This essay will first examine the role of the monarchy, taking modern Britain as a focus for examination and seek to answer whether or not it can be justified empirically and theoretically. A Most Similar Systems Design will be used to compare the Dutch and Spanish monarchies with the British monarchy whilst a Most Dissimilar System Design will be used to examine the French Presidential Republican system. This will be done to ascertain whether or not the British monarchy can be justified empirically. For the purposes of this essay it is necessary to establish what will be understood by the key terms in the question.
Role will be understood to be the role of the monarchy both constitutionally and non-constitutionally. The rationale for this is the Queen plays an important non-constitutional as well as constitutional role which could justify her position. Defining what the ‘modern monarchy’ is and when it came into existence is a debate in itself. However, for the purposes of this essay it will be understood to mean the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne in 1953, because as Tony Blair described during the Jubilee Celebrations, the Queen “adapted the monarchy successfully to the modern world.
”1 The word ‘monarchy’ is in itself a contestable term. Dearlove suggests that it is the ‘raft of people who are paid out of the civil list’2 and for the purposes of this essay, that understanding will be adopted. For the second part of the question, ‘justified empirically’ will be understood to mean comparable to other presidential and monarchical systems, in terms of achieving the same role at the same cost of similar or alternative systems. ‘Justified theoretically’ will be understood to mean comparable to other to presidential and monarchical systems, inasmuch as providing an effective head of state, and filling any comparable roles.
Until the end of the 17th Century, British monarchs were executive monarchs giving them the power to make and pass legislation. Since the beginning of the 18th Century, the monarch became a constitutional monarch, binding them with rules and conventions and ensuring their political impartiality. Since the reign of Queen Victoria the monarchy’s direct and effective constitutional power has remain limited and Monarch’s act largely on the advice of ministers. Britain’s constitutional monarchy means that through the Royal Prerogative, the monarchy has transferred much of their real power to the executive.
Constitutionally, the prerogative powers delegated to the executive are officially retained by the monarchy. These include the powers to make war, peace, and treaties, dissolve parliament, remove and replace the Prime Minister as well as appoint Judges, Civil Servants, Magistrates, Councillors and Commanders in the Armed Forces. The monarch is Head of State and the Commonwealth. The Monarch has power to confer peerages, knighthoods and other honours. The Monarch has powers to enact legislation as well as to summon and dissolve parliament.
The Monarch appoints the prime minister and has the right to be consulted, ‘advise and warn’. The Monarch plays important constitutional roles in other organisations, including the Armed Forces and the Church of England. The monarch is commander of the armed forces; soldiers will swear allegiance to the crown rather than to the state. In this sense, the monarchy is “intelligible” as she is the personification of the British State. People can swear loyalty to the state, a social construction, via the monarchy. The Monarch is also Governor of the Church of England.
As well as the constitutional role, the monarch also has a non constitutional role. “As well as carrying out significant constitutional functions, the Queen acts as a focus for national unity, presiding at ceremonial occasions, visiting local communities and representing Britain around the world. ”3 The majority of the Queen’s workload consists of representing the state at home and abroad. This helps raise the profile of the nation, and attracts the interest of the foreign public and media. “They provide a focus, and a great deal of apolitical continuity.
They are a figurehead for the country and foreigners are fascinated by them. ”4 One of the key defences of the monarchy is that she attracts tourism, and without her role, raising the profile of the nation overseas, and representing the UK in an apolitical role, tourism would suffer. The effect of this is of course intangible. Although there are ‘figures’, the value of these are negligible. It would be impossible and ridiculous to ask all tourists into the country whether or not they were attracted to the country because of the monarchy.
An important intangible and non-constitutional role of the monarchy is acting as a symbolic figurehead for the country. In his seminal work Bagehot describes the monarchy as the ‘dignified part of the constitution’. He suggests it ‘excites and preserves the reverence of the population’. The monarchy is the symbolic head of Britain representing the ‘intelligible part of the constitution’ for the average Briton. A survey showed 50% of people said they felt the monarchy made them feel more British and 48% of people saw the most important role of the monarchy as a figurehead for the country. (See Appendix I).
