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A Better Sort of King or Queen:

[Warning: None of this is remotely related to any area of expertise that I actually possess.]

So I've long been annoyed by monarchies — including the most milquetoast Western European constitutional monarchies — just on general small-r republican principles. My objection, when it comes to the liberties and welfare of the people, is almost entirely symbolic and aesthetic, given that the monarchs don't really -arch any more.

But I'm also troubled by how monarchy distorts the lives of the Royal Family's children. It gives them unfair advantages, of the sort that can be harmful as well as helpful. But it also imposes on them unfair constraints. They may well be limited (perhaps legally and perhaps by family honor) in whom they can marry. They are limited by family obligation in what they can say, what causes they can champion, what jobs they can go into, and so on. It's very hard for them to lead any sort of private life in which they are judged by the normal standards applicable to ordinary people.

And this isn't something they voluntarily chose; it's thrust upon them, for their whole lives. This is in some measure true for younger children of democratically elected politicians as well, but my sense is that it's much more true at least for the British royals and, I'd guess, for many others as well. Hereditary privileges, obligations, rights, and constraints are, I think, unfair and potentially destructive to their holders.

Yet I have to recognize that it's hard to dislodge centuries-old traditions, such as the monarchy, that are emotionally important to citizens. The traditions can change, even quite substantially, as they have with regard to royal power and royal constraint. But simply shifting from a monarchy to a republic, with no reason other than aesthetics or a worry about the welfare of the royal children, is probably too much.

Hence, my humble proposal: Why not retain the monarchy, but (1) stop its being hereditary, and (2) institute a practice through which the figurehead monarch is chosen by Parliament based on his or her great accomplishments during his or her long life (preferably at least 60 years or so)? The offer to Albert Einstein of the Presidency of Israel (an offer that he of course declined) might be something of a model, though you'd expect Presidents to wear socks. The advantages:

  1. The titles, trappings, and most other incidents of monarchy will be preserved, but the symbolism of royalty will become recognition based on great merit, rather than hereditary right.

  2. I expect the affection of the people for the office will also be preserved, since I take it that people who love the Queen love her chiefly because she's the Queen and not because she can trace her lineage to the Electress Sophia of Hanover. (I recognize that some love Queen Elizabeth II is because she's been queen for so long, which my proposal wouldn't provide for; but I take it that many other Kings and Queens reign for less than Queen Elizabeth II has, and that the length of the reign is not the main determiner of the nation's affection for the monarch.)

  3. The tangible and symbolic benefits will in fact be given to those who merit them, and not based on accident of birth.

  4. The King or Queen will be someone schoolchildren will have good reason to admire, and that foreign dignitaries and others may actually be independently pleased to meet.

  5. The selected person will be a known quantity, so people with bad character — or even personal habits that might be perfectly fine in a private citizen but might not be optimal in a head of state — can be screened out up front..

  6. The selected person's family will still be delighted, but in most situations the children won't even have to grow up in the shadow of the parent's office (since the children will probably already be adult by then), much less feel substantial constraint on their lives from the parent's position.

  7. Because the person will be near the end of their career, the potentially time-consuming ceremonial duties of royalty will probably not take that much away from the value that the monarch could contribute in the science or art that brought him to the throne. (And wouldn't it be good for the worry to be that having your King be King will make it harder for him to make still more great discoveries or creations?) But the monarch's elevation might make the monarch an effective spokesman for more private contributions to that science or art.

  8. Now that the monarchy is largely powerless, the historical objection to elective monarchy and in favor of hereditary monarchy — that in each election so much will be at stake that the nation will come close to civil war — will obviously not be available. While there might be some behind-the-scenes dirty politics in such elections, as in any political endeavor, the practical peril posed by such politics would be minimal.

So, our British, Dutch, Spanish, Swedish, etc. readers — are you with me?

einhverfr (mail) (www):
What you are describing is a sort of republican monarchy of a sort that existed in many parts during the Middle Ages. The classes of potential monarchs were hereditary, but the position was not and was chosen by some council of nobles.

It wasn't unheard of for foreign monarchs to be elected as monarch either. For example Alfonso X of Spain was elected King of the Germans though the Pope refused to accept his election as legitimate.
9.17.2009 9:41pm
AGBates:
If the Vatican had an elected government, the papacy would be fairly close to the model you describe. Indeed, there are (usually) no children to worry about at all. (But see Wikipedia's List of Sexually Active Popes.)
9.17.2009 9:50pm
RBG (mail):
As usual, Chesterton got there first, in The Napoleon of Notting Hill (a wonderful book, by the way), except that in his telling, England's King would be selected at random and rule as a despot.


Democracy was dead; for no one minded the governing class governing. England was now practically a despotism, but not an hereditary one. Some one in the official class was made King. No one cared how: no one cared who. He was merely an universal secretary.


One of his character's explains the process and the underlying rationale:


The old idealistic republicans used to found democracy on the idea that all men were equally intelligent. Believe me, the sane and enduring democracy is founded on the fact that all men are equally idiotic. Why should we not choose out of them one as much as another. All that we want for Government is a man not criminal and insane, who can rapidly look over some petitions and sign some proclamations. To think what time was wasted in arguing about the House of Lords, Tories saying it ought to be preserved because it was clever, and Radicals saying it ought to be destroyed because it was stupid, and all the time no one saw that it was right because it was stupid, because that chance mob of ordinary men thrown there by accident of blood, were a great democratic protest against the Lower House, against the eternal insolence of the aristocracy of talents. We have established now in England, the thing towards which all systems have dimly groped, the dull popular despotism without illusions. We want one man at the head of our State, not because he is brilliant or virtuous, but because he is one man and not a chattering crowd. To avoid the possible chance of hereditary diseases or such things, we have abandoned hereditary monarchy. The King of England is chosen like a juryman upon an official rotation list. Beyond that the whole system is quietly despotic, and we have not found it raise a murmur.


Given our current crop of scoundrels in DC, I'm inclining more and more to the view that Chesterton was on to something.
9.17.2009 9:53pm
GainesvilleGuest (mail):
I could not agree more. If I lived in a country with a monarchy, the moral repugnance of having certain people "ordained by God" to a special position would nauseate me.
9.17.2009 9:55pm
Pyrrhus (mail) (www):
The selection would likely devolve to politically partisan contests. You'd end up with a lifelong figure that half of the people of a country despised, but was there for life.

And is the monarchy in Britain etc really not voluntary? What stops them from abdicating? Who would hold them to their post?

Just get rid of the monarchy.
9.17.2009 9:59pm
RBG (mail):
Oy, characters, not character's. Sorry.
9.17.2009 10:02pm
iolanthe (mail):
"President for life" type arrangements generally have not resulted in good outcomes anywhere - in fact if anyone can point to an exception I'd be interested to hear it.

I'm not sure that the impact on the royal offspring is a particularly good reason to change a system that generally works surprisingly well. If the royal offspring are sufficiently concerned at their duties or media exposure they can renounce their royal titles and the requirements that come with them. The late Princess Margaret was prevented from marrying a divorced man but it was made perfectly clear she could become a commoner and do so.
9.17.2009 10:05pm
M.:
Agreed with Pyrrhus. If such an arrangement were present in the United States we'd probably end up with Jimmy Carter as King.
9.17.2009 10:14pm
Oren:

If such an arrangement were present in the United States we'd probably end up with Jimmy Carter as King.

Arguably a position that would reduce the pernicious impact of his imbecility.
9.17.2009 10:17pm
Ricardo (mail):
Hereditary monarchy has another problem too: for a long-lived monarch like Queen Elizabeth II or King Bhumibol of Thailand, their designated heir can easily grow into middle age without having any serious responsibilities. Both seem to have given their designated heirs pushes and shoves to get out in the limelight more and perform certain "royal" responsibilities. But the idea of designating someone a monarch only after they have accomplished something in their lives and have attained a kind of elder statesmen status is a reasonable one. On the other hand, the mystique of the royal family is still a powerful one and bringing in an outsider might just leave people to abolish the monarchy altogether.

In the case of Thailand's King Bhumibol, the quality of the heirs is important as well. The King there is probably the most revered monarch anywhere in the world: don't bad-mouth the King in front of a Thai unless you want to get into a fight. The most likely heir, though, Prince Vajiralongkorn is widely regarded as a womanizer and a business partner of some pretty dubious people. The Thais I talk to wonder if the monarchy will survive if he is appointed King.
9.17.2009 10:18pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Pyrrhus:

The selection would likely devolve to politically partisan contests. You'd end up with a lifelong figure that half of the people of a country despised, but was there for life.

And is the monarchy in Britain etc really not voluntary? What stops them from abdicating? Who would hold them to their post?


