Why I am a Monarchist

This essay first appeared in the December 1999 issue of Monarchy, newsletter of the International Monarchist League--hence the British spellings. The online version subsequently changed periodically, but in November 2002 I restored the original text. Consequently, some elements of its content no longer apply (regarding my political beliefs, see my more recent essay Monarchy and Ideology) and therefore are in small font. Additions to the original are in brackets.

When people who know me learn that my main hobby is European royalty and that I consider myself a monarchist, they are surprised. This is understandable, for there is little about my life that could be expected to generate royalist sentiments. I am an American in my twenties (born 1978), and have spent less than two weeks of my life in Europe. This trip included only Germany, Austria, and Switzerland--all republics. The only present-day monarchy I have visited is neighbouring Canada. I do not have any known royal or aristocratic ancestry, and my family is not wealthy. Until May 1999, I had never met a member of any royal family. I do not share the Christian faith which is so important in European monarchism; I am of [partially] Jewish descent and belong to the Unitarian Universalist Church. My political beliefs on most American domestic issues are decidedly liberal.

Yet I am a monarchist. I believe that for most countries constitutional monarchy, with a hereditary head of state and an elected head of government, is the best form of government. My enthusiasm for royalty dates from childhood, when castles were my favorite toys and fantasy my favorite type of book. However, it did not become a serious interest until seventh grade (1990-91), when along with the rest of my English class I read Robert K Massie’s book Nicholas and Alexandra. This moving study of the last Tsar and Empress of Russia and their struggle with their son Alexei’s haemophilia deeply affected me; it remains my favourite book. Massie’s brilliant writing made me feel like I knew these people who had died almost exactly sixty years before I was born. I wanted to learn more about the Romanovs; since they are related to the other European dynasties it did not take long before my interest expanded to include royalty of the whole continent.

I suppose it would be possible for one to be intrigued by royalty of the past without advocating the official continuation of dynasties in the present. But obviously this is not my view. As an American, I have been consistently dissatisfied with the elected occupants of the White House during my lifetime. Since I became conscious of politics, there has not been a president who I felt was a satisfactory symbol of my country, who I could admire as a focus for non-partisan patriotism. This is essentially why I came to support constitutional monarchy. All countries require a ceremonial leader as well as a political one. In the United States, the president is supposed to fulfill both functions. However, it seems to me that it is not possible for an elected leader (i.e. a politician) to truly represent all the people of his or her country since inevitably a significant portion of them will have favored someone else and will be opposed to and angered by decisions he or she makes. This is why I think that the person who hosts visiting leaders, travels abroad to represent the country, cuts ribbons, honors distinguished citizens, and speaks at times of national concern and celebration, should not be the same person who has raised large sums of money for elections, is obliged to criticize other politicians, and by definition must make controversial decisions. Republics such as France attempt to solve this problem by having both a president and a prime minister. This is ultimately an unsatisfactory approach, since both leaders are still politicians and both posts are disputed. A hereditary monarchy devoid of political power is the easiest way of providing an apolitical head of state. With few exceptions, twentieth-century European monarchs have understood this well and fulfilled their tasks admirably.

Critics of monarchy often complain that it is undemocratic. But in Western Europe, constitutional monarchy has not stood in the way of democratic, even socialist agendas. On many issues (such as the death penalty), European monarchies are more progressive than the United States. In democracies, whether they are monarchies or republics, it is the views of the people and the decisions of their elected leaders that determine the political climate of a country. It is true that in a monarchy, no commoner can aspire to be king. But in practice, the office of president of a modern republic, with its intimidating financial, personal, and educational requirements, is hardly open to all. And in some ways, republicanism is more exclusive. Presidents of republics are almost always middle-aged males. They tend to be moderately intelligent, moderately good-looking, moderately a lot of things. Monarchy may confine the office of head of state to one family, but it also opens the door to a wider variety of types of people who in a republic may never have been able to get elected due to prejudices no fault of their own. [Monarchs can also be representative of ordinary people in a way that presidents are not since hereditary rulers do not generally possess the extraordinary and sometimes unethical ambition that often sets successful politicians apart from their fellow citizens.]

One of the main reasons I wanted to write this essay was my sense that the biggest challenge facing modern monarchy, and the British monarchy in particular, is to appeal to the young. For it is my generation that will determine the popularity of monarchy in the 21st century and will either threaten or guarantee its existence. It seems to me that young people, who at this point are probably mostly apathetic, have the potential (if monarchists reach out to them) to be among the strongest supporters of monarchy. This is because royalty offers children and teenagers the exciting chance to see people their own age in prominent positions they could never achieve in republics. Also, youths are not too far removed from the childhood experience of enjoying the fairytales which revolve around magnificent castles, handsome princes, and beautiful princesses. The present popularity of Prince William among teenage girls is an encouraging sign, but this is insufficient if not accompanied by enthusiasm for the institution he represents.

Monarchy is not necessarily cheap and its financial aspects have been a source of controversy. But presidents can be an even greater expense. Queen Elizabeth II recognizes this and for the past several years has been taking steps to make the institution more cost-effective. I believe that monarchy, with its colourful, inspiring, and unique pageantry, is worth the expense. I believe that there is something special and magical, something which words cannot quite describe, about a king or queen which a president can never hope to offer. I believe that the long histories of the world’s monarchies are glorious treasures to be cherished, and that present-day monarchs provide the only continuous link to that past. I do not want to live in a world where royalty exist only in fairytales and history books. I do not want to have to explain to my children that, yes, there used to be real princes and princesses, but all that has been abolished. I believe in keeping the great romantic tradition of royalty alive. That is why I am a monarchist.

--Theodore Harvey