Constitutional monarchy is about a desire for a figure above politics, representing the interests of all subjects by upholding a nation's laws, who can act without fear or intimidation and be the focus of loyalty without having to win the transient favour of voters or politicians.
When people line the streets to see kings and queens pass by it is an occasion to reflect on the wisdom of giving political power to a charismatic president able to command adulation on the same scale for their own purposes.
Around the world and throughout history the consequences have been disastrous. It is as Winston Churchill wrote on April 8, 1945: "This war would never have come unless, under American and modernising pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany. By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones. No doubt these views are very unfashionable ..."
Many republics have been inaugurated through coups and civil wars. In the 20th century, Brazil and Argentina experienced military dictatorship, Yugoslavia disintegrated into a bloody conflict, and Italy was governed by more than 50 different administrations after World War II. The French republic has had five different incarnations since the revolution, with their president now more powerful than the parliament and prime minister.
It is the natural order of things for human beings to live in kingdoms, as it is for other living creatures on Earth. It is not for nothing that Christians pray "your kingdom come". Out of 116 republics, only the US and Switzerland have a record of stability and unity to match the Commonwealth of Australia and neither of their systems have been successfully exported anywhere else.
It is often said monarchs reign but they do not rule. The genius of constitutional monarchy lies not so much with the power the crown exercises but the power it denies others. It is to the monarch and through them to the people that the vice-regals owe their allegiance, rather than mere politicians. A classic example was in 1975, when India's prime minister Indira Ghandi sought to impose an unjustifiable declaration of emergency to avoid the consequences of a court ruling against her, and the president hesitated. Mrs Ghandi reminded the president that she and the Congress Party had "made" him. It was to the party and to her that he owed his position and loyalty, and he signed. No Australian vice-regal would have. Their loyalty is to an apolitical monarch and thus to the people.
That they would not want to go down in history's page as being a partisan was demonstrated in 1951 when Prime Minister Robert Menzies sought a double dissolution election that many in the opposition party thought would be blocked by the Governor-General Sir William McKell, a former Labor premier, to avoid an inconvenient election. Disregarding any feeling of loyalty to his former party and, acting as per convention, parliament was dissolved accordingly.
During Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee year in 2002, Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "A lot of people of my generation have decided in part because of how important a unifier for the country the Queen has been that actually this is a better system - rationally, not simply emotionally or as part of tradition - but rationally this is a better system."
Constitutional monarchy as the ideal form of governance is supported by the Human Development Index. Compiled by the United Nations, each year this league table lists and ranks the average achievements in each country in three basic dimensions of human development:
- a long and healthy life, as measured by life expectancy at birth;
- knowledge, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weight) and the combined primary, secondary and tertiary enrolment ratio (with one-third weight); and
- a decent standard of living, as measured by the natural logarithm of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) in USD.
Making up only 15 per cent of countries, constitutional monarchies are a select group. In 2009 almost all were concentrated at the top, with Australia at number two. Of the top 20 developed countries, 60 per cent are constitutional monarchies. Republics make up about 90 per cent of developing countries and all least developed countries.
In addition, constitutional monarchies are known for high levels of economic and political freedom. Of the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation's rating of 157 countries enjoying economic freedom, eight of the top 22 are constitutional monarchies. Under the monarchy Australia has been a pioneer of democracy, with Federation in 1901 being the first example in world history of a nation coming into being through entirely lawful, peaceful and democratic means.
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