VU Scholar: the Monarchy is Gone, but it Does not Mean that it has Always Been Wrong

Gintas Karalius E.Kurausko nuotrThe survival of modern monarchies has been assisted by the ability to adapt to modern ideologies of national unification and the changing form of society. This institution can be useful in democratic systems as well, because, without feeling the need to pursue popularity, it can better represent the long-term interests of the state and monarchs can take on the role of mediator, says Dr. Gintas Karalius, a lecturer at the Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI). The scholar discusses the advantages and perspectives of monarchies on the VU website "Science without Sermons".

According to Dr. Karalius, the survival of the current monarchies, especially in Europe – Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and the Benelux countries – was determined by two factors. The first is the ability to adapt to modern ideologies of national unification in the 19th century. "The monarchies that have survived are the ones that have been able to adapt to modern national movements in which the nation is seen as sovereign," he explained.

The VU TSPMI lecturer names the wars and ideologies of the 20th century as another factor of the survival of monarchies. The monarchies that flirted with fascism and dictatorships did not survive. Spain is an exception to this, as fascism has been trailing this monarchy to this day.

Monarchies can be liberal

According to Dr. Karalius, the monarchy is based on an immovable hierarchy, as it stems from God, tradition and inheritance.

“The monarch personally embodies the tradition of a certain nation and the relationship is always hierarchical. In a democratic worldview where we are all equal members of the same nation, such privileges and hierarchies can be annoying. "Democratic psychology is dominated by the belief that a nation made up of equal individuals chooses its own traditions, hierarchies and institutions," the scholar explains.

According to the VU TPSMI lecturer, in the Scandinavian countries the monarchy, as an institution, has coexisted very effectively along the democratic tradition. However, he says that he doubts that there is no tension at all in these countries as society is coding an unreliable approach to various privileges and scandals.

Truth be told, the monarchs of the Scandinavian countries earned a good name as early as the 19th and 20th centuries, for example, the kings of Norway and Denmark opposed fascism. Today’s monarchs make concessions to democratic psychology which is effective.

"A monarchy can give societies more freedom and be more liberal than democracy. In a democracy, for example, we can restrict someone's rights through a referendum. Democracy is not necessarily very liberal, the principle of the power of a nation can even become very repressive. In 1933, Hitler was democratically elected by the Germans. I think that in a monarchy, Hitler could not have risen to power because of hierarchy,” says the scholar, adding that an educated, progressive monarch has no need to regulate and control social life.

Monarchies are adapting to a changing society

According to Dr. Karalius, monarchies remain in power by adapting to the changing form of society, but over-reliance on public opinion can also have a negative effect.

“The popularity of the British monarchy from the point of view of mass culture can make things difficult for the monarchy, because then every personal scandal of the family becomes relevant in a society that cares about chatter and rumors. The internal problems of the monarchy become the problems of the whole state," says the scholar.

According to Dr. Karalius, avoiding scandals involving the abuse of one’s privileges is an example of successful adaptation to a changing society. He draws attention to the case of Spain, where former King Juan Carlos, considered one of the richest people in the world, handed over the throne to his son and fled to Saudi Arabia due to the threats posed by upcoming trials.

According to the VU TSPMI lecturer, the monarchy's adaptation to the changing society is also helped by its ability to get involved in topical issues and rationalise its usefulness.

"It is also important to explain why the monarchy is not a burden on taxpayers, compared to presidents who change every 5-6 years, and you pay for their teams the amounts which are at least the same as for the person who will rule for 60 years Monarchs are involved in charitable activities, trying to set an example on issues such as climate change and green energy. However, this is a slippery limit: how to do it without going to the pop-culture level of speckles and gossip,” says the scientist.

Stability is an advantage of the monarchy

According to Dr. Karalius, monarchies have their own advantages – in a democratic political system, it is recommended to have an institution is able to continue its work for more than one term.

"Having such an institution, even if its powers are very symbolic, since it cannot legislate, dismiss ministers, form governments or interfere in the judiciary system, calms the society by ensuring stability," said the VU TSPMI lecturer.

According to the scholar, the symbolic meaning is very important because in systems where a division of powers exists, many powers are based on having authority. In a democracy, for example, the strength of a president with limited powers depends on his ability to communicate with other branches of government through his informal, symbolic powers.

"A monarch would be a much stronger institution, able to unite in the society with his authority, moderating and unifying role, and maintain a stable line between ever-changing politicians, which gives a certain sense of peace and order," says Dr. Karalius.

According to him, the continuity of the monarchy also gives the society a better sense of peace and collective identity – in such political system it is very clear who is responsible for maintaining the historical tradition.

“In cultural wars, when arguments on our historical experience are stated, when it is argued whether tradition may is really that necessary, whether tradition needs to be re-created, the monarchy provides clarity on where the embodiment of tradition is concentrated in the political system. This is important because it gives the public guidelines on what our tradition actually is and where to begin,” says the scholar.

According to Dr. Karalius, the monarchy, as an institution, provides stability also because it does not need to suck up to public opinion, and without feeling the need to pursue popularity, it can better represent the long-term interests of the state.

According to the lecturer, representation in monarchies may be better than in democracies. In the latter, voters are always dissatisfied with their elected government, and, therefore, the elected create a hierarchical relationship. Moreover, parliaments did not emerge in monarchies but in democracies – in the 13th century in England, in the 16th century in France.

According to Dr. Karalius, representation in monarchies can be better due to a clearer addressee to whom the opinion of the nation is conveyed.
"In the republican states, all branches of government are based on the same principle of the nation – the parliament, the president, the constitution rise from the nation while the courts implement the will of the nation. Even the populists on the street keep yelling that they are a part of the nation, even though no one has elected them. This is a coded problem of democracy. In a system where everyone bases their legitimacy on the same argument, it is very difficult to explain representation,” he says.

The scholar notes the argument of the theologian Jacques Benigne Lignel Bossuet that the monarch has more reasons to care for the nation than elected representatives because his power is the property which he has inherited, and which he will pass on to his children, which leads to the idea that there are more motives to care for his own property than that of a stranger.

Monarchies have potential

Dr. Karalius says monarchies cannot remain in power, but their relevance remains due to unresolved issues in democracies. "The monarchy may not be the solution to all of those problems, but it does offer some historically proven solutions," he added.

The scholar does not believe that monarchies can collapse en masse. Even if surveys in Britain show that young people are less supportive of the monarchy, that could eventually change. The lecturer does not rule out the possibility of the formation of new monarchies in the event of a need to remember and visualise one’s tradition in the context of disputes over historical memory and traditions.

"This regime is not threatened by the apocalyptic scenario. The Catholic Church has also often been predicted to collapse, but this institution has been around for thousands of years and has seen many crises, the rise and fall of empires. I think something similar is going on with the monarchy at the political level. It is a system that has undergone so many transformations that I do not think that current issues would pose an existential threat to it. [...] The fact that the system has lost its power does not mean that it has always been wrong,” says Dr. Karalius.