June 2021

Does a constitutional monarchy help or harm a country’s fortunes? In what ways? And how? Many fields attempt to answer these questions: Comparative history and economics, political science, political philosophy, sociology, and anthropology all have much to say here, with a substantial literature suggesting that the relatively uncontested workings of a constitutional monarchy—combined with its stability and symbolic importance to the nation—might give constitutional monarchies an advantage over other types of free government. 

Not all agree, of course. Many classical liberals will want to ask Thomas Paine’s question: Why do we think that skill at being a king has any heritability at all? And while we’re at it, we might want to ask what exactly makes a monarchy constitutional—and whether setting up a new one from scratch can possibly capture whatever benefits may come of having had one all along.

We have therefore recruited a panel that will consider these matters from a range of different disciplines and perspectives. Prof. Vincent Geloso of George Mason University has written the lead essay; responding to him will be Prof. Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Prof. Rok Spruk of the University of Ljubljana, and Prof. Mauro Guillén of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. We also look forward to readers’ comments during the month to come.

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Lead Essay

  • Why keep a monarchy that’s largely or purely ceremonial? One possible answer is that a ceremonial monarch is much better than a real tyrant. More to the point, where monarchy has survived, it has commonly been by adapting itself successfully to the rise of liberal democracy. Thus, while we should neither create new monarchies nor expand the powers of existing ones, Prof. Geloso argues that constitutional monarchs have paradoxically produced effective constraints on governance over time.

Response Essays

  • Of the 43 monarchies in the world, 23 are among the 50 richest countries. Contrary to their reputation, they show high levels of economic equality and income per capita. Mauro F. Guillén argues that this is because “the constitutional monarchy represents a compromise between tradition and modernity” and “a beautiful solution to a wide array of governance problems.” He finds it particularly important that monarchs act as a check on the otherwise boundless ambition of elected executives.

  • Stephen Davies argues that monarchy fulfills one of the key functions of government, which moderns are apt to overlook. Monarchies are symbolically unifying, and—as long as we must have a head of state—a monarch fills that role while serving as a symbolic and relatively apolitical link to the past and the future of the nation.

  • Rok Spruk argues that proponents of constitutional monarchy have reversed the causality: Countries that began the modern era relatively wealthy were more likely to keep their monarchies over time than those that did not. Because wealthier countries could keep their institutions, their monarchies came along for the ride. Those that suffered wars or revolutions were also more often forced to reconsider their systems of government, monarchies included.

Coming Up

Conversation through the end of the month.