progressives. While it is true that conservative support for tradition and established authority
make support for monarchy quite natural what aspect of monarchy makes it such an
incomparable ideal for progressives?
This question has played in the back of my mind for a while now. I ponder it as my own examination of monarchy reveals not two incompatible ideals as is commonly assumed but
ones that often gain a great deal from each other. Before I continue with my main argument that
monarchy should be considered a progressive ideal it might be helpful to define what I mean by
both monarchy and progressivism.
'Monarchy' literally means 'rule by one'. It is the world's most successful system of government
having been adapted for use from China to Peru and from the dawn of human history up to
present day. A system that has been so widely used has to be flexible. And, indeed, monarchy has
many variations. While I could get into the myriad differences between Canada's hereditary
chiefs and Imperial Russia's tsars I'd like to move ahead somewhat quickly. Sufficed to say that
while many of the points I will make apply to other forms of monarchy I will be focusing strictly
on constitutional monarchy where the monarch reigns but does not rule. Constitutional monarchy
is a system where the monarch lets elected officials handle the day-to-day governance. The
monarch may have real reserve powers (as in Canada, Denmark, Britain) or they my be limited to a
strictly ceremonial role (Sweden, Japan). Special mention should be made of Monaco and
Liechtenstein who have elected assemblies but whose monarchs do participate in the governing of
the country. And while the Parliament need not be democratic in a constitutional monarchy,
remaining constitutional monarchies are also mostly democratic states.
'Progressivism' is an interesting belief system due in no small part to the contested definition of it.
I cast a wide net in my search for an adequate definition consulting in their turn Wikipedia, The
Progressive Bloggers, a couple friends of mine that I would consider progressive, and others.
From these sources I was able to come up with two definitions of progressivism; one formal and
one informal. The formal definition is that progressivism is:
The idea that advances in technology, science, and social organization can produce
improvements to the human condition. Additionally, the belief that the above advances have
worth. A supporting belief is that history is linear, not cyclical (ie. human progress never
reaches a plateau or perfect state but always seeks to move towards it).
The idea that society must continue to change, that the status quo cannot be considered
progressive. History itself has a 'story arc' leading to the further advancement of humanity.
progress as defined by the formal definition. Because the informal definition explicitly excludes
the status quo I will show that no other system of government falls within it. ie that the definition
itself adds little value to our understanding of human progress. But even then I will argue that
monarchy can be considered a progressive ideal.
Ok, with a workable definition of what monarchy and Progressivism is we can continue. I'm going
to make a couple assertions that I hope will be uncontroversial:
1. An ideal is progressive when the basic ideas of progressivism support its existence.
2. An individual is a progressive if they support progressive ideals and undertake to advance
3. An institution is progressive when its existence supports progressive results and is supported by
It is my argument that monarchy should be considered a progressive institution/ideal. The primary
purpose of making this argument is to counter the assertion that republicanism is somehow the
more progressive option in all cases.
As I have written about a number of times before there is some interesting academic research
that has been done on monarchy as a government system. You can go through the links above to
find the relevant studies but to summarize:
changes without negative effects makes progress easier to achieve. If every change to society
results in noticeable difficulties there is a resulting tendency towards the status quo. But overall, I
bring these studies up because progressives believe that scientific knowledge should be taken into
consideration when making policy decisions. If improvements to social organization is a value of
progress it is equally true that those improvements should have a basis in evidence.
Further, since the above studies show that monarchy has specific advantages when it comes to
promoting economic, democratic, and social progress it can in fact be argued that monarchy is a
But what of the monarchs themselves and their families? Well, the Queen's address to the UN
from 2010 sheds some light on what Her Majesty values. Specifically the part that says "I have also
witnessed great change, much of it for the better, particularly in science and technology, and in social
attitudes. Remarkably, many of these sweeping advances have come about not because of governments,
committee resolutions, or central directives - although all these have played a part - but instead because
millions of people around the world have wanted them." The Queen has also shown a keen interest
in using new technologies to better carry out her roles as monarch. Prince Charles likewise has
used his position as the Prince of Wales to actively promote progressive causes. His advice to
government ministers has likewise been of a progressive nature. The Duchess of Cornwall has
taken up the cause of rape victims. Prince William recently spoke out against bullying and
homophobia in schools. Collectively the Royal Family supports about 3000 charities. All of which is
only to point out that our Royal Family is a rather progressive bunch. Much of this can be traced
back to Prince Albert who was a major patron of science. "But", I hear you say, "what about
all those other monarchs?"
Well, in Morocco the king has agreed to subsidize the kingdom's solar power generation in order
to keep prices low. This step potentially sets the kingdom up to be a green energy superpower.
And who can forget King Juan Carlos I's restoration of Spanish democracy? He isn't even the only
monarch in the modern times to move from absolute rule to democracy. The monarchs of Bhutan
have encouraged democracy in the country since the 1950s which culminated in a full transition
to constitutional monarchy in 2008. Both brought their countries peacefully into democracy.
Indeed, monarchy seems to have a tendency to produce leaders who are more progressive than
their subjects. This makes sense when you consider that a low levels of education is connected to
greater political conservatism. Monarchs are trained from birth to rule and also tend to have a
long apprenticeship. The odds are stacked against them becoming conservatives. You could argue
the reason that you see fewer progressive monarchs in the House of Saud is their habit of
avoiding hereditary succession. A couple of years ago VICE ran an article where they interviewed
Baptiste Roger-Lacan who noted that "It's important to notice that nowadays republican France is
more conservative compared with some European monarchies, like the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark." You could say much the same about Germany.
But returning to the Canadian Royal Family we can see there is a large number of progressives.
This leads to my third point that an institution made up of progressives can be considered
progressive itself. Nor are the progressives of the Royal Family the only progressives to support
the monarchy. With members promoting progressive causes and the institution itself seeming to
encourage progressive results I argue the monarchy is a progressive institution.
This concludes my look at monarchy from the perspective of the formal definition of
progressivism. Next up, the informal definition.
number of times I've heard monarchy referred to as an archaic system is unbelievable. That it
seems to excludes any form of government makes me question its usefulness. Consider that the
oldest currently existing republic was established in 301 AD. If progressivism entails a constant
forward advance this republic would be excluded. Could we say that any aspect of government is
progressive? Human rights? Nope. The concept is quite old. Democracy? Ditto.
Ultimately, tying progress to movement from the status quo always becomes problematic. There is
a way around this. Consider human rights as an example. While the concept of human rights
continues as a solid ideal, how we interpret them change over time. By the same token while the
basic premise of monarchy has remained the same it has gone through major changes. Whether
we look at the monarchy's movement from executive to moral leadership, legitimacy via divine
right to legitimacy via parliamentary/constitutional support, rule by custom to rule by statute, or a
single imperial crown to a multitude of national crowns it is hard to argue that the monarchy has
not changed (and continues to change). But in doing so it has kept fundamental aspects of itself
consistent because they work. So in a sense you could argue that monarchy meets the informal
definition of progress. Going from a monarchy to a republic isn't so much progress as it is
jumping from one path to another without regard for whether the new path is a progressive one.
Now, while I think I have made a good effort at explaining why I see monarchy as being completely
compatible with progressivism I don't expect progressives to agree. I say this because there are
few people who are only progressives. Most also ascribe to liberalism, socialism, social democracy,
or republicanism. And these ideologies often have their own criticisms of monarchy. But perhaps I
can hope that they will admit that their opposition to monarchy stems from secondary beliefs
rather than any intrinsic conflict between monarchy and progressivism.