In republican monarchies (medieval Norway, medieval Sweden, etc) the king is usually elected by some sort of semi-exclusive body (the Things-- that's the technical term in Scandinavia-- consisted of freeman farmer/landholders).

Generally there was deference to inheritance but it wasn't considered a birthright, more of an "apple doesn't fall far from the tree" sort of thing (pardon the pun).

I actually like republican monarchies as a form of government. Typically they tend to be based on a federalist model as well, with a fair bit of autonomy for local things and chieftains.
9.17.2009 10:20pm
ArthurKirkland:
After observing the royal Brits' degradation of Mick Jagger with a title, I believe that a day of monarchy is one too many. I hope every monarchy is dismantled without delay, peacefully if possible.
9.17.2009 10:22pm
Tom Round (mail):
> "What stops them from abdicating?"

The law. A British monarch is not legally entitled to resign office unilaterally. The 1936 abdication of Edward VIII required Acts of the British and Dominion Parliaments to make it effective: "It was Edward's Royal Assent to these Acts, rather than his abdication notice, which gave legal effect to the abdication".

Regarding Eugene's suggestion: this is the sort of model that most liberal-democratic republics in fact have, with some elder statesperson appointed by the legislature to serve as ceremonial president. French- and American-style elected party leaders are the exception. The suggestion that a president serve legally for life would be a novelty: while some republics do re-elect a popular incumbent indefinitely (eg, Urho Kekkonen in Finland, 1956-82), others (Ireland, Germany) have term limits, with less justification than the US (or Russian) precedent.

One is tempted to say that life terms in office are anti-republican, except that the US Supreme Court has exactly that and proposals to introduce either a term of years, or a retirement age, seem to be viewed by many Americans as an attack on the Constitution itself.

Australia held a referendum just under 10 years ago of becoming a republic with a presidency not unlike the model Eugene outlines. It was defeated by an alliance of (a) monarchists who believe that Queen Elizabeth II is descended from King David (no, not making that up), (b) conservatives who think the existing system works so why tinker with it (but who still trade in their cars before the engines explode), and (c) populist radicals who would not accept any President not directly elected (and so therefore helped this country retain a system where the Prime Minister unilaterally hires and fires the de facto Head of State - nice work, fellas).
9.17.2009 10:23pm
PeteP:
"But it also imposes on them unfair constraints. They may well be limited (perhaps legally and perhaps by family honor) in whom they can marry. They are limited by family obligation in what they can say, what causes they can champion, what jobs they can go into, and so on. It's very hard for them to lead any sort of private life in which they are judged by the normal standards applicable to ordinary people. "

Nonsense. All they have to do is choose to walk away from it. It's been done before, famously so. They are no more 'victims of birth' than the children of any rich and famous families.

What is more suprising than your premise is the fact that you started sentences with 'So', 'And, 'But', and 'And'.

Tut tut :-).

And yes, if you like you can relate that 'Tut' to the Kingly topic of the thread - but I don't )
9.17.2009 10:26pm
jmo (mail):
And this isn't something they voluntarily chose; it's thrust upon them, for their whole lives.

Did anyone of us chose to be born who we are? Did Prof. Volokh chose to be born with talents that allowed him to graduate from UCLA when he was (what was it 15yo)? No, so why should a Crown Prince be any different?
9.17.2009 10:31pm
kdonovan:
This seems like the largely ceremonial presidents of countries like Germany or Israel.

However I think we should remember that the monarchy was reestablished in Britain to deal with the problem of the dictatorship of the Long Parliament and then Cromwell as the Lord Protector.

You overlook a safety valve role that monarchs sometimes play in acute crises, especially in parliamentary republics. You ask what Spaniards think of this, yet it was the the King of Spain - in the attempted coup only 30 years ago - who used his prestige to halt the attempt to overthrow democracy. I suspect that a renowned 60-70 year old scientist or poet would not have been able to play this role so naturally. It is the mystique of the monarchy, especially as it related to the military and some other institutions that allowed Juan Carlos to do this.

Further it is the very warping of the children of monarchs that may play a role in creating future monarchs who see themselves playing a different role than more ordinary politicians. (Or the royal child rearing may be a symptom of such an ideology). To the extent that monarchs see their family and honor as extending into the remote future and tied up in how they perform their role in a crisis they may be likely to take a different viewpoint than the elected political class in a crisis.

In a centralized parliamentary democracy that lacks checks and balances between competing branches, and between the regions and center of a strong federal system, adding a monarch who has a different time horizon and perhaps a different utility function, driven by ideas of his royal duty, might provide a check on a run away (or utterly corrupt) government.

Examples of this might be the Thai monarchy's occasional involvement in politics.

Most electoral democracies that have succumbed to Fascism or similar dictatorships in the early 20th c were not constitutional monarchies: Germany, Spain, Argentina, etc.

(Fascist Italy of the 1920-30s or Imperial Japan of the early 1930s might be the best counter-example of where a monarch was unable or unwilling to prevent such an overthrow of a democratic government.)
9.17.2009 10:33pm
KenB (mail):
Though one can quibble how monarchs are selected, there are arguments in their favor. In the UK and similar systems, the prime minister is head of government and the monarch is chief of state. One may despise the government and still adore the chief of state and, by extension, the country itself.

In the US, the president is both head of government and chief of state. People who despise the president's governing policies sometimes let their discontent color their feelings for the country. From my perspective, a significant element of the US Left has long been in this category. I don't know, but I wonder if it would be different were the roles separated in this country as in the UK.
9.17.2009 10:35pm
Matt Springer (mail) (www):
Tom: It may have been the royal assent to the parliamentary act that formally ended Edward's claim on the throne, but this is a far cry from saying the law can prevent abdication. If Charles walked off the royal job, flew to Peoria (I imagine his visa would be approved), and become a insurance salesman, I don't think Scotland Yard would drag him back and tie him to the throne even if he didn't have parliamentary approval.
9.17.2009 10:36pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
PeteP: Not only do I routinely start sentences with "So," "But," and "And," but it's perfectly standard English usage. But you of course have an indubitable right -- even a First Amendment right -- to express your surprise at it.
9.17.2009 10:42pm
Dr. Johnny Paris:
There are literally millions of Africans with claims to royalty. It would seem that EV's proposals would short change their aspirations and dignity.

Perhaps we should entertain the notion to eliminate the concept of royalty only for Europeans--no one could then deny the equity of the idea.
9.17.2009 10:47pm
Ricardo (mail):
I don't know, but I wonder if it would be different were the roles separated in this country as in the UK.

The British, along with citizens of almost all the other European countries, do not have the same culture of patriotism that Americans have. I don't have a cite right now, but I recall an international survey asking people of they were "proud to be a [insert nationality here]." Americans gave a yes response about 80-90% of the time -- we're some of the most patriotic people in the world aside from Nigerians and Turks -- while the yes responses from European countries were a significantly lower percentage.
9.17.2009 10:49pm
Randy R. (mail):
Random thoughts;

1 Once came across a thought: A President might divide a country, whereas a King can unite it.

2. Many people like the pomp and pageantry of royalty. Go to a complete newsrack, and you will see plenty of magazines devoted to the social lives of royalty, both petty and majeur.

3. Any child can indeed walk away from it, and some have. Just as the child of any famous actor or singer in the US can walk away from the limelight and live and ordinary life. The problem is that they WANT the money and the limelight, AND full privacy and the right to do anything that they want. In other words, tehy have to grow up an make hard choices, just like the rest of us. I have no sympathy.

4. Any thoughts that the election of a monarch won't devolve into factional or political wrangling are laughable.

5. There is a mystique to a long-lived monarchy. Many of the monarchies that were imposed upon Europe in the 19th and early 20th century failed to survive -- Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, Albania, etc -- and I suspect part of that was because the royalty didn't have deep roots with the people, and couldn't survive an idiot king.

6. Of course, many long-lived monarchies still failed in the 20th, such as Germany, Austria, Russia, etc., but their palaces make for great tourism. People may hate kings, but there is a pride to what they built.

7. On balance, there were probably just as many really good queens and kings and there are presidents, and just as many scoundrals. So whatever method you choose for a leader, be it democratic or by birth, you basically come out about the same. It's just when you choose your leader, you get to change them fairly regularly and quickly instead of waiting around for someone to die.