It is important to examine the role of the monarchy through the ‘eyes’ of various theories of the state. The monarchy provides an interesting case study of modern pluralist interaction. For many, the former ‘magic’ of the monarchy has disappeared, the Royal Family proving to be fallible. They are merely another group attempting to maximize their interests through the state. Neo-pluralism would note the constant change of modern society, and how the Royal family has coped with staying relevant to the public. Despite their diminishing powers, the monarchy has remained an influential and relatively strong institution.
This is in part due to the steady public support for the monarchy. The abolishment of the crown is only sought by a minority; change is not in the interests of British society at large. If there was a majority that wanted to remove the crown, it would undoubtedly happen. However, the role of the modern monarchy also affects the position of the state as the ‘arbiter’ between interest groups. There has been recent concern over the increasingly ‘presidential’ role of the British PM, and this is primarily tied in with the lack of clarity regarding the role of the head of state.
In pluralist terms, this presents a danger to the capacity of the state to maximize the interests of different groups in society. In many ways, the executive is becoming a new ‘monarch’. Classic Marxist thinking would see the shift in modern times from an absolute monarchy to liberal constitutional regimes across Europe as a reflection of the industrial revolution. This state of affairs initially fostered stable accumulation of capital, and was an evolution of society toward a state-free utopia. Many theoretical defences of the British monarchy can be critically examined through Marxist ideas.
Bagehot’s defence of the ‘dignified’ monarchy is almost an admission of the state’s “dominant ideology” theory, with the ruling elite utilizing a symbolic institution to coerce the masses into supporting the regime. Structuralist Marxism would identify the monarchy as an ‘ideological state apparatus’, helping to ensure social stability and conformity. The national identification element of the crown has been used to maintain the status quo and the capitalist means of production. The monarchy is a particularly useful case study in understanding the evolution of New Right thinking from more traditional conservatism.
Primarily, New Right theorists believed in minimising the influence and role of the state, believing above all else, the individual’s right to freedom. Whereas old conservatives would have seen the preservation of the monarchy as essential to maintaining traditional values, New Right theory would have seen the crown as inimical to individualism. Nevertheless, New Right thinkers have taken a pragmatic approach to the monarchy. Despite Thatcher’s attempts to break the corporate monopolies and elites, neo-liberals did not attempt far reaching reform of the most archaic of British institutions; the monarchy.
Although this elite theory would appear to be most relevant to the crown, classic elite theory focuses on those who really hold ‘efficient’ power within the state, rather than the ‘dignified’ position of a constitutional monarchy. However, Giddens’ study of British elites in the 1970’s identifies the monarchy as an ‘elite group’ that occupied positions of authority within the political system. Obviously, the monarch is clearly in a privileged position within society. The crown has had declining influence over the past century, but nevertheless remains integral to the British system.
What the British monarchy really represents for elite theorists is personification of Britain’s aristocratic elite; Oxbridge educated top tier civil servants and judges, and the ‘traditional values’ they stand for. The Queen may not have direct authority over politics, but the continued existence of the monarchy helps the British ruling elite maintain the status quo. The Spanish and Dutch monarchies will be assessed using a most similar systems design to ascertain whether or not the monarchies perform similar roles, and at what cost. The Spanish monarchy is relatively new; its constitution approved by Parliament in 1978.
King Juan Carlos of Spain is estimated to cost the Spanish state some 5m a year. 5 Heading a monarchy reinstated after the Franco era, the king has negligible assets. He uses the main palace for official occasions only and lives at a modest hunting lodge outside Madrid. The Spanish monarchy does not publish financial reports which obviously make financial comparison very difficult. The Constitution provides separation between legislative, executive and judiciary and gives institutional backing to the King as Head of State and supreme head of the Armed Forces.
Both Spain and Britain are constitutional monarchies, and function in fairly similar ways. They are both accountable to a Parliament, (in Spain the Cortes Generales). The Spanish monarchy is similar to the British monarchy in that the King Juan Carlos I act as head of state but is not politically involved. The constitution says he: “arbitrates and moderates the regular working of the institutions, assumes the highest representation of the Spanish state in international relations … and performs the functions expressly conferred on him by the constitution and the law.
