support monarchy more than progressives. While it is true
that conservative support for tradition and established
authority make support for monarchy quite natural what
aspect of monarchy makes it such an incomparable ideal for
This question has played in the back of my mind for a while
now. I ponder it as my own examination of monarchy reveals
not two incompatible ideals as is commonly assumed but
ones that often gain a great deal from each other.
Before I continue with my main argument that monarchy
should be considered a progressive ideal it might be helpful to
define what I mean by both monarchy and progressivism.
'Monarchy' literally means 'rule by one'. It is the world's most
successful system of government having been adapted for use
from China to Peru and from the dawn of human history up to
present day. A system that has been so widely used has to be
flexible. And, indeed, monarchy has many variations. While I
could get into the myriad differences between Canada's
hereditary chiefs and imperial Russia's tsars I'd like to
move ahead somewhat quickly. Sufficed to say that while
many of the points I will make apply to other forms of
monarchy I will be focusing strictly on constitutional
monarchy where the monarch reigns but does not rule.
Constitutional monarchy is a system where the monarch lets
elected officials handle the day-to-day governance. The
monarch may have real reserve powers (as in Canada,
Denmark, Britain) or they my be limited to a strictly
ceremonial role (Sweden, Japan). Special mention should be
made of Monaco and Liechtenstein who have elected
assemblies but whose monarchs do participate in the
governing of the country. And while the Parliament need not
be democratic in a constitutional monarchy, remaining
constitutional monarchies are also mostly democratic states.
part to the contested definition of it. I cast a wide net in my
search for an adequate definition consulting in their turn
Wikipedia, The Progressive Bloggers, a couple friends
of mine that I would consider progressive, and others. From
these sources I was able to come up with two definitions of
progressivism; one formal and one informal. The formal
definition is that progressivism is:
The idea that advances in technology, science, and social
organization can produce improvements to the human
condition. Additionally, the belief that the above advances
have worth. A supporting belief is that history is linear, not
cyclical (ie. human progress never reaches a plateau or perfect
state but always seeks to move towards it).
definition of progressivism:
The idea that society must continue to change, that the status
quo cannot be considered progressive. History itself has a
'story arc' leading to the further advancement of humanity.
system that uniquely supports human progress as defined by
the formal definition. Because the informal definition
explicitly excludes the status quo I will show that no other
system of government falls within it. ie that the definition
itself adds little value to our understanding of human
progress. But even then I will argue that monarchy can be
considered a progressive ideal.
Ok, with a workable definition of what monarchy and
Progressivism is we can continue. I'm going to make a couple
assertions that I hope will be uncontroversial:
1. An ideal is progressive when the basic ideas of
progressivism support its existence.
2. An individual is a progressive if they support progressive
ideals and undertake to advance progressive causes.
3. An institution is progressive when its existence supports
progressive results and is supported by progressive
It is my argument that monarchy should be considered a
progressive institution/ideal. The primary purpose of making
this argument is to counter the assertion that republicanism is
somehow the more progressive option in all cases.
some interesting academic research that has been done on
monarchy as a government system. You can go through the
links above to find the relevant studies but to summarize:
in votes for legislative elections.
effect on voter alienation or apathy.
consulting the public in times of political dispute.
generalized trust between citizens.
partisan if their position possesses actual power.
ability to undertake institutional changes without negative
effects makes progress easier to achieve. If every change to
society results in noticeable difficulties there is a resulting
tendency towards the status quo. But overall, I bring these
studies up because progressives believe that scientific
knowledge should be taken into consideration when making
policy decisions. If improvements to social organization is a
value of progress it is equally true that those improvements
should have a basis in evidence.
Further, since the above studies show that monarchy has
specific advantages when it comes to promoting economic,
democratic, and social progress it can in fact be argued that
monarchy is a progressive ideal.
Well, the Queen's address to the UN from 2010 sheds some
light on what Her Majesty values. Specifically the part that
says "I have also witnessed great change, much of it for the better, particularly in science and technology, and in social attitudes. Remarkably, many of these sweeping advances have come about not because of governments, committee resolutions, or central directives - although all these have played a part - but instead because millions of people around the world have wanted them." The Queen has also shown a keen interest in using new technologies to better carry out her roles as monarch. Prince Charles likewise has used
his position as the Prince of Wales to actively promote
progressive causes. His advice to government ministers
has likewise been of a progressive nature. The Duchess of
Cornwall has taken up the cause of rape victims. Prince
William recently spoke out against bullying and
homophobia in schools. Collectively the Royal Family
supports about 3000 charities. All of which is only to point
out that our Royal Family is a rather progressive bunch.
Much of this can be traced back to Prince Albert who was
a major patron of science. "But", I hear you say, "what about
all those other monarchs?"
Well, in Morocco the king has agreed to subsidize the
kingdom's solar power generation in order to keep prices low.
This step potentially sets the kingdom up to be a green
And who can forget King Juan Carlos I's restoration of
Spanish democracy? He isn't even the only monarch in the
modern times to move from absolute rule to democracy. The
monarchs of Bhutan have encouraged democracy in the
country since the 1950s which culminated in a full transition
to constitutional monarchy in 2008.
Indeed, monarchy seems to have a tendency to produce
leaders who are more progressive than their subjects. This
makes sense when you consider that a low levels of education
is connected to greater political conservatism. Monarchs are
trained from birth to rule and also tend to have a long
apprenticeship. The odds are stacked against them becoming
conservatives. You could argue the reason that you see fewer
progressive monarchs in the House of Saud is their habit of
avoiding hereditary succession. A couple of years ago VICE
ran an article where they interviewed Baptiste Roger-Lacan
who noted that "It's important to notice that nowadays
republican France is more conservative compared with some European monarchies, like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark." You could say much the same about Germany.
But returning to the Canadian Royal Family we can see there
is a large number of progressives. This leads to my third point
that an institution made up of progressives can be considered
progressive itself. Nor are the progressives of the Royal
Family the only progressives to support the monarchy.
With members promoting progressive causes and the
institution itself seeming to encourage progressive results I
argue the monarchy is a progressive institution.
This concludes my look at monarchy from the perspective of
the formal definition of progressivism. Next up, the informal
common it is among republicans. The number of times I've
heard monarchy referred to as an archaic system is
unbelievable. That it seems to excludes any form of
government makes me question its usefulness. Consider that
the oldest currently existing republic was established in 301
AD. If progressivism entails a constant forward advance this
republic would be excluded. Could we say that any aspect of
government is progressive? Human rights? Nope. The
concept is quite old. Democracy? Ditto.
Ultimately, tying progress to movement from the status quo
always becomes problematic. There is a way around this.
Consider human rights as an example. While the concept of
human rights continues as a solid ideal how we interpret
them change over time. By the same token while the basic
premise of monarchy has remained the same it has gone
through major changes. Whether we look at the monarchy's
movement from executive to moral leadership, legitimacy via
divine right to legitimacy via parliamentary support, rule by
custom to rule by statute, or a single imperial crown to a
multitude of national crowns it is hard to argue that the
monarchy has not changed (and continues to change). But in
doing so it has kept fundamental aspects of itself consistent
because they work. So in a sense you could argue that
monarchy meets the informal definition of progress. Going
from a monarchy to a republic isn't so much progress as it is
jumping from one path to another.
Now, while I think I have made a good effort at explaining
why I see monarchy as being completely compatible with
progressivism I don't expect progressives to agree. I say this
because there are few people who are only progressives. Most
also ascribe to liberalism, socialism, social democracy, or
republicanism. And these ideologies often have their own
criticisms of monarchy. But perhaps I can hope that they will
admit that their opposition to monarchy stems from
secondary beliefs rather than any intrinsic conflict between
monarchy and progressivism.
A Kisaragi Colour