8. Any monarch can of course quit the office without any trouble at all. It's called suicide.
9.17.2009 10:50pm
Anonymous Cow:
just focusing on Eugene's problem with monarchies (not the solution), couldn't one replace monarchies with other words and say the same thing thing.

say, judaism (said as an observant jew). It's hereditary, limits who we can marry, some would even say what we can say (at least from a jewish law pov).
9.17.2009 10:53pm
InsertGenericID:
Eugene


I expect the affection of the people for the office will also be preserved, since I take it that people who love the Queen love her chiefly because she's the Queen and not because she can trace her lineage to the Electress Sophia of Hanover. (I recognize that some love Queen Elizabeth II is because she's been queen for so long, which my proposal wouldn't provide for; but I take it that many other Kings and Queens reign for less than Queen Elizabeth II has, and that the length of the reign is not the main determiner of the nation's affection for the monarch.)


Isn't it equally likely that though the average citizen of the UK doesn't care about descent from Electress Sophie, they do view the monarchy as having value because it is an established institution? The affection they express could simply be that she is the Queen, a descendant of the Kings and Queens who lead and shepherded the country for hundreds of years?

If there were a tradition of selecting the monarch along the lines you describe, then likely that institution would be established to the same degree and would have the same affection. But in switching to selecting a luminary as monarch, it would require the people to make a hard break with tradition and switch their affection from one institution to another. So I'm not so sure that the affection would transfer.

KenB

One may despise the government and still adore the chief of state and, by extension, the country itself.

In the US, the president is both head of government and chief of state. People who despise the president's governing policies sometimes let their discontent color their feelings for the country.


I'm right with you. I think this is well demonstrated by the Tea Party (and some on the Left during the Bush years) signs reading some variation on "I want my country back." The duly elected president doesn't agree with their politics, therefore the country has been surreptitiously taken over.
9.17.2009 10:56pm
Joe Kowalski (mail):

From my perspective, a significant element of the US Left has long been in this category.

During the Bush years, yes this was the case. During the Clinton years, the roles were reversed. Now with Obama in the White House, the roles have reversed again. Now you have folks in the middle that no matter who is President that recognize that the office of Head of State ought to be respected regardless of who is in that office or what his policies are. Unfortunately I fear that such people are becoming a rarity.
9.17.2009 11:03pm
iolanthe (mail):
"Australia held a referendum just under 10 years ago of becoming a republic with a presidency not unlike the model Eugene outlines".

If the proposal had been for a president for life it would have been defeated even more profoundly than it was.

Tom Round's characterisation of the reasons why the Australian referendum was defeated is largely accurate but I would add two comments:
- the number of people who voted for the monarchy due to its dubious descent from King David was tiny - conservatives voting for because the system works well were far more numerous;
- a large part of the blame has to go to the republicans who fought the most incompetent campaign even seen in Australian politics. It's no surprise that the leader of the republican movement is now struggling as Opposition Leader.
9.17.2009 11:05pm
jmo (mail):
6. Of course, many long-lived monarchies still failed in the 20th, such as Germany, Austria, Russia, etc., but their palaces make for great tourism. People may hate kings, but there is a pride to what they built.

If we look at the cost of the Palace of Versailles in terms of percentage of GDP, we find that estimates of the cost at nearly 50% of France's GDP over a 20 year period. Can you imagine the palace that could be built with a budget of $1.5 Trillion dollars?

Now that would be something to see.
9.17.2009 11:08pm
jmo (mail):
Oh, and I might have been unclear - I don't mean it cost 50% of GDP for 20 years, rather 2.5% of GDP for 20 years.
9.17.2009 11:13pm
Perseus (mail):
I would object to the proposal precisely because it would extinguish the remaining vestiges of the distinctive way of life of the old monarchical regime (and awarding the position of the basis of merit--even if we make the questionable assumption that it actually will be--won't be a comparable substitute since modern democratic notions of merit are utilitarian).
9.17.2009 11:16pm
Cornellian (mail):
I think this is a bad idea, though just how bad it is depends on which particular monarchy you're talking about.

The British monarch has considerable power in theory, but tradition restrains her from using it except on the advice of the prime minister. Thus, the prime minister is the de facto decision maker, so long as the monarch continues to respect that tradition. Particular monarchs come to the throne with the enormous accumulated baggage of their ancestors and that operates as a restraint - none of them wants to be the one whose political activism brings about the end of a monarchy that's been around since 1066. I'm not so sure an appointed monarch would feel any such restraint, and a politically active monarch would generate a constitutional crisis not easily solved.

Second, it's easy to say that Parliament would pick the person, but what does that mean? Hundreds of people would be interested in the job and credible candidates. Members of Parliament couldn't possibly vet that many people. Yet if you allow the executive to present, say, 3 candidates to Parliament for a vote, you're as good as saying that the executive picks the monarch, again a dangerous idea since the monarch operates as a theoretical restraint on the prime minister of the day.

Third, what happens when the monarch dies while Parliament is not in session? You could end up going months without a monarch and the British system of government could not tolerate that kind of vacuum.

Also, the royals in general aren't all that restrained compared to other children of famous families. Only those close to the line of succession are really restrained, in the British case that means Elizabeth, Charles and Charles' two sons, and possibly Andrew and Edward. Anyone in that line who isn't happy about it can always renounce their claim, a sort of pre-emptive abdication.
9.17.2009 11:23pm
Tom Round (mail):
Iolanthe's amendment accepted. One must distinguish "conservatives" ("keep the status quo") from "monarchists" proper, who would be Restorationists even if the country became a republic. The first category was more numerous. Many Australians would get a shock if they realised how many established institutions that are familiar to Australians would be considered radical innovations in other countries.

> "If the proposal had been for a president for life it would have been defeated even more profoundly than it was"

Peter Reith (a former Liberal minister and headkicker) pointed out that the supposed 5-year term for the appointed President could be extended indefinitely. Because the model would have let the Australian President (unlike, eg, Bill Clinton after 20 January 2001 if Scalia abd co ahd not intervened) continue as Acting President, even after her term expires, until her successor is elected - and since a new President must be nominated by the Prime Minister and confirmed by two-thirds of Parliament - either the PM or 1/3 of all MPs could have prevented the incumbent's term ending. Reith's characterisation of the "President for life" problem was mocked by cartoonists but, unfortunately, it was accurate.

The whole 1999 republic model was a camel designed by a committee (example: the president could dismiss the prime minister - and, in turn, the prime minister could dismiss the president!) and what is surprising is that it got at high as 46% voting in its favour.
9.17.2009 11:29pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Oh, and I might have been unclear - I don't mean it cost 50% of GDP for 20 years, rather 2.5% of GDP for 20 years."

And according to one book I read, the cost of maintaining Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV was as high as 20% of the total revenue of France. No wonders there was a revolution!
9.17.2009 11:31pm
Putting Two and Two...:

If I lived in a country with a monarchy, the moral repugnance of having certain people "ordained by God" to a special position would nauseate me.


You don't have to live in a monarchy to have people try to sell you that bill of goods...
9.17.2009 11:32pm
Off Kilter (mail):
EV: "The titles, trappings, and most other incidents of monarchy will be preserved, but the symbolism of royalty will become recognition based on great merit, rather than hereditary right."

The underlying assumption, which may well be incorrect, is that the reason the public wants monarchy is NOT that the rulers can be traced back historically to ancient times.

I suspect that actually those who yearn for maintaining the monarchy do so precisely because they feel it somehow links the present country with a glorious past.
9.17.2009 11:36pm
kdonovan:
Putting Two and Two...:

"And according to one book I read, the cost of maintaining Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV was as high as 20% of the total revenue of France. No wonders there was a revolution!"

My understanding is that Versailles was basically created to overawe the nobility and provided a gilded cage for it, as well as the arena in which the nobles could compete with each other via conspicuous consumption to gain royal favor, prestige and glory. This system did quite well at defangin the nobility's military threat to the royal family and was a bargain at 20% of revenues. Prior to Louis XIV setting up the Versailles system, rebellions led by the upper nobility were a persistent threat to the French kings, after it they never mounted a credible threat. (Of course the nobility was so weakened that it could save neither itself nor the monarchy in 1789.)
9.17.2009 11:48pm
Perseus (mail):
During the Bush years, yes this was the case. During the Clinton years, the roles were reversed. Now with Obama in the White House, the roles have reversed again. Now you have folks in the middle that no matter who is President that recognize that the office of Head of State ought to be respected regardless of who is in that office or what his policies are. Unfortunately I fear that such people are becoming a rarity.

Revolutionary war veterans got together to toast "A speedy death to General Washington!" after he signed the Jay Treaty, so this isn't exactly a new phenomenon.

Third, what happens when the monarch dies while Parliament is not in session? You could end up going months without a monarch and the British system of government could not tolerate that kind of vacuum.

Perhaps they could follow the Catholic example of a papal conclave and lock the members inside Parliament until they select a new monarch.
9.17.2009 11:50pm
Randy R. (mail):
"I suspect that actually those who yearn for maintaining the monarchy do so precisely because they feel it somehow links the present country with a glorious past."

and keeps their minds off the mundane present.