” Both British and Spanish monarchs can summon and dissolve the legislative body of their country, although in either case it has not happened in recent history. Both monarchs can award honours, peerages and distinctions. Both monarchs can also declare war and make peace, although both are supposed to confer with the legislative bodies before. In practice however, it would be very unlikely that either monarch would declare war. The key difference between the monarchies is that the Spanish monarchy has the power to call elections or referendums under the terms provided in the constitution.
The Netherlands have been an independent monarchy since 1815, and since have been governed by members of the house Orange-Nassau. The present monarchy was established in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna as part of the re-arrangement of Europe after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Both Britain and the Netherlands share constitutional monarchies and function in loosely similar formats. Acts of Parliament and Royal Decrees are signed by both the sovereign and the minister responsible.
Unlike Britain’s Royal Family, the Netherlands has a system which includes the ‘royal house’ and the ‘royal family’; both of which are seen as separate entities. Members of the royal family are not necessarily members of the royal house. Membership of the royal house is restricted to the head of state, the former head of state, the members of the royal family in line for the throne, and their spouses. Also, dissimilarly to the British monarchy, on the arrival of a new monarch, some members of the Royal House may lose their title to the throne and therefore membership to the Royal House.
Similarly to the British Monarchy, the monarchy receives an annual allowance from the state which is divided up to cover staff costs, costs incurred in royal duties and an income component. However, unlike the British monarchy, none of these are subject to taxation, but like all other Dutch citizens personal resources are. Through bad investment in the first half of the twentieth century, the Dutch monarchy was not as wealthy as some. Consequently, in the 1960’s a commission found that the Royal House needed more money to cover their official expenditure.
None of the Royal palaces are owned by the monarchy – they were all passed into state ownership over the last few hundred years. However, the Royal Family do own their own private property. Both the Spanish and Dutch monarchies appear to perform the same constitutional roles as Head of State as well as performing similar non-constitutional roles; there is no great difference in their roles. However, as other monarchies are much less candid about their spending and the cost to their citizens, ascertaining whether or not these systems perform these roles at less expense to their taxpayers is very difficult.
Using a MDSD, it is important to look at the French Presidential Republic system because it boasts both a strong national identity and a strong President. France became a Republic during the French Revolution in October 1792 after the monarchy was abolished and King Louis XVI was executed. The French president is elected for seven years, nominally appoints the prime minister and has to approve ministerial appointments. They are in charge of foreign policy, head of the military, and conduct weekly cabinet meetings.
They also have the power to dissolve parliament and call elections and referendums. The “president of the Republic is the president of all the French people. His historic responsibility is to bring them together, to listen to the message addressed to us and to act. ” 6 Charles de Gaulle’s influence on the presidency reinforced the authority of the presidency at the expense of the rest of the government. Whereas the constitution charges the government to “determine and direct” the policy of the nation, de Gaulle assumed a more central role.
Since then, his successors have adopted a similar pattern of behaviour, assuming responsibility for major portfolios such as foreign affairs, defence, health, education and the economy. The prime minister, however, has gradually gained in stature. Constitutionally, he is responsible for the determination of governmental policy and exercises control over the civil service and armed forces. And while all major decisions tended to be taken at the Elysee Palace under de Gaulle, responsibility for policy, at least in internal matters, has slowly passed to the head of the government.
According to the French constitution, the president’s powers are relatively limited, involving the usual head-of-state figurehead roles – presiding over the higher councils and committees of national defence, acting as commander in chief of the armed forces, signing the more important decrees, appointing high civil servants and judges and dissolving the National Assembly. However, the French president has much more power than the British Prime Minister would have; the president undertakes much more the role of a monarch.
