Monarchism is the advocacy of a monarch or monarchical rule. A monarchist is an individual who supports this form of government, independent of any specific monarch; one who espouses a particular monarch is a royalist. Conversely, the opposition to monarchical rule is sometimes referred to as republicanism.
- Current monarchies
- Justifications for monarchism
- Nonpartisan head of state
- Safeguard for liberty
- Connection to the past
- Human desire for hierarchy
Depending on the country, a monarchist may advocate for the rule of the person who sits on the throne, a pretender, or someone who would otherwise occupy the throne but has been deposed.
Monarchical rule is among the oldest political institutions. Monarchy has often claimed legitimacy from a higher power (in early modern Europe the divine right of kings, and in China the Mandate of Heaven).
In England, royalty ceded power elsewhere in a gradual process. In 1215, a group of nobles forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, which guaranteed its barons certain liberties and established that the king's powers were not absolute. In 1687-88, the Glorious Revolution and the overthrow of King James II established the principles of constitutional monarchy, which would later be worked out by Locke and other thinkers. However, absolute monarchy, justified by Hobbes in Leviathan (1651), remained a prominent principle elsewhere. In the 18th century, Voltaire and others encouraged "enlightened absolutism", which was embraced by the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and by Catherine II of Russia.
In the late 18th century, the American Revolution and the French Revolution were both additional steps in the weakening of power of European monarchies. Each in its different way exemplified the concept of popular sovereignty upheld by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 1848 then ushered in a wave of revolutions against the continental European monarchies.
World War I and its aftermath saw the end of three major European monarchies: the Russian Romanov dynasty, the German Hohenzollern dynasty, including all other German monarchies and the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg dynasty.
The rise of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919 provoked an increase in support for monarchism; however, efforts by Hungarian monarchists failed to bring back a royal head of state, and the monarchists settled for a regent, Admiral Miklós Horthy, to represent the monarchy until it could be restored. Horthy was regent from 1920 to 1944. In similar wise the 1938 fascist régime of Franco in Spain claimed to have reconstituted the Spanish monarchy in absentia (and in this case ultimately yielded to a restoration, in the person of King Juan Carlos). In 1920s Germany a number of monarchists gathered around the German National People's Party which demanded the return of the Hohenzollern monarchy and an end to the Weimar Republic; the party retained a large base of support until the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.
With the arrival of Communism in Eastern Europe by the end of 1947, the remaining Eastern European monarchies, namely the Kingdom of Romania, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Kingdom of Albania, the Kingdom of Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, were all abolished and replaced by socialist republics.
The aftermath of World War II also saw the return of monarchist and republican rivalry in Italy, where a referendum was held on whether the state should remain a monarchy or become a republic. The republican side won the vote by a narrow margin, and the modern Republic of Italy was created.
Monarchism as a political force internationally has substantially diminished since the end of the Second World War, though it had an important role in the 1979 Iranian Revolution and also played a role in the modern political affairs of Nepal. Nepal was one of the last states to have had an absolute monarch, which continued until King Gyanendra was peacefully deposed in May 2008 and the country became a federal republic. One of the world's oldest monarchies was abolished in Ethiopia in 1974 with the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie.
The majority of current monarchies are constitutional monarchies. In most of these, the monarch wields only symbolic power, although in some, the monarch does play a role in political affairs. In Thailand, for instance, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who reigned from 1946 to 2016, played a critical role in the nation's political agenda and in various military coups. Similarly, in Morocco, King Mohammed VI wields significant, but not absolute power.
Liechtenstein is a democratic principality whose citizens have voluntarily given more power to their monarch in recent years.
There remain a handful of countries in which the monarch is the true ruler. The majority of these countries are oil-producing Arab Islamic monarchies like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Other strong monarchies include Brunei and Swaziland.
Justifications for monarchism
Absolute monarchy stands as an opposition to anarchism and, additionally from the Age of Enlightenment, liberalism, and communism.
Otto von Habsburg advocated a form of constitutional monarchy based on the primacy of the supreme judicial function, with hereditary succession, mediation by a tribunal is warranted if suitability is problematic.
Nonpartisan head of state
A monarchy has been justified on the grounds that it provides for a nonpartisan head of state, separate from the head of government, and thus ensures that the highest representative of the country, at home and internationally, does not only represent a particular political party, but all people.
Safeguard for liberty
The International Monarchist League, founded in 1943, which has been very influential in Canada, has always sought to promote monarchy on the grounds that it strengthens popular liberty, both in a democracy and in a dictatorship, because by definition the monarch is not beholden to politicians.
British-American libertarian writer Matthew Feeney, on the occasion of the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, the potential future king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in 2013, wrote:
Connection to the past
Since the middle of the 19th century, some monarchists have stopped defending monarchy on the basis of abstract, universal principles applicable to all nations or even on the grounds that a monarchy would be the best or most practical government for the nation in question but prefer invoking local symbolic grounds that they would be a particular nation's link to the past.
Hence, post-19th century debates on whether to preserve a monarchy or to adopt a republican form of government have often been debates over national identity, with the monarch generally serving as a symbol for other issues.
For example, in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands anti-monarchist talk is often centered on the perceived symbolism of a monarch contrasting with those nation's political culture of egalitarianism. In Belgium, another factor are the anti-Belgian sentiments of the separatist Flemish movement. The latter see the monarchy as a predominantly francophone institution of which the historical roots lie in the French-speaking elite that ruled Belgium until circa 1950s.
In Canada and Australia, by contrast, debates over monarchy represent or represented debates whose driving force concerned each nation's relationship with the United Kingdom and the cultural heritage that this relationship represents.
Human desire for hierarchy
In a 1943 essay in The Spectator, "Equality", British author C.S. Lewis criticized egalitarianism, and its corresponding call for the abolition of monarchy, as contrary to human nature, writing, "Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison."