Monarchism

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Monarchism is the political position of having a monarchy – an unelected, sovereign individual head of state, usually a king or queen, or an emperor - or the political support that advocates such a position. While many countries in the world now practice democratic republicanism or some other form of democratic politics that has no recourse to a monarch, many monarchies still exist.

Constitutional monarchies exist where the monarch is bound by a constitution - written or unwritten - while the ruler in absolute monarchies has no such limitations and may rule autocratically.

In the United Kingdom, power is formally exercised in the name of the Crown: criminal court cases are reported as R v. Smith (say), where R is short for 'Rex' (Latin: King) or 'Regina' (Latin: Queen), and are referred to in speech as "The Queen v. Smith". The monarch formally asks the winner of the general election to form a government, appoints the Prime Minister, and the monarch formally dissolves Parliament. Upon forming a government, the planned legislative programme of that government is announced as the King's Speech or Queen's Speech and is formally given by the monarch in the upper chamber. The monarch still has an almost theoretical Royal Prerogative: the monarch may withhold Royal Assent from an Act of Parliament, although this power has never been exercised since 1707, and would undoubtedly cause great trouble if it were exercised today. The Crown also appoints peerages, appoints members to the orders of chivalry and grants honours and knighthoods. The monarch in the United Kingdom is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and archbishops are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, and must therefore be an Anglican in faith.

Arguing for and against monarchism and republicanism

Those who oppose monarchy argue that a monarchy denies a basic democratic right to citizens: that is, determining the head of state by an open election in which anyone who meets the relevant qualifications of office can run. It is thus anti-meritocratic and elitist. Opponents of monarchy argue that the continued existence of a special elite of unelected monarchs perpetuates entrenched class privilege and social elitism. There exist a number of societies which combine constitutional monarchism but still have a society that does not suffer from such ills: the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have comprehensive social security provision and still have a monarchy, while some republican countries have not been saved from these shortcomings by their lack of a monarch.

Supporters of monarchy in previous generations would often appeal to the supposedly divine right of kings, the idea that the sovereign is descended from or has direct command from God. Monarchies can also be justified using social contract theories: Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan argues that we naturally agree to the rule of an absolute sovereign because of the dreadfulness of the state of nature that exists without such a ruler.

Modern defenders of monarchy rarely appeal to the divine right of kings: instead monarchy is justified pragmatically. The monarchy in Britain is often justified as an essential constitutional glue - in situations like the 2010 General Elections in Britain where no party gained a majority of seats in Parliament and had to enter into a cross-party coalition in order to form a government that could not be subject to a vote of no confidence. The Queen, it is suggested, has a sort of ultimate power of veto and is supposed to be above the political fray - she may have intervened if the negotiations reached a stalemate to ensure that a stable government emerged. This does not seem to be a major concern: plenty of republican countries seem able to resolve their constitutional difficulties either by having a more formally defined constitutional arrangement for such circumstances, or by using the civil courts - see Bush v. Gore in the United States where the Supreme Court of the United States were called on to resolve questions arising out of the 2000 Presidential Election.

A conservative argument is often put forward for monarchy: it does no active harm, costs very little and forms an important part of the nation's history and has an important symbolic value, and so it seems to be little more than "change for change's sake" to abandon such a historical institution.

The cost of the monarchy for citizens in the United Kingdom is estimated to be around 60p per year (around 1 USD in 2010) per citizen - a total of around £37 million per year. Supporters of the monarchy argue that this is good value-for-money: in return, the nation gets constitutional safeguards, preserves history and also promotes tourism.