The reason for this is a strong president means there is less power in the executive. The president is paid ? 46,000 a year and also receives ? 595,260 for the upkeep of the Elysee Palace, ? 781,990 for personal staff, ? 345,971 for travel costs and ? 196,208 to meet the costs of the car pool: a total of ? 1. 96m. He also has the use of several chateaux. On retirement, he receives a civil service-linked pension of ? 34,123 a year and can take senior governmental or official jobs. He is also entitled to free accommodation, a car, a chauffeur, a bodyguard and two secretaries.
7 A republican system, similar to the French presidential system is undoubtedly less expensive than the British and probably most other European monarchies. However, unlike the French president, the British monarch is apolitical which many would argue is a valuable asset for a head of state. Very few people would relish the idea of a republic. When asked whether people would prefer a president to the Queen, 70% of those surveyed said no (Appendix II). Additionally, only 6% of those surveyed thought that a Republic should be installed immediately.
Having established the role of the monarchy, can it be justified empirically or theoretically? Deciding exactly what ‘justified’ means is problematic. As a subjective term, ‘justified’ for one person is not necessarily for the next. After a cursory examination of the role of the state, two key aspects of the monarchy become clear as being crucially important and present in other states; the monarchy’s role as the head of state and the monarchy’s role as a symbolic figure of national identity.
If it can be proved that other states can fulfil these two roles, with or without a monarchy, at less cost the then British monarchy, the British monarchy would be said to be an empirically unjustified expenditure. For theoretical justification, if arguments that are used to justify the monarchy could be disproved then the monarchy could be regarded as unjustified. The comparisons with the Spanish and Dutch monarchies revealed the difficulties in establishing the costs of monarchies and other systems.
Whilst other systems may initially look attractive, there are always hidden and unpublished costs to any system making any real comparison very difficult. It would naive to suggest that the monarchy only acts as a cost to the taxpayer. The monarchy could never simply be justified empirically using cost benefit analysis although Mark Bolland, a public relations consultant suggests, “Value for money, however ugly a concept it may be in some quarters…is still a vital issue for any public organisation these days.
” Yet he concedes, “I think that given what the Queen does, what the Queen is there to do, I suspect if you compare it with the cost of an elected president, or the other alternatives, it probably is quite a good deal. ” Simplifying the empirical justification of the monarchy to purely financial terms is gross over simplification of the issue. As Ivor Caplin points out, “Is there a return? Well it’s not tangible, but there are huge tourism and hidden benefits to the United Kingdom of what the Queen does abroad and what they do here.
” In a survey, when asked to rank out of five the importance of the monarchy in today’s society, 56% of those surveyed ranked the monarchy three or above which suggests she has an important role to play (Appendix III). An important other aspect is the influence of the monarchy in attracting tourism. Whilst it can be argued that despite a lack of a monarchy, France and the USA attract tourists, there is no doubt that a monarchy is a boost for tourism for Britain. Apart from hard figures, surveys and interviews with leading figures can give us an insight into whether or not the monarchy is justified empirically.
Ivor Caplin, Member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade, suggests that the ‘There is no doubt in my mind that when the Queen in particular goes abroad it is a huge investment in Britain’ Understanding theoretical justification of the monarchy requires and understanding of medieval theories of monarchy which rested on ideas of kingship. The concept of “descending power” whereby rulers were anointed by God reinforced the concept of a paternal monarchy and stresses the faith of the monarch’s subjects. Rule was maintained through consensus rather than coercion.
This protective role of the rulers has to be viewed within its feudal context – the monarch was the supreme moral authority who had to maintain peace and avoid tyranny at all costs. Early modern political theory saw theories of sovereignty develop. Order needed to be imposed over an unruly society. Although sovereignty does not explicitly advocate single person rule, Bodin felt that an aristocratic oligarchy would lead to factionalism, while democracy was resorting to mob rule. Hobbes put forward the notion that a single ruler will be less taxing than the demands of a collective sovereign.
Robert Filmer suggested that sovereign, patriarchal rule was legitimised biblically through creation following the divinely ordained, patriarchal and ‘natural’ rule of Adam. Edmund Burke highlighted the notion that the monarchy injected “civility and warmth” into the political process. Burke’s ideas still influence many modern ideas of the British monarchy. Bagehot’s seminal work on the English constitution describes the monarchy as the ‘dignified’ part of the constitution. Bagehot, a stereotypical Victorian bourgeois elitist, was very much an insider of the British system.
