals in the world such as Foreign Affairs and National Interest, where the recovery of the concept and its realization in practice are actively discouraged by individuals such as Fukuyama in the name of the triumph of their present pet theory which happens to be the triumph of Western liberalism.
And so we seem to lose ground for what is a worthwhile and eminently sane alternative to the present state of politics of that poor country, Iran, as well as many around it and elsewhere in the world. But there is hope, and hope often springs when least expected as with the news of this government's latest attempts to seek a way out of the Iraqi dilemma. It was with great joy that I read an article in the New York Times of January 3rd of this year, forwarded to me by our cousin, Ambassador Farhad Sepahbody-Qajar (Kadjar), former Iranian diplomat and now journalist and writer, that the U.S. government is actively seeking to restore the monarchy of Iraq which was deposed in a violent coup almost forty years ago, bringing us the dementia tremens called the Ba'ath Party and its all-time evil genie Saddam Hussein!
The heir presumptive to the Hashemite throne of Iraq is the 42 year-old Sharif Ali ibn-al-Hussein. He leads the Constitutional Monarchy Movement of Iraq in exile from London. He survived the 1958 revolution that toppled the monarchy, fleeing Iraq as a two year old together with his parents. When asked why monarchy would be a good solution to the Iraqi dilemma he replied in corroboration of many of my earlier points that: "the Iraqi monarchy would be a symbol around which all parts of Iraq would be able to rally because we're not based on any single constituency, nor are we a political party, ... What we look forward to is establishing democratic institutions that would guarantee that all players in politics would be able to participate as they wish."
To achieve this, he has produced a plan for the future entitled the "National Covenant" which would "restore an Islamic monarchy pledged to protect the human rights of followers of all religions and create a free-market economic system, a multi-party democracy and an independent judiciary." All things, I might add, Fukuyama considers only possible under Western style republics. And as to the question of why Iraqis should choose him over other alternatives, he answered: "It was the monarchy that achieved independence for Iraq from the League of Nations mandate," and "Iraq was the first Arab nation to have independence. The legacy of the monarchs compared to the republics that followed -- all of them dictatorships -- have made people much more aware of the positive roles of the monarchy."
Similar circumstances exist for the Iranian monarchy. Only here there are two alternatives Iranians can choose from for a restoration of their monarchy along democratic lines. One is the young Shah in exile, Reza Shah II, whom many Iranians still remember as "Valiahd" or "Crown Prince." An amiable figure untainted by any of the excesses of his father's and grandfather's rule, and willing to lead the country in ways compatible with the accepted principles of democratic government and rule of law. The other, and of course closer to my own heart, that of the restoration of the Qajars (Kadjars) in the person of Sultan Ali Mirza Kadjar or those designated by him as next in line for the succession. In either case, as with the possible restoration of the Iraqi monarchy, support by the international community and in particular by the world's most powerful nations would be essential, not as props for decaying regimes nor as puppeteers behind a hollow exterior, but as guarantors of a fair and level playing field to give these new governments a chance to regrow the roots that were denied them by circumstance and international intrigue not too long ago, and ironically in the case of Iran, by the very powers who would now be called upon to redeem themselves for the agony they have imposed on the people of that poor country for so long.
In the end, I too realize, however, that the chances of this form of government to return to Iran soon are not very high, but working towards that realization is not therefore futile. A journey of a thousand miles does begin with the first step said Lao Tzu, and Gregory Copley, in 1990 ended his call for a re-evaluation of the future of monarchies with the words, "Let the debate begin." Since then nine years have passed, much has been written on the subject, and changes have occurred in the world that would give hope to the notion that monarchy's time might come yet again. I wish to add my small voice to that growing chorus for it to become a great symphony once more.
Thank you for lending me your ears and for indulging me to that end so generously with your patience and good will!