Here in Australia we have a strange relationship with royalty. We are fascinated with the lives of royals, and even more so when they visit our country. We follow them endlessly in the media. This is true not only of the British Royal Family, which is technically also that of Australia, but also of the Danish Royal Family, since the wedding of Frederik and Mary in 2004. And if you ask the average Australian, that's most likely the extent of their familiarity with royalty. Yet, when you press them on the question of royalty and of the monarchy, you will get a wide range of response from those who are enamoured with them, to those who find the institution of monarchy objectionable for whatever reason.
Our relationship with the royals isn't too different, as such, to Americans' relationship with them, in the way we take an interest in their lives, sometimes to excruciating details, yet the very concept of royalty and monarchy will cut like a knife. There are some who ask why should there even be such in this day and age, but there are more who understand the meaning and significance of it all. And yet, the difference is that we in Australia live in a constitutional monarchy. But I beg to differ. We may be formally a monarchy, but we don't have a monarchy of our own. That's the difference, and in my opinion, a very big difference. And that's why the institution and its benefits may not be appreciated by all. In a nutshell, it would seem so many of us are royal watchers yet when pressed further, many responses reveal a certain ignorance and lack of real understanding of it all, which I feel is reflected in present-day discourse on the topic in this country.
Yes, I am a monarchist. As someone who takes an interest in history and politics, I have come to that position not because I'm fascinated with the lives of today's royalty, maybe more out of a sense of history, but first and foremost out of a sincere historical and philosophical convictions to justify the existence of monarchy in today's world, why it is more needed and relevant than ever before. Moreover, it's not the debate over whether Australia (and other Commonwealth realms) should remain a monarchy, but whether existing monarchies should remain as monarchies. I think the two are very different.
Every time this issue is brought up, we are confronted with questions about democracy, equality, cost and relevance in the modern world. Yet I find that many of these arguments against the continuing existence of monarchies, especially in Europe, carry remarkably little weight against history and current realities. It is these which I aim to tackle and present a convincing argument for supporting today's monarchies, or indeed making a case for constitutional monarchy as a viable system of government. And that many historical facts are simply lost on critics of today's monarchies. It is these which I have always been keen to point out in defence of monarchy in today's world.
I am a monarchist because I believe the monarchies of Europe represent history, tradition and continuity, and are a guarantee of stability and unity above the machinations of party politics. They act as a tentpole binding a nation together and representing continuity with its past- a continuity badly needed in an ever-changing world. This does not compare with monarchies elsewhere, such as those of the Middle East (and a few other places), which actually do hold political power and make decisions which affect people's daily lives where they rule- but whose social, cultural and historical context simply cannot be compared with Europe. But we'll get to that later.
Outdated, undemocratic or merely ancient?
Notions of political systems being antiquated or outmoded by modernity are fallacy. After all, today's existing systems of government- constitutional monarchies, republics, absolute monarchies, and outright dictatorships- have in fact existed since antiquity and taken many, many forms. Some political systems- such as the (unwritten) constitutional monarchy of Great Britain or the republican system of San Marino (not short of pomp or tradition) - evolved over many centuries, but modern notions of liberal democracy as most understand it date back to such events as the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution, even though such systems of government could be found in Ancient Greece and Rome. Thus any notion of a political system being more modern and relevant than the rest does not hold much weight.
Let's ask the question if monarchies impede true democracy and equality. The constitutional monarchies of the Low Countries and Scandinavia happen to be some of the most tolerant and equitable societies on the world. And all this while the monarchies of these countries provide unity, continuity and safeguard the political system. Europe over the 20th century experienced some particularly traumatic changes through World War I, World War II and the Cold War. And such changes are too fresh in the minds of many to want to make serious changes. Indeed, one can learn from the experiences of Portugal, Germany and Austria, where the demise of those monarchies was profoundly destabilising, and indeed may have contributed to the rise of totalitarianism. Because of this, I find it unlikely that most people would want to change something that works. Far from losing relevance, monarchies are as relevant as ever in serving as a tentpole of society and nation.
Though even 20 years after the end of the Cold War, there are some countries still dealing with the legacy of the not so distant past. It's in places like Serbia and Georgia where monarchist sentiment has arisen in response to these issues. Both are countries who have had particularly demoralising experiences, where the current political class and system inspires very little in a way of trust and confidence.
I also fail to see how having an elected head of state is any better alternative. Such a position can never claim to be free of partisan influence, whether chosen directly or indirectly. And while Americans may trumpet their presidential republic, it is a system with serious flaws- namely that an elected head of state can never truly represent everybody, and is very often a divisive figure. There is no tent pole around which people can rally and look to for moral authority and unity. It's an important issue to consider in the current political climate which has become increasingly polarised and unpleasant. This is where the qualities of a monarchy, where a monarch is not affiliated with a political movement and is expected to have been prepared for the job from the beginning, and will look out for the best interests of the nation and its people, as opposed to elected leaders who have become increasingly preoccupied with gaining and retaining power.
History shows that monarchies have not impeded the move towards greater democracy and social justice, as Scandinavia and the Low Countries have demonstrated. There have been, of course, rare exceptions of monarchies who have failed to do so- and the only European monarchies which have ever been abolished by popular vote have been Italy and Greece, arising out of exceptional circumstances. Luxembourg, on the other hand, had voted overwhelmingly to retain its monarchy after World War I ended. A monarch who performs the tasks they are required to admirably can win respect and love from all, regardless of their political affiliation, affluence or background, because of the continuity and history they represent. An elected head of state cannot do that and very few have proven exceptional, such as Germany's Richard von Weizsäcker. Those statesmen who can inspire and captivate are very rare indeed. A monarchy is far more able to inspire and capture the imagination of the people. Who would you be more likely to respect- an exemplary and gracious monarch like Margrethe II of Denmark, a symbol of a historic democratic transition like Juan Carlos of Spain... or politicians whose opinions polarise and have vested interests behind them?
Compare this with the history of the United States, where moves towards greater equality- whether abolishing slavery, ending segregation, or even more recently the establishment of universal healthcare- have often met with fierce opposition. Yet the German Empire had introduced universal male suffrage from the very beginning, and subsequently the world's first welfare state.
The other irony that is often lost on critics of monarchy is the fact that the republics of Latin America, who took pride in their republicanism and their rejection of monarchy, proved to be anything but models of democracy or equality. In most of these countries, dictatorship and human rights violations were widespread, and indeed it has only been the last quarter of a century that democracy and free elections have been the rule rather than the exception, or even efforts to address the inequities. And even there, such efforts face fierce resistance. In fact, with few exceptions, most of the most undemocratic regimes of recent history have not been monarchies. There, as in many other places, one can find that elected institutions are not always held in high regard by the population. Do you really want to give more power to such people? And what costs? The costs of monarchies are often talked about but not particularly large in the greater scheme of things- and indeed politicians and elections do cost the taxpayer, and even more so in more fragile democracies.
At this moment, the Middle East is experiencing a profound change which may be comparable to the experiences of Europe of previous eras. And the people of the Arab world will have to consider what sort of political system will work for them. One hopes they can think long and hard and learn from past examples. Even there, most of the Arab world's monarchies have not fared so badly thus far, in comparison to some of the dictatorships that have been or will be ousted.
All these explain why I am a committed monarchist. While I follow the lives of today's royals and study royal history, I came to my position on the issue through much thought and observation. And many critics of monarchy and royalty clearly have not put such thought into that. I think it can be safely concluded that a republic does not automatically represent greater democracy, progress or equality than a constitutional monarchy.