The ‘dignified’ and ‘efficient’ parts of Bagehot’s constitutional theory are in many ways similar to Pareto’s classical elite theory of type 1 and 2, foxes and lions. Rather than struggling for control of power, the two separate elements work in tandem to retain control over the masses. The ‘lions’ would be the monarchy, who Bagehot felt maintained public support for the state and the ‘foxes’ act as the efficient parts of the system; those institutions involved in the everyday running of the state. A key defence of the modern monarchy is that the British system presently works.
No serious alternative has been put forward in place of the crown. Kelvin Mackenzie asserts an alternative to the monarchy in Britain, such as a President, would in all likelihood create another power base; “well….. what is the alternative? The idea that the Prime Minister once a week has to go and give his views to the Queen is clearly not all that appropriate. But even worse to me would the idea that Jeffrey Archer became President of the Republic or Heseltine, or any other political deadbeat, thief or vagabond.
And then you say to yourself, ‘well at the moment we have quite a good system, where there’s an old dear, living in a rather large house that the Prime Minister pays a little lip-service to’. The alternative is an ex-politician who actually causes a hell-of-a-load-of bloody trouble, and that there would be another power base beyond number 10 in the UK”8 Vernon Bogdanor suggests most modern transitions to a republic for example in France and Russia, have been fraught with instability. The British system has evolved into parliamentary democracy relatively peacefully, and so since Cromwell, there has great call to abolish the monarchy.
They have never proved themselves to be unsuitable or irrelevant, but rather they have adapted to the changing social climate. Although their wealth and influence may be waning, 58% of those surveyed thought the monarchy would be in existence in fifty years (Appendix IV). The monarchy provides a link with history for the modern British citizen. So, although the monarchy is attacked by some as being elitist and out of touch with society, attempts to install an alternative system brings us a new set of problems to deal with.
There is also an element of intangible comfort and national identification associated with the monarchy, and although this amongst younger people this might be declining, the institution is firmly entrenched within the British system and psyche. An entrenched system is much easier to rationalize, as it is presently active within modern society, and many people are distrustful of radical change. “So far dreams of a British republic die on a paradox. It may be the democratic solution, but the people don’t want one.
”9 As Dearlove suggests ‘survey after survey feels that we are not a republican nation. ’10 The symbolic role of the British monarchy cannot be discounted. This attachment and identification with the monarchy has come about primarily through the long history of the crown, although this in itself is clearly not a just rationalisation. In conclusion, empirically it might seem that the British monarchy is unjustified because the same role as a figurehead and head of state is probably achieved elsewhere for less.
However, the problem with this is that the figures do not take into account tourism, which might not balance the expenditure, but is still a factor. Making valid comparisons between countries’ systems is problematic because of lack of data and the nature of the question; because each system is different they are hard to compare. Quantifying the symbolic role of the monarchy as a figurehead for Britain is also impossible. Theoretically, real concern for the monarchy is deceptive. The monarchy is not a burning issue for the British and is not a priority for them. If it were, it would appear on the political agenda.
Inevitably, if you ask most people for an opinion they will give it but for most people, the existence and continuance of the monarchy is much less important than say, the state of the health system. The monarchy could be regarded as justified because of lack of demand for change, especially consensus to transform into a republic. Whilst the current system undoubtedly ‘works’ it is by no means a paradigm which one would use to create a new head of state and a figurehead. While there is concern about the cost of the monarchy, abolishing it for an alternative system is not a viable outcome.
It’s important to retain some pragmatism and put the ‘issue’ in the wider context of Britain. Legislative time is precious, and the public would prefer money and time were spent improving public services and reducing change rather than making big changes. There is however, support for more gradual and natural reform. More concerning is the increasing power of the executive through the Royal Prerogative who now seem to work without the checks and balances of Parliament. Appendix I Appendix II Appendix III Appendix IV.