July 19, 2019

The Evolution of Royalty

“Most modern monarchies are constitutional: While the monarch is still the official head of state, the constitution imbues an elected legislature with actual power and the duties of government. The monarch holds a symbolic role intended to provide an unbroken link to the past and a sense of national pride and unity among a country’s populace. Today’s royals, however, not only have far less political power than their forebears, they also live more modern lives. Akihito, for example, was the first Japanese emperor to marry a commoner. Dutch King Willem-Alexander revealed in 2017 that he’d secretly been co-piloting Dutch Royal Airline flights for 21 years. “You cannot take your problems from the ground skyward,” he explained. “You can completely switch yourself off and focus on something else. That’s the greatest relaxation for me.”

Will monarchies last? Most seem to be on a strong footing. In the Middle East, the absolute monarchs have been able to buy public acquiescence — and the support of powerful allies such as the U.S. and Britain — by controlling their countries’ mammoth oil revenues. But even in more modern and democratic societies, monarchies remain popular with the public. “Presidents come and go,” said Kenneth W. Gunn-Walberg, head of the International Monarchist League’s chapter for the Eastern U.S. “There’s continuity, a sense of history with a monarchy.”

More than mere figureheads: Despite seeming to be anachronisms, most monarchies actually provide effective governance, according to Wharton School of Business management professor Mauro Guillen. He studied 137 countries from 1900 to 2010 and found that monarchies — especially constitutional ones — generally provide a higher standard of living and are better at protecting property rights than even republics. Monarchies are usually dynastic, he said, and thus likely to “focus on the long run,” protecting the foundations of society and curbing potential abuses of power. And even though many of today’s kings and queens are figureheads, monarchies act as a check on the egos of elected chief executives. “If you’re the prime minister and you know there is a higher authority,” Guillen said, “you are a bit more subdued.” Finally, monarchies are better at navigating periods of uncertainty, because they provide a stable connection to a nation’s history — as the British monarchy is now doing amid Brexit turmoil”

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