Snark aside, I believe that that the celebration and awareness of history is always a good thing, so long as we see the glories and the warts.

I'd be curious to know if the immigrants and children of immigrants to the UK share the same affection for the Queen as the anglo-saxons do.
9.17.2009 11:52pm
Ken Mitchell (mail):
Been done. Old news.

"And a Duke's exalted station.... be attainable by competitive examination!"

"Iolanthe"
Gilbert &Sullivan
9.17.2009 11:56pm
Arturito:
Eugene, since you ask for the opinion of subjects of constitutional monarchies I'll give you mine as a Spaniard. I'll preface it by saying that if you take 10 Spaniards at random and ask them what they think about the Spanish monarchy you are sure to get at least 20 diverging opinions.

In a certain way, the reign of Juan Carlos I is similar to what you suggest. He was selected by Franco as his successor and nobody expected him to last - he was nicknamed Juan Carlos the Brief at the time. Franco, however had frozen the political life of the country for decades, and there was a great fear among the population that the hatreds of the Civil War were still burning under the surface (they still burn). Juan Carlos was a hope for stability, and he was accepted reluctantly. He quickly gave up power, and in a few smooth moves dismounted Franco’s totalitarian regime, allowing himself in the process to become a constitutional monarch. That impressed many. When in 1981 he personally defeated a military coup when he could very easily have succumbed to the temptation of power, he gained the loyalty of many skeptical Spaniards, including this one.

What I’m saying is that, unusually for a monarch, he has earned his job, and I’m happy to have him around for life.

Now, about his heir, Don Felipe. On the one hand he does not impress me in the least, and I’d be just as happy if he decides to lead a life of luxury in some remote island never to be heard of again. On the other hand, the Spanish monarchy is one of the few centripetal forces in a country with strong centrifugal urges like Spain. I can’t imagine Spaniards agreeing on any elected king. I can’t imagine any single person without the mantle of hereditary monarchic legitimacy being agreed upon by all.
9.17.2009 11:57pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Randy R:

Any thoughts that the election of a monarch won't devolve into factional or political wrangling are laughable.


I think it is less a question of whether of factional or political wrangling occurs and more a question of what sort. Most of the republican monarchies have tended to have a number of rather interesting ways to help ensure that this didn't occur in bad ways.
9.17.2009 11:58pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
It occurs to me we have a monarch in this country. It's called the flag.
9.17.2009 11:59pm
Randy R. (mail):
kdonovan: "My understanding is that Versailles was basically created to overawe the nobility and provided a gilded cage for it, as well as the arena in which the nobles could compete with each other via conspicuous consumption to gain royal favor, prestige and glory."

True. Also, Louis set up an elaborate system of etiquette, only certain men of rank could hand a candle to the king, that sort of thing. That created a system of currying favor of the king and rivalry among the nobility that kept them busy fussing amongst themselves rather than fomenting rebellion.

Regarding Washington, after the Revolutionary War, he and assorted officers formed the Society of Cincinnati as a way to continue the commraderie they enjoyed during the war. They elected George as their President. The original idea is that it would die out as the last serving officer would die.

then they changed the bylaws to admit as a member any officer who served in the war, and the eldest son, in perpetuity. George threatened to resign, as he feared that this would create an aristocracy, which is just what they fought against. So they voted to eliminate it.

As soon as George died, they reversed themselves again, and the Society still exists, and membership is open to anyone who can trace their lineage through the eldest son.
9.18.2009 12:03am
GatoRat:
The problem with your idea is that most monarchs are groomed for the position since birth. They are "above" the masses in trappings and attitudes (though generally not intelligence or capability.) Above all, a monarch doesn't "earn" the position or "gain" it; they have it because they are endowed by God to be so. Yes, many monarchs went to great effort to gain that position, including eliminating those in the way; the illusion still is that their position is ordained. Absent that, the position becomes utterly pointless.

(For the record, I have the deepest contempt for aristocracy. I was only explaining what is, not what should be be.)
9.18.2009 12:26am
DG:
{It occurs to me we have a monarch in this country. It's called the flag.}

Wrong, but close. Guess again :)
9.18.2009 12:31am
Donald Clarke (www):
The real question is whether the political system of the US, or any modern democratic country, is capable of selecting the type of person who would actually make a good symbolic monarch. This is exactly what the Governor General is supposed to be in Canada and the choices haven't always been great; the current occupant recently distinguished herself by eating a chunk of raw seal heart to show her solidarity with seal hunters against foreign critics.
9.18.2009 12:38am
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

Hereditary privileges, obligations, rights, and constraints are, I think, unfair and potentially destructive to their holders.

You're right. It would totally suck to be a member of the British royal family, for example.
9.18.2009 12:39am
PoxyHowzes (mail):
Incontrovertibly, as you say, a topic in which whatever expertise exists at all belongs to others. Unless you believe that this is the only area of human sociology in which you lack expertise, I recommend that you search elsewhere for your next learning exercise. Somewhere where you might perhaps start at ground level rather then at least knee-deep in a hole.

But, backing off, I admit that I might be the smallest bit interested in what you think needs to be said — needs. to. be. said. — about monarchy that wasn't said in the Declaration of Independence.

Are there trenchant legal (or other) authorities on monarchy and/or monarchies that you admire and/or emulate?
9.18.2009 1:00am
Dave N (mail):
I find myself in complete agreement with Randy R. on this thread.

BTW, with respect to the British monarchy, the easiest way to give up a claim on the monarchy is to join the Catholic Church. It appears that there was some effort a year ago to change the law and allow a Catholic monarch, but I find no links suggesting the proposed law passed.
9.18.2009 1:15am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Donald Clark:

This is exactly what the Governor General is supposed to be in Canada and the choices haven't always been great; the current occupant recently distinguished herself by eating a chunk of raw seal heart to show her solidarity with seal hunters against foreign critics.


Well, why not include that sort of thing directly in national rituals like the ancient Norwegians did? I am thinking of things like eating raw liver of a sacrificed horse, and the like....
9.18.2009 1:26am
Ricardo (mail):
Very interesting poll results from the UK:

Abolish the Monarchy and replace with elected head of state after the death of the Queen:

Support 22%
Oppose 59%
Indifferent 12%
Don't know 7%

I wonder how support would change if the head of state were appointed or voted on by, say, the House of Lords rather than elected by the people.

However, on every other question, Brits are supporters of moving the country toward more of a republican form of government. 74% favor a California-style referendum system, 75% support recall elections of MPs, 59% favor a written constitution and 69% favor making all new members of the House of Lords stand for election.
9.18.2009 1:44am
Soronel Haetir (mail):
I don't get what's so wrong about eating a chunk of seal heart. I drank a handful of blood from the first deer I shot. Of course my mother just about freaked since I made sure to smear it over my cheeks and chin as well. (I was either 14 or 15 at the time.)
9.18.2009 1:51am
Robert Shaw:
The current succession to the British throne is determined by an act of parliament, which parliament can amend at will. They can, in theory, make anyone they like the heir.

In practice, of course, they never would. The monarchy works well enough, and we wouldn't trust our politicians to come up with a better alternative. Presidents Thatcher or Blair would divide the country, while someone non-political could well turn out to be some vacuous celebrity, or at worst, be selected via a reality TV show - yes, they'd have got a lot of votes, but what kind of person would put themselves forward that way?
9.18.2009 1:54am
Dennis Nicholls (mail):
Ever since 1688 the English Parliament (now British Parliament) has had the power to hire and fire Monarchs. They fired James II and hired William of Orange as his replacement. When William's direct line died out, they hired the House of Hannover as the replacement. When they disapproved of Edward VIII's lifestyle, they fired him and hired his brother (George VI).

Elizabeth wouldn't even be Queen if Parliament didn't have this power. Her uncle would have been King and would have passed it on to his children.
9.18.2009 2:18am
Dave N (mail):
Dennis Nicholls,

You are correct. However, Edward VIII (usually referred to as the Duke of Windsor) had no children, so Elizabeth still would have become queen when her uncle died (Edward outlived George).
9.18.2009 2:26am
Dennis Nicholls (mail):
A word about abdication. Members of Parliament themselves are not permitted to resign their office, in contrast with members of the US Congress. Instead, MP's go through the legal fiction of getting named a Bailiff of Her Majesty's Chiltern Hundreds, which as an office of profit under the Crown is incompatible with being an MP.
9.18.2009 2:29am
Steve G (mail):
Being English, I am always amused by other nations' view of my nation, but I suppose it is always so. But certainly there are some amusing outsider ideas about who we are and what we think.

But to the point: Replace the Monarchy? No, on balance. And no real reason, other than it works for us as it is on all sorts of levels. Imperfect? Probably. Not democratic? Definitely. Prone to inherited disease? So what?

