Sunday, January 22, 2023


Last summer I talked to Standford scholar Barry Weingast at an event, and he told me about work he had done some time ago on Spain, about how the role of institutions such as the Monarchy under King Juan Carlos and the Catholic Church, gave guarantees to the olygarchies that the stakes of democracy would be low, which would facilitate the democratic transition. Weingast laughed while he explained to me that he had recently learned that King Juan Carlos turned out to be a corrupt playboy. He had been useful at a particular historic juncture, but both himself and history had reached the conclusion that his role as a serious character was no longer necessary.

His son in law went to jail also for corruption, and his son, current King Phillip, struggles to keep the reputation of the institution amid the scandals that surround his family.

Other monarchies also provide material for conversation. Prince Harry of England said some time ago that he would be leaving the Royal family, but actually we are reminded through him of its existence. The fact that we don’t care much about his relationships with his brother has not stopped him from becoming a well paid (I asume) celebrity, whose work seems to be to talk about his famous family.

I wouldn’t spend much time and political capital trying to get rid of them as an existing institution, as these energies could be spent on more productive uses, and movements to remove them may empower all sorts of populists and opportunists. Monarchies in serious federations can survive as local curiosities, they may even be subsidized. There may be national kings and queens in Europe as there are tribal kings in the Southafrican Republic, as well as folkloric chiefs in many other cultures.

Monarchies are residuals of medieval systems and they should be treated as such. A modern system of government cannot associate political power to a legitimacy that is not based on merit or vote, but on blood. I know there are some advantages to neutral and permanent institutions, but I don’t see them weighing more in the XXIst century than the argument that it is an unfair hereditary system.

They should lose importance, and try to be discretely useful while the instituion still exists. If that is too demanding for them, at least they should try not to be embarrassing.