Sunday, February 13, 2011


Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks

Monarchies in The 21st Century

Marcelo Colussi , Granma Internacional Cuba

ARE societies evolving? What is social progress?

Gradually, throughout history, humanity has managed the organization of societies in such a way that power has been democratized. Doubtless, at a slow pace, but without stopping. When and fundamentally why the exercise of political power was left in the hands of just one person is very difficult, if not impossible to determine. It is a fact that the study of various cultures and historical moments teaches that, from the appearance of agriculture and the breeding of animals onward; in other words, sedentariness, in all complex societies the figure of a single leader (cacique, sovereign, chief, pharaoh, king, high priest, etc) appears. Hence monarchies as a political system, and thus royal households with all their specific codes (divine messengers, pomp, hereditary transmission) was but one step.

Historical studies clearly confirm that Hegel’s formulation of the "dialectic of the master and slave" in terms of synthesizing inter-human relations is correct. The history of social relations is a long relation of conflicts, fights to the death for power and the appropriation of others’ work. Within that framework, it is also a certainty that "violence is the midwife of history," as his disciple Marx affirmed.

When and why the advent of kings (or sole rulers placed at the head of a collective) thus remains without a categorical response; it is a fact that, today, entering the 21st century, approximately 500 million people in the world or 8% of the global population are still living under monarchies.

Thus, 29 countries in the world are kingdoms in formal political-administrative terms: 10 in Europe (Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Liechstenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland), 14 in Asia (Brunei, Bhutan, Cambodia, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal; Western Asia: Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, ); three in Africa (Lesotho, Morocco and Swaziland) and two in Oceania (Western Samoa and Tonga).

In the strict sense there are none on the American continent, apart from those which form part of the British Commonwealth and those which are ruled by Queen Elizabeth II which, along with the other countries in Oceania, form an imprecise group of former colonies – more or less independent according to each case, in a situation of greater or lesser dependence on their former metropolises (Antigua & Barbuda, the Dutch Antilles, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis; St. Vincent & the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Australia, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea).

While they are all kingdoms, there are marked differences among them. For example, the European ones are almost decorative in function and the wielding of effective political power moves at light years from royal households. The economic power of modern capitalist enterprises has displaced them from the center of social dynamics. In many of these countries, nevertheless, monarchs are key to maintaining the unity of their nation, as an agglutinating force of concord for the plural societies in their territories. While in many of these republican monarchies diverse sectors of the population see in royal households a shameful reminder of a feudal past resistant to change and an absolutely superfluous expense, according to experts on the phenomenon, in more than a few countries a notable part of the same populations do not wish to lose their status as a kingdom. Thus the royals are a subject for the paparazzi and scandal mongering newspapers and, alongside people who detest these personalities, there are subjects who love their monarchs.

The case of the oil monarchs of the Persian Gulf (emirates, caliphates, sultans) is a diametrically opposed reality. There, royal households are the center of political and economic power, with a feudal dynamic in which the state and religion are indissolubly intertwined. After seeing what is beginning to happen in Tunisia and in Egypt, more than a few monarchs in the region must be wondering about their future. Will they be brought down a peg by the Western powers – in other words the real holders of power in the world and those who, day by day, write the script for the planet? Until when will those royal households be "tolerated?" When the Shah of Iran no longer served the imperial interests of the powers, the United States openly got rid of him. Is something similar about to happen in the Middle East in the case of these "backward" monarchies?

The case of China is distinct, this nation now being the kingdom with the largest number of subjects (130 million). There, in spite of the spectacular development of capitalist relations, the figure of the emperor continues to have a primordial importance in the logic of the nation, without any hint of winds of change.

There are extremely ancient monarchies, like that of the Japanese (dating back more than 2,500 years) or very recent ones, like those of Africa or Oceania, created on the basis of a social organization imported from their former masters, the countries which dominated them as colonies until a few decades ago. Why was the figurehead of a monarchy rather than a republic taken at the time of inventing a new country?

So, to return to the question at the beginning of this article. What is social progress? It is difficult to respond to that question in a few words. Upon attempting to analyze it one runs the risk of doing so from points of reference that one could take as models or archetypes. Put in another way, individual parameters could be used to assess other distinct ones, on the prejudicial basis that ones own point of reference is more advanced than that of others. The logic of that is that a society is progressing because it is following the guidelines of the dominant model? When Europe met with America in extremely bloody clashes at the end of the 15th century, which one was more "advanced"? Are the representative democracies which emerged in Europe more "advanced" than African ethnic organizations?

With that observation in mind, and aware of the danger in generalizing distinct models, it is essential to note that social progress is not the same as economic progress. The notion of human development – a recently coined indicator – attempts to raise questions concerning the multiplicity of aspects to be taken into account in this context; progress is not only about access to material goods and comforts. Of equal importance in the idea of development are liberties and the democratization of powers. The Arab oil monarchies have, at least on average, incredibly high income levels; are they thus to be considered advanced?
Thus, in order to talk about progress, one would have to talk about a combination of transformations that are operating in society, in its institutions and in the daily culture of its citizens. A distancing from magical-religious thinking is, undoubtedly, a pillar of much importance insofar as it opens up possibilities for a greater development of productivity, of technical science. A scientific world view facilitates greater material comfort. We have developed capitalism to remind us of that fact. But that alone, the unstoppable development of constantly more developed machinery, does not essentially signify having attained "happiness." The environmental disaster looming over us sadly brings that home to us.

In parallel to this is the form in which power is distributed; all powers, not just the political, but gender, inter-ethnic, various social groups (why do so-called at risk or vulnerable groups exist?) It is a fact that anybody can fall into this category and lose power: ethnic minorities, women, children, homosexuals and lesbians, drug dependents, the poor, etc, etc.) The horizontal nature of powers is another major requisite for talking of progress.

The permanence of political regimes where power is concentrated in one person (whether an emperor, ling, tsar, pharaoh, shah, sultan, big chief, sovereign, etc) or in a royal household, undisputed autarchic power, impugn, absolute, places that society in a less evolved form of social organization. Social progress, without any doubt, passes through democratization in the exercise of power. If not it can be reaffirmed that the logic in play gives rise to thinking in terms of ordinary and VIP people. But, are there VIP’s? The Nazis talked about the "superior race." Does that mean that a superior race exists? Is there blue blood? Could one perhaps believe, with Ernest Renan, that "hereditary monarchy is such a profound political concept that that it is not within the reach of all intelligences to understand it?"

The above could lead us to question the following: why are there nations which, in addition to high standards of material satisfaction, have attained socially harmonic models of organization, plus health and unemployment security, high educational levels, the bravery to enact legislation allowing divorce, abortion, euthanasia, and where torture and the death penalty have been eradicated as state policy, still persist in maintaining monarchies (thinking of the European countries)? Why? Do we need to believe that there are, effectively, VIPs? Is social evolution that slow?

Everything would indicate that, despite the deciphering of the human genome demonstrating that we are all equal, regrettably, that evolution is slow, very slow, tremendously slow and difficult. "It is easier to split the atom than a prejudice," Einstein observed.

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