Of course we could become like democratic North Korea which replaces the head of state with offspring, or like the Bush family in the States where power is kept in the family (albeit with an interregnum), or even have formally a system like we recently had in the UK government where the outgoing Prime Minister hands over the job to someone else on the basis of a private agreement, which laughably goes unchallenged by their own party -- a party, we are often told, who are committed to democracy.

But there is one final reason which is a result of our bloody history. We have replaced various kings (and queens) and brought others in. Heirs to the throne have been bumped off, deadly changes made in ruling families. But somewhere in the UK there is a man or woman who is the rightful monarch. They could now be working in a store, for example, not knowing their bloodline comes from the once true monarch of England (whoever they were) but the exciting thing about this is...

It could be me! So you want to take that from me?
9.18.2009 3:34am
mj:
I don't see how this would be compelling to anyone who actually supports the monarchy. It's less objectionable to people who dislike it, but since they are in a minority that wouldn't seem to be sufficient.
9.18.2009 6:33am
Arkady:
I read somewhere that the British attachment to the royal family stems from the fact that Britain, unlike the US with our Constitution and Declaration of Independence (the documents), has no other physical symbols of its nationhood (save the flag) than the royal family.
9.18.2009 6:51am
martinned (mail) (www):

Ever since 1688 the English Parliament (now British Parliament) has had the power to hire and fire Monarchs. They fired James II and hired William of Orange as his replacement.

I'm sorry, but that is incorrect. Unlike the Scottish parliament, the English parliament specifically declined to do that. They stated that the King had abandoned his throne, and that it therefore had become vacant.
9.18.2009 6:53am
Tim Worstall (mail) (www):
"The selection would likely devolve to politically partisan contests."

Quite. I'm absolutely delighted to come from a country where it's not some supperannuated vote stealer who pins the medals upon soldiers, opens the hospital wards and in general symbolises "the nation" as opposed to "the government".

As to the restrictions upon children etc. The Earl of St Andrews (can't remember, nephew, great nephew of QE II?) was something like 30 th in line. Wanted to married a Catholic (a Canadian I think)and so he did. By doing so he opted out of being in line to the throne.

Been done a number of times.
9.18.2009 7:03am
martinned (mail) (www):
As for the Dutch royal family, let me say this: William of Orange became Steward (=replacement for the king) in Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht in 1566, 15 years before the declaration of independence. Ever since then the Orange-Nassau family has protected the country in its time of need. They never governed as absolute monarchs, but always stayed within the law. At the moment, HM the Queen is overwhelmingly beloved and respected by the people, if for no other reason than that she gives the distinct impression of being the only one in government who has a clue. (FYI, last Tuesday was Prinsjesdag, the Queen's annual address to Parliament.)

At the moment, only a few fringe republicans argue for abolishing the monarchy altogether. The only question is whether the Queen's prerogatives should be maintained, or whether we should switch to the dreaded "Swedish model".
9.18.2009 7:05am
martinned (mail) (www):

I'm absolutely delighted to come from a country where it's not some supperannuated vote stealer who pins the medals upon soldiers, opens the hospital wards and in general symbolises "the nation" as opposed to "the government".

Why? I would have thought this whole Obama school speach mess would have made clear how messy it can be uniting the jobs of head of state and head of government in a single person.
9.18.2009 7:10am
TruePath (mail) (www):
This is a silly suggestion for so many reasons. It achieves no significant positive end while eroding potential benefits of the monarchy. I don't see why anyone who would support this wouldn't also be convinced that no monarchy would be superior.

------

Let's start with the bit about the monarch's children. Do the royals have different lives than most of the public. Sure. But that's not the relevant question. The relevant question is whether they are better or worse off as a result of their status. I suspect they are on net better off.

Yes, the royals face many constraints and expectations not of their choosing but so to does the kid whose family expects them to go into the family business. Yes, politicians kids may face less scrutiny than kids in line for the throne but that is only reasonable and royals who want less scrutiny can always abdicate. Hell, being raised by devout parents in some crazy religion probably presents a larger unchoosen burden. Moreover, the effects on the royal kids will be dwarfed by the other impacts of the monarchy on society.

----

Now what are the benefits of having a monarchy? The following immediately come to mind.

1) Sense of tradition, respect for past, coolness.
2) Tourism dollars.
3) Separation of ceremonies of state from actual governance and politics.
4) Unifying national figure in times of crisis.

Under your proposal 1 &2 are obviously sacrificed. Both of these depend on the hereditary nature of the position as this is what gives the medieval flavor and historical link.

While not totally disrupted some of the benefits from 3 will be lost as well. If the monarch needs to be appointed there will at least be the perception that they curried favor with one party or the other. Just like the supreme court justices monarchs will be seen as either left or right and this will taint the ceremonies they provide (why pageantry for this day and not that). Also political import will be read into their actions. The queen can refuse to host the leader of the PLO without it sending a message about the current government's attitude toward making deals but a more political figure could not. In other words because the Queen isn't seen as beholden to the political system her moral leadership doesn't send the wrong practical messages. The same considerations will reduce an elected monarch's ability to be a nationally rallying point.

---

Finally if a monarch were selected 'democratically' the influential people selected would likely start to gather power and turn the position into a presidency/shadow-presidency. The very fact that the monarch has no democratic legitimacy is what lets them co-exist with the real power structure.
9.18.2009 7:18am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Ohh yes and whether or not the royals can technically resign in practice they could.

I mean worst comes to worst they could just emigrate to the US and get a job. What is the country they are supposedly the monarch of going to do? Arrest them?
9.18.2009 7:23am
Teh Anonymous:
I'm an American, born and bred for many generations. (i.e., I perceive myself as having no dog in this fight.) Maybe it's my exposure to too much fantasy fiction (in which hereditary rulers are common), but I've never understood why some people who live in countries without monarchies are so bothered by countries with monarchies. Would I want one here? No. But if other countries choose to have one, it's no skin off my back.
9.18.2009 8:03am
martinned (mail) (www):

I've never understood why some people who live in countries without monarchies are so bothered by countries with monarchies.

One could definitely get the impression that the Germans miss not having a royal family. They're more bothered with our royal family than we are.

(Then again, a quick count shows that - apart from the current Crown Prince - every reigning monarch of the Netherlands has been married to a German since William II (1840-1848), who was married to a Romanov. That doesn't only mean that the Royal family qualify as immigrants under the relevant statutes, it also means that they're more German than even the British Royal family.)
9.18.2009 8:14am
DNJ:
In the very unlikely event that Her Majesty The Queen left the Realm and refused to perform Her duties, the Sovereign's spouse (His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh), the Lord Chancellor (Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP), the Speaker of the House of Commons (Rt. Hon. John Bercow, MP), the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales (Rt. Hon. The Lord Judge) and the Master of the Rolls (Rt. Hon. The Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony), or the majority of them, could declare that Her Majesty is "not available for the performance of those functions", pursuant to s 2(1) of the Regency Act 1936, and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales would thereby become Regent of the United Kingdom pursuant to that section and s 3 of the same Act.
9.18.2009 8:17am
DR:
he biggest advantage to hereditary monarchy is that a politician can never become anything more than head of government.

While not the legal relationship, I prefer to see the monarch as a reminder to politicians that they serve the people, even if the monarch acts on the advice of politicians (the modern British or Canadian view). T

I remember explaining to an American that Queen Elizabeth has all of the power, so long as she never exercises it. My audience thought that absurd.
9.18.2009 8:31am
Litigator-London:
We have had a monarchy in England from Anglo-Saxon times, it is an institution we are used to and which has generally worked well for us. By and large, our constitutional settlement has been the product of evolution rather than revolution and we are happy for it to continue to evolve. There are those in England who are republicans but they have made little headway over the centuries.

There are many theories as to why this should be so, but I suggest that one powerful reason is to be ascribed to the intervention of the Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria who persuaded the Queen to adopt the principle that the Monarchy should stay above party politics.

Contrary to the assumptions in Prof Volokh's initial post, longevity does seem to be important. In the case of the UK, Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901 she had phases of unpopularity but outlived them. At the low point of the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, the Duchess of York became Queen Consort of George VI and after his untimely death from lung cancer, as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother remained immensely popular until her death in 2002. Our present Queen ascended to the throne in 1952, celebrated her golden jubilee in 2002 and is now 57 years into her reign. There is no doubt that her popularity has increased with time.

Of course, our Queen has been at the centre of public affairs for a very long time: her reign has spanned the US presidencies of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (HW), Clinton, Bush (GW) and now Barack Obama. The Queen's first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill, followed by Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Wilson, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair and now Gordon Brown. Her constitutional role of Monarch means that the Queen sees all important state papers, is kept informed of events by the Prime Minister and has the right to "advise counsel and warn" her ministers on proposed courses of action. That influence of the Monarch on government is not to be under-estimated.

