Democracy: The Philosophic Principles and Mechanisms Part II by John M. Joyce
Next, let me consider monarchy. Monarchs generally identify with the polity which they rule over to a very great extent. They see themselves as representing the polity and all the people within it. For a monarch, the stronger and wealthier his polity is, and the stronger and wealthier his subjects are, then the greater he, the monarch, must be and will be perceived to be by others. No monarch, in theory, would knowingly and willingly undertake a venture, or follow a course of action, that led to the destruction of his polity and its people. There is also a sort of tribal-chieftainship air about monarchy: many monarchs throughout history have viewed themselves, and encouraged their subjects to view them in this way also, as head of the family. However, it must not be forgotten that monarchy can also be viewed as a heritable strongman dictatorship and some monarchs in the past have certainly acted in vile ways against other polities and against their own subjects – ways which we more commonly associate with dictators.
The strongest concepts which surround monarchy are those which reinforce the subjects’ views about themselves. When a monarch accentuates family, that will find a resonance amongst his subjects. When a monarch identifies himself as head of the most widely held religion within his realm, that will also find resonance. When a monarch appeals to his subjects to rally round him and defend the realm against an obvious aggressor then that, too, will resonate with the people. It is easy to see why thirty-one monarchies still exist today – absolute monarchies have the ability to transform themselves into constitutional monarchies by persuading themselves that this act preserves their dynasties (the importance of family, again) and strengthens, and makes greater, the realm. In fact, modern constitutional monarchs probably believe that they are greater and better than their ancestors were, for they have taken monarchy and their dynasties to the very pinnacle of symbolism and made the removal of their dynasties very difficult to accomplish. For many of their subjects, now citizens, the monarch today still embodies some idea of nationhood and identity and he or she commands a symbolic power whilst in reality having little, if any, real power.
So, those monarchies which are still with us today have ceased to be ruling monarchies and have become reigning monarchies – no vestige of the strongman dictator king now exists; but what of those which have vanished? In the main their polities still exist – Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Iran, India, Burma, Egypt, Brazil and so on. Monarchy would appear to have been good at instilling national identity into the people. What went wrong with those monarchies that no longer exist is that they ceased to fulfil the purpose of government. They concentrated wealth in the hands of the monarch and the (aristocratic) courtiers and this undermined the economy (Iran) and they abused their subjects by acting like dictators (France). They slipped away from the generally accepted norms of family life and alienated their peoples and failed to be observant enough of the majority religion (Egypt). They failed to defend the realm adequately or they led their realm into a situation which very nearly destroyed it (Germany). It’s the same old story: when power is concentrated in the hands of one person it is inevitable that the purpose of government will eventually be forgotten in favour of the maintenance of the position of the ruler at all costs. The only thing which has allowed some monarchies to survive is the relinquishing of power and the adopting of a symbolic and unifying role within the polity.