Monday, June 30, 2008

Constitutional monarchy: better than the alternative

Manoutchehr M. Eskandari-Qajar is Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle Eastern History, and Chair of the Department of Political Science, at Santa Barbara City College, California.

Iranian and Austrian experience suggests to this observer that the argument for constitutional monarchy against republicanism is most convincing on pragmatic grounds.

Monarchy is part of my heritage on both sides of my family. While my link with Iranian monarchy is indeed personal - our family ruled Iran until 1925 - Austrian monarchy has also left its indelible mark on me, as it has on most every aspect of Austrian life to this day. This mixed heritage has allowed me to give the question of monarchy serious thought.

Austria and Iran without their monarchy are not hypothetical questions, but lived realities for one with my background. On the one hand they created in me an apprehension of absolute monarchy. On the other, not a sympathy for republicanism, but an appreciation for the value of constitutional monarchy instead. I firmly believe both countries would be better off with this form of government than with the ones they presently have. Personal and familial reasons aside, what can one say in favor of constitutional monarchy in either country?

Both Austria and Iran rejected their monarchy, but in their rejection chose very different paths. Iran was robbed of its constitutional monarchy once in 1925, in the name of strength and progress. It became an absolute monarchy instead. Then in 1979 it rejected absolute monarchy, but replaced one absolutism with another. In so doing, it missed out on the stabilising effect of monarchy while also missing out on the democratising effect of constitutional rule, and so, ended up with neither.

Austria abolished its monarchy by blaming its fate on its king rather than on the larger structural forces that brought about the conflagration of the Great War. The turbulence of the post-war years gave Hitler the opening he needed. With a monarch, Austrians would not have looked to a Fuhrer for greatness - witness the Danes during that same period for a case in point. There is today no weighty reason for Austria’s continued rejection of its monarchy. The only weight is that of habit from over eighty years of living without. Would Jorg Haider have this kind of appeal if his conservative followers had a constitutional monarchy to support?

Odd as it may sound to republican ears, constitutional monarchy has been an unqualified success story wherever it has thrived. The success alone of this form of government therefore, should be a sufficient argument in its favor. But this is not enough for its opponents, and their arguments against it are multi-layered, and complex.

The core of the republican argument against constitutional monarchy is this: obsolescence and redundancy. The argument from obsolescence is that of anachronism. The argument from redundancy is more complex. It takes the form of this question: What additional role does monarchy play in a democracy that is not already covered by the roles of existing institutions? Those defending monarchy have spent precious energy outlining what this role is, to no avail. The reason is that the republican argument really masks another question: Why should this person be there by heredity and not by popular choice? To that there is no satisfactory answer in a republican age. Therefore, what should proponents of constitutional monarchy say when faced with the challenge of justifying its existence?

They should ask their opponents to look at how countries with constitutional monarchies have fared, and ask by what criteria their opponents have established that without these monarchies those countries would be better off. Here the argument from expense will not do as republics are just as expensive. Neither would the argument from elitism, as republics are just as prone to elitism, though more awkwardly perhaps!

In great anticipation of worthy answers, we monarchists remain, therefore, all ears!

1 comment:

Dara said...

Very well written & I fully agree with you. Salute!