One of the principal turn-offs, for those of us who might otherwise wish to see a change to an elected head of state is the sorry spectacle of what other democracies get stuck with as a result of their more or less democratic processes for the selection of a head of state. In a system where head of state is elected by the parliament one tends to get some superannuated politician. Direct election seems to provide no better solution: I can think of few of my compatriots who would really have wanted Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon or George W. Bush as their head of state - even if the position were merely ceremonial.

One of the reasons Mrs Thatcher eventually got the push was because she was becoming several shades too purple: not for nothing did the public christen the devalued £1 coin a "Thatcher". People thought the nasty new coin was like the PM: rather brassy and with too many pretensions to being a sovereign! Tony Blair suffered from much the same phenomenon. This coincided with the importation of some elements of "presidential" style into the offices of our prime ministers: with prime ministers increasingly speaking as if they were the head of state rather than merely the principal minister of the Crown.

How the Monarchy will fare in this new century remains to be seen. But so far as our present Queen is concerned, Long May She Reign!
9.18.2009 8:46am
pintler:

While there is an appeal in a non-heriditary office of 'Peers of the Realm' or somesuch, populated by the likes of George Washington, George Marshall, and so on, I fear we would end up selecting from the Michael Jacksons of the world.
9.18.2009 8:56am
David Hecht (mail):
Since one of the countries that presents an argument in favor of monarchy has not been heard from--Belgium--I will permit myself to do so (I lived there for many years, though I myself am not a native).

Belgium is one of those 19-century countries that had a German minor nobility (the Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha family) assigned to them as monarch when they became independent. Unlike most of the others (in the Balkan Massif mainly) where this was true, they managed to keep it into modern times: in part because Belgium democratized far better than any of the Balkan Massif countries, where weak institutions ultimately led to monarchical dictatorship or worse.

The monarch serves an important constitutional function, in that he decides who shall be given the opportunity to form the government after each election. Unlike in (say) UK, where it's usually pretty clear who should be given the first shot, in Belgium there are generally six or more parties that are seriously represented (at least three from each side of the linguistic frontier). Generally the monarch also plays a "facilitator" function as well, so he is much more active than e.g. Elizabeth.

In a country such as Belgium, that is riven along ethnic/linguistic lines, the dynasty is perhaps one of the only remaining institutions that maintains its legitimacy among both factions. If it were to be transformed into an elective institution, it would be well-nigh impossible to agree on who should serve in that capacity: no matter how well respected the individual might be, there would still be some resentment among Walloons if he were a Fleming, and vice-versa.

BTW, the Belgians came close to abolishing the monarchy not once but twice in modern times: just after WW2, there was a plebiscite on that very subject (much as in Italy and Greece). 58 percent voted in favor of keeping the monarch, but the vote lost badly in Wallonia (the French-speaking part of the country) at least in part because of Leopold III's controversial actions in unilaterally making a cease-fire with the Germans in 1940, and in remaining in the country during the occupation (unlike the Dutch royals). But Leopold defused the movement by abdicating in favor of his son, Baudouin, who acceded to the throne and became one of the most beloved monarchs in Belgian history.

The other time was much more recently, when the parliament decided to liberalize the abortion laws. Baudouin--a devout Catholic--refused to give his royal assent to the measure, so the Belgian parliament used a little-known and never previously used section of the Constitution to declare him incompetent. The measure then became law without the royal assent, and a day later, the parliament decided that Baudouin wasn't incompetent after all! But if they had not voted to lift the declaration, that would have been the end of the monarchy in Belgium...
9.18.2009 9:02am
martinned (mail) (www):
@David Hecht: Indeed, in Belgium the position of the King is particularly tricky: The only real Belgian.

The post-election role of the king is something the Belgians inherited from us, the Dutch, together with the rest of the basic layout of their constitution. Lest anyone think that putting the Queen in charge of picking the coalition after the election is undemocratic: don't worry. The first thing that is done after a coalition is formed is a debate about how this came to be, followed by a confidence vote which retroactively legitimises the Sovereign's actions. Abolishing this is what people mean when they talk about the "Swedish model".
9.18.2009 9:15am
CJColucci:
I've often felt sorry for Prince Charles, who, now well past middle age, has spent an entire life with no real purpose but waiting for his mother to die. And those Hanovers are a long-lived lot. I know nothing about his relationship with the Queen, but if he ever had any decent feelings for his mother at all he must also feel guilty about his frustration.
9.18.2009 10:47am
Malvolio:
monarchists who believe that Queen Elizabeth II is descended from King David (no, not making that up)
Good, because it's probably true.

David reigned some 3000 years ago. 100 generations have passed since. One generation ago, Elizabeth had one male ancestor, her father. Two generations ago, two (her grandfathers), and three generations, four, and so on.

100 generations ago, she would have had 600 octillion great-grandfathers! Obviously, the same actual person filled many, many "slots", a phenomenon called "pedigree collapse", but equally obviously, the odds that she, or any randomly chosen European alive today, is not descended from David, or any randomly chosen Middle-Easterner of 3000 years ago, is vanishingly small.
9.18.2009 11:02am
Stuart M. (mail):
Eugene, the problem with your proposal is that it doesn't necessarily work. Take a look at Israel, which in theory uses a system very close to yours for selecting its president. They had scandals not all that rarely: Ezer Weizman and, especially, Moshe Katzav.

Politics ruins everything. Having a nonpolitical hereditary monarch as a symbol of the country isn't so bad.
9.18.2009 11:11am
Steve:
100 generations ago, she would have had 600 octillion great-grandfathers! Obviously, the same actual person filled many, many "slots", a phenomenon called "pedigree collapse", but equally obviously, the odds that she, or any randomly chosen European alive today, is not descended from David, or any randomly chosen Middle-Easterner of 3000 years ago, is vanishingly small.

That's not how the math works. The odds are that any random person from 3000 years ago has no living descendants whatsoever. However, if a randomly chosen person does have living descendants, they're going to have a great many of them, not just one or two.

So the question is whether King David has any living descendants or not. If he does, sure, there's a good chance that he's in your family tree as well.
9.18.2009 11:14am
zuch (mail) (www):
Being of Norwegian citizenship, I can say we have had great kings. Admittedly, we had to import the current king's grandfather and grandmother from Denmark and England respectively, which are a much better source for kingly material (albeit he was elected king by an overwhelming vote).

King Olav was also a good king, taking the train to the ski slopes unescorted from Oslo with his skis slung over his own shoulders.

The current king, Harald, is doing the job nicely as well, cutting ribbons as needed.

These kings do the fine jobs of presenting Nobel prizes, and attending state funerals.

I have long said that we should have something like this in the United States. Reagan would have done well as king, able to read lines, make grand pronouncements, and wield a scissors with at least as much dexterity as Bonzo. But we should leave the actual reins (not reigns) of government to the more pedestrian, blander, egg-head types that actually are experts on the subject of government and administration.

Cheers,
9.18.2009 11:20am
martinned (mail) (www):

So the question is whether King David has any living descendants or not.

Well, the first 1000 years are easy. After that, you'd have to ask Dan Brown.


{1:1} The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son
of David, the son of Abraham. {1:2} Abraham begat Isaac;
and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his
brethren; {1:3} And Judas begat Phares and Zara of
Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
{1:4} And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat
Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; {1:5} And Salmon
begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and
Obed begat Jesse; {1:6} And Jesse begat David the king;
and David the king begat Solomon of her [that had been the
wife] of Urias; {1:7} And Solomon begat Roboam; and
Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; {1:8} And Asa
begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat
Ozias; {1:9} And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat
Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; {1:10} And Ezekias begat
Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat
Josias; {1:11} And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren,
about the time they were carried away to Babylon: {1:12}
And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat
Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; {1:13} And
Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and
Eliakim begat Azor; {1:14} And Azor begat Sadoc; and
Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; {1:15} And
Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and
Matthan begat Jacob; {1:16} And Jacob begat Joseph the
husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called
Christ. {1:17} So all the generations from Abraham to
David [are] fourteen generations; and from David until the
carrying away into Babylon [are] fourteen generations; and
from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ [are]
fourteen generations.
9.18.2009 11:21am
zuch (mail) (www):
Oren:
[M]: If such an arrangement were present in the United States we'd probably end up with Jimmy Carter as King.
Arguably a position that would reduce the pernicious impact of his imbecility.
I'll take the honesty, morality, competence and industriousness of Carter over the nepotistic, quasi-hereditary disaster of Dubya any day.

Cheers,
9.18.2009 11:26am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I think the secret to making republican monarchy work is having a hereditary noble class which operates orthogonally to the normal democratic political structure. The king is then not a politician or civil servant picked for life, in the way our Chief Justice is, but rather an individual picked from a moderately small set of potential candidates.

This can have a number of advantages regarding fairness and leadership not otherwise found. In a purely hereditary monarchy, no amount of wrangling would have allowed Svein Estridson to assend to the throne of Denmark. Why? The problem is evident from his name. In Norse names, surnames are based on the personal name of the father if born in wedlock, and the mother if born out of wedlock: -son means son -dottir means daughter. Furthermore -rid is invariably a suffix on feminine personal names. So Estrid was his mother, hence he was born out of wedlock. That of course was no secret-- it was part of his name. He was also the mere nephew of King Cnut the Great.

AFAICS, the emphasis on a line of succession was a Christian innovation aimed at keeping states together in those few cases which had hereditary monarchies-- Chlodovech of France, for example, followed the old tradition of dividing his kingdom among his sons.
9.18.2009 11:48am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Zuch:

Does the king of Norway still eat raw horse liver? ;-)

Those are the sorts of traditions we need to revive! ;-)
9.18.2009 11:51am
PubliusFL:
M: If such an arrangement were present in the United States we'd probably end up with Jimmy Carter as King.

Not likely. Congress was still controlled by the GOP in 2004 when King Ronald passed away. ;)

It'd be interesting to retcon a list of U.S. kings assuming a figurehead elective monarchy in the U.S. like Prof. Volokh describes. Assume the position is created via a constitutional amendment just after George Washington leaves the presidency, as a way to honor him (and subsequent elder statesmen of the union). By the time he dies in 1799 there are not yet any more former presidents. Who might have succeeded him?
9.18.2009 12:29pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
"Ever since 1688 the English Parliament (now British Parliament) has had the power to hire and fire Monarchs." I believe the date was 1649, under at least one plausible definition of "fire."
9.18.2009 12:43pm
Pepper:
Do not any modifications to the entitlements and position of the members of the now-royal family require the royal assent of the Queen or her designate before coming to be? That is, short of a coup, can we imagine a situation where an individual would voluntarily give up, for his or her entire family (present and future), such privilege? I doubt that the crown chafes that much (especially when one is born wearing it).
9.18.2009 12:51pm
Angus:
Frankly, I think developing nations would do well to invite back their hereditary monarchs under a constitutional scheme in order to bolster unity and stability.
9.18.2009 12:55pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
EV:

Probably the very early Anglo-Saxon monarchs were hired and fired by local Things (predecessors to the Parliament).

I am surprised it took until the 17th century to revive the custom, actually.
9.18.2009 1:10pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Angus:

Frankly, I think developing nations would do well to invite back their hereditary monarchs under a constitutional scheme in order to bolster unity and stability.


Agreed.
9.18.2009 1:11pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Actually, though I think republican monarchies beat hereditary ones any day :-)
9.18.2009 1:11pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Of course, once in a while it doesn't work out so well regarding uniting the country, and you get someone who will always be remembered as Georgie Porgy Pudding Pie.
9.18.2009 1:14pm
FWB (mail):
We already have our "anointed" in DC.

May God protect us.

Tiocfaidh ar la!
9.18.2009 1:21pm
Dennis Nicholls (mail):

I believe the date was 1649, under at least one plausible definition of "fire."


After the Restoration, the regicide of 1649 was deemed illegal, and in fact Cromwell was disinterred, his remains broken up, and then thrown on a dung hill. Parliament itself held that they had exceeded their authority back then. Only in 1688 did they feel they were truly doing what was right and not exceeding their authority.

Please excuse my use of the term "firing" as it's not really what the British would say.
9.18.2009 1:26pm
Sarcastro (www):
In a Monarchy, you care about crap like what the Queen had for supper.

In a democracy, you care what the President has on his hamburger.
9.18.2009 1:29pm
martinned (mail) (www):

Do not any modifications to the entitlements and position of the members of the now-royal family require the royal assent of the Queen or her designate before coming to be?

IIRC, no English sovereign since Queen Anne has refused the royal assent to anything. I can't imagine that the Queen would use such a weapon if Parliament voted to amend her prerogatives.


After the Restoration, the regicide of 1649 was deemed illegal, and in fact Cromwell was disinterred, his remains broken up, and then thrown on a dung hill. Parliament itself held that they had exceeded their authority back then. Only in 1688 did they feel they were truly doing what was right and not exceeding their authority.

Indeed. This is what the Bill of Rights (1689) says about this point:


the said late King James the Second having abdicated the government and the throne being thereby vacant

and again:

And the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, seriously considering how it hath pleased Almighty God in his marvellous providence and merciful goodness to this nation to provide and preserve their said Majesties' royal persons most happily to reign over us upon the throne of their ancestors, for which they render unto him from the bottom of their hearts their humblest thanks and praises, do truly, firmly, assuredly and in the sincerity of their hearts think, and do hereby recognize, acknowledge and declare, that King James the Second having abdicated the government, and their Majesties having accepted the crown and royal dignity as aforesaid, their said Majesties did become, were, are and of right ought to be by the laws of this realm our sovereign liege lord and lady, king and queen of England, France and Ireland and the dominions thereunto belonging, in and to whose princely persons the royal state, crown and dignity of the said realms with all honours, styles, titles, regalities, prerogatives, powers, jurisdictions and authorities to the same belonging and appertaining are most fully, rightfully and entirely invested and incorporated, united and annexed.

Cf. the Scottish Claim of Right Act:

the Estates of the Kingdom of Scotland find and declare that King James the Seventh being a professed papist, did assume the regal power and acted as king, without ever taking the oath required by law, and hath by the advice of evil and wicked counsellors, invaded the fundamental constitution of the Kingdom, and altered it from a legal limited monarchy to an arbitrary despotic power, and hath exercised the same, to the subversion of the Protestant religion and the violation of the laws and liberties of the Kingdom, inverting all the ends of government, whereby he hath forfeited the right to the Crown, and the throne is vacant.

Cf. also the Dutch Act of Abjuration (1581), which similarly claims the right to fire the king, something that is still law in the Netherlands to this day.
9.18.2009 1:40pm
Dennis Nicholls (mail):
Note for US readers: English and Scottish monarch numbers don't jibe. E.g. James II of England = James VII of Scotland, and the present Elizabeth II of England = Elizabeth I of Scotland. This always gives me a headache reading British history.
9.18.2009 1:55pm
MartyA:
Interesting discussion. I think you under weigh several points. First, there would be pressure to appoint the new guy which would result in candidates making promises and paying cash. Second, you do not address the dynastic pressure, i.e. the family of the current king. Finally, without historic allegiances, stupidity by the king (think of Prince Charles) would call for his immediate replacement.
Bring it to the US. If we had appointed Marty King to be, well, king, think how unseemly his children and Corrie would have acted at any slight or missed revenue opportunity. Image the efforts of the Kennedys to to achieve and retain the recognition they believe the family deserves.
In reality, however, we are now experimenting with your model. Obama's owners manipulated our system to get him elected and we may never get our system back.
9.18.2009 1:55pm
PubliusFL:
As many of the commenters here have pointed out, Prof. Volokh's idea would almost inevitably have the effect of politicizing the monarchy. If the monarchy is elective, there WILL be controversy, disappointment, wheeling-and-dealing over who is elected to it. And sooner or later potential candidates will start campaigning for it, more or less openly. This will make it very very difficult for a monarch elected by a legislature to be the kind of universally admired nationally unifying figurehead that so many modern constitutional monarchs seem to be. It's no mere accident that most surviving monarchies are hereditary, and many monarchies that were once elective transitioned to being hereditary (like England/Great Britain/United Kingdom).
9.18.2009 2:23pm
luagha:
I think this is a brilliant stratagem to get Barack Obama to run for King of England.
9.18.2009 2:56pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Marty A:

The secret to making a Republican Monarchy work in practice is to have a landed noble class, from which kings can be selected. I am not saying you can't have some social mobility in and out of that class, but it needs to be at least partially hereditary and it should take several generations to become eligible.

Secondly, only a select portion of the population gets to vote. In older Germanic cultures this was land owners. The goal is republicanism, not democracy. So for example King Georg of Hanover was elected King George I of England. King Alfonso X of Spain was elected King of the Germans in the 11th century, etc.

You still get political wrangling but it isn't the same kind of wrangling you get over democratically elected posts.

If we were to try to create such a system in this country, I would suggest the following requirements:

1) Last three generations must all have commissioned military officers in lineage.

2) Must own land

3) Must have a college education.

Such individuals would have pageantry responsibilities, military responsibilities, and so forth and would also be granted a say in the election of one of their members to be king.

Really, it isn't that different from the election of popes.
9.18.2009 3:13pm
martinned (mail) (www):

So for example King Georg of Hanover was elected King George I of England.

You may want to look at art. I of the Act of Settlement. William &Mary had the best claim, since they were the nephew and daughter, respectively, of king James. Next in line was the other daughter, princess Anne, followed by the houses of Savoy, Hannover and Orange-Nassau, in that order. Savoy were out, because they were catholics, leaving Hannover as the heirs to Queen Anne. I'm not sure how you see an election anywhere in here.
9.18.2009 3:30pm
visiting texas lawyer (mail):
Seems to me you've described the Miss America pagent.
9.18.2009 3:36pm
traveler496:
Don't push this too hard else I may have to ditch a stock cynical wisecrack (depending how it played out, I could become the Queen of England.)
9.18.2009 3:47pm
AJK:

Note for US readers: English and Scottish monarch numbers don't jibe. E.g. James II of England = James VII of Scotland, and the present Elizabeth II of England = Elizabeth I of Scotland.


Not quite: Scotland and England became a single country in 1707 (the United Kingdom that you may have heard mentioned), and so ceased to have separate thrones. Elizabeth isn't the queen of Scotland or England; she's the queen of the United Kingdom (and a lot of other stuff, of course).
9.18.2009 5:02pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
AJK:

So the current Queen is Elizabeth I?
9.18.2009 5:05pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):

the union). By the time he dies in 1799 there are not yet any more former presidents. Who might have succeeded him?


I was going to say Franklin, but he too was already dead.
9.18.2009 5:31pm
zuch (mail) (www):
einhverfr:
Does the king of Norway still eat raw horse liver?
Probably not. Instead, lutefisk (see this also). That's probably more stomach-churning.

Cheers,
9.18.2009 5:48pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Zuch:

Never tried Lutefisk yet. However, lye does a decent job of preserving some other foods so I don't see why lutefisk would be such of a bad idea.

Interestingly we do know a fair bit about the Viking diet and lutefisk wasn't very common. On the other hand, taking dried fish and eating it with smeared butter was....

Bread and butter? Nah... Dried fish and butter!
9.18.2009 5:59pm
Russ (mail):
It would be interesting to see who would've succeeded George Washington, but it would also be futile. No other figure in history united the US like George did. Even those looked on in history as exceptional by most Americans(Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR) generated enormous opposition at the time and could not have united this nation.
9.18.2009 6:21pm
ys:

martinned:

(Then again, a quick count shows that - apart from the current Crown Prince - every reigning monarch of the Netherlands has been married to a German since William II (1840-1848), who was married to a Romanov. That doesn't only mean that the Royal family qualify as immigrants under the relevant statutes, it also means that they're more German than even the British Royal family.)

Anna Pavlovna was of course also German like all the rest of the Romanovs since mid 18th century. A Norwegian commenter was apparently proud that his country picked from Danish and English stock, but the Danes were also mostly German (with a stray Romanov in the mix) and we know about the British. So, it is a requirement for monarchs to be German (Asia excepted).
9.18.2009 7:05pm
zuch (mail) (www):
ys:
A Norwegian commenter was apparently proud that his country picked from Danish and English stock,...
Nonsense. I just though that was a good source of material for such an ... ummm, "important" ... job. They have far more experience with such matters; our old kings were rather uncouth, some say. And I do like the idea that they canvassed for the best candidates for the job, and then elected them. There's something to that. Had Tongan royalty been selected after such a candidate search, I would have been just as tickled. Maybe next time.

You need to look more carefully for protruding cheeks, you know.

Cheers,
9.18.2009 8:56pm
Malvolio:
ARTHUR
I am your king!

OLD WOMAN
Well, I didn't vote for you.

ARTHUR
You don't vote for kings.

OLD WOMAN
Well, how did you become king, then?

ARTHUR
The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water to signify by Divine Providence ... that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur ... That is why I am your king!

DENNIS
Look, strange women lying on their backs in ponds handing out swords is no basis for a system of government.

[ Somebody had to post it ]
9.18.2009 11:52pm
Randy R. (mail):
Princess Diana said of the family she married into by referring to them derisively as 'the Germans'.
9.19.2009 12:06am
PAT C (mail):
Referring to an earlier post, given the number of wives that Solomon had I'd say there's quite a few descendants of David.
9.19.2009 1:11am
Dennis Nicholls (mail):

Not quite: Scotland and England became a single country in 1707 (the United Kingdom that you may have heard mentioned), and so ceased to have separate thrones. Elizabeth isn't the queen of Scotland or England; she's the queen of the United Kingdom


Actually I believe you are mistaken. There are separate crowns for England and Scotland. She reigns as Elisabeth II of England and Elisabeth of Scotland. There is still bad feelings in Scotland that a coronation was held for Elizabeth II of England but no such coronation was held for Elizabeth of Scotland back in 1953.

See for example

To this day, mail boxes in England are labled "ER II" but in Scotland are labled simply "ER".
9.19.2009 10:17am
Dennis Nicholls (mail):
This blog has the most non-standard unfriendly format for posting a link!


link
9.19.2009 10:22am
PubliusFL:
Dennis Nicholls: Actually I believe you are mistaken. There are separate crowns for England and Scotland. She reigns as Elisabeth II of England and Elisabeth of Scotland. There is still bad feelings in Scotland that a coronation was held for Elizabeth II of England but no such coronation was held for Elizabeth of Scotland back in 1953.

I think not. Her official title in the UK is "Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, etc." No division of England and Scotland there, it's one United Kingdom.
9.19.2009 11:15am
martinned (mail) (www):
@Dennis Nicholls: The Regalia are many, and they have a varied origin. That does not mean, however, that there is more than one throne. (Cf. Act of Union (1707))

The more tricky question is whether there is any reason why the coronation could not take place somewhere other than in Westminster Abbey, for example in Edinburgh castle.
9.19.2009 11:20am
BillW:
einhverfr : Probably the very early Anglo-Saxon monarchs were hired and fired by local Things (predecessors to the Parliament).

Not things, but moots — /wiki/Witenagemot:

The witan was noted by contemporary sources as having the singular power to ceosan to cyninge, 'to choose the king' from amongst the (extended) royal family. Nevertheless, at least until the 11th century, royal succession generally followed the "ordinary system of primogeniture."
...
In addition to having a role in the 'election' of English Kings, it is often held that the witenagemots had the power to depose an unpopular king. However, there are only two occasions where this probably happened, in 757 and 774 with the depositions of kings Sigeberht of Wessex and Alhred of Northumbria respectively.
9.19.2009 2:29pm
Aleks:
Re: There are separate crowns for England and Scotland.

England and Scotland were united into one kingdom by the Act of Union in 1707. This was occasioned by the looming demise of the Protestant branch of the Stuart family after the last of the aging Queen Anne's sickly children had died. Anne of course had succeeded her sister and brother-in-law, William III and Mary II, whom the Glorious Revolution had placed on the throne after Mary and Anne's Catholic father had "abdicated". In place of her Catholic half-brother Anne was cajoled to accept her distant cousin George Elector of Hanover as her successor and so that Scotland could not decide it might like to continue with the Stuarts instead it was rolled into the United Kingdom.
9.19.2009 4:48pm
Steve2:
But if the SNP's referendum succeeds next year and the British Parliament cooperates, she will become Elizabeth I of Scotland. Correct?

I speak this as an American who likes having hereditary monarchies in other countries since it allows us to fantasize about marrying into them...

But in all seriousness... it's obvious, but if your monarch's a good ruler, having them around for life's an asset for the country while if your monarch's a lousy ruler having them around for life's a liability. America sacrifices the possibility of keeping an outstanding President for more than 8 years as the cost of ensuring that no wretched President lasts longer than 8 years; a for-life system gives you the possibility of an outstanding Leader for decades but at the risk of a wretched Leader for decades.
9.19.2009 6:15pm
martinned (mail) (www):

But in all seriousness... it's obvious, but if your monarch's a good ruler, having them around for life's an asset for the country while if your monarch's a lousy ruler having them around for life's a liability. America sacrifices the possibility of keeping an outstanding President for more than 8 years as the cost of ensuring that no wretched President lasts longer than 8 years; a for-life system gives you the possibility of an outstanding Leader for decades but at the risk of a wretched Leader for decades.

That's an argument for/against term limits, not presidency for life.
9.19.2009 7:30pm
BillW:
Steve2: But if the SNP's referendum succeeds next year and the British Parliament cooperates, she will become Elizabeth I of Scotland. Correct?

Not until some later queen becomes Elizabeth II.
9.19.2009 9:25pm

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