Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Threats to Monarchy Around the World

Thankfully, in most monarchies in which a monarch is resident (we will call them ‘monarchies in the first degree’) there is relatively little threat to them at the moment. Certainly some are more popular than others and certainly very few are completely free from worry. Aside from the micro-monarchies like Monaco, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, virtually every European monarchy has at least some group, no matter how small, that wants to see their country become a republic. However, monarchy is not only threatened by unpopularity. Popularity can change in the blink of an eye. In the United Kingdom, generally one of the most popular and secure monarchies in the world, witness how fast public opinion toward the Queen changed (and then changed back again) following the hysteria surrounding the death of Diana. More recently, witness how quickly public opinion toward the King of Spain shifted after one (privately funded) hunting trip. This was the man that Spaniards across the political spectrum praised and revered for having given them freedom and democracy yet one hunting trip was enough to erase all of that -or at least a great deal of it. However, Spain has also been in the grip of a severe financial crisis. So have other countries, but Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland were singled out as being in particular trouble and, of course, Spain is the only monarchy among those. Whenever there is a financial problem those responsible for making bad decisions can always be counted on to look for a scapegoat. In republics this is often “big business”, the banks or simply the wealthy. In monarchies it is often the monarchy.

The monarchies of the world are threatened by a number of things and it varies from place to place. One group that has much in common is what we will call ‘monarchies in the second degree’ the vast majority of which are the Commonwealth Realms. Whether it is Canada in the western hemisphere or Australia in the eastern, the primary, default tactic that is employed to attack the monarchy is anti-British bigotry. They try not to be too blatant about it but it is always there. The monarchy is British, it is “foreign” they claim and they try to hush up the singing of “God Save the Queen” and try (successfully in some places) to redesign their national flags to remove any reminders of their British colonial past. This is a tactic which may seem silly to many people today but, unfortunately, it has worked in the past and revolutionaries emphasizing the ties between traditional royals and colonial governments in order to bring down monarchy have been successful in former colonial countries all around the world. Fortunately, these people are often proponents of “multiculturalism” which causes them to come off as very hypocritical when they start making what is basically a xenophobic argument for abolishing the monarchy. Some have tried to combat this by trying to emphasize the separateness of their monarchy from the British monarchy, while others try to tackle the root of the argument itself by defending the legacy of the British Empire in their particular country. However it is done, there must be push-back because in this age when anti-colonialism is even more fashionable than colonialism was in its own time, the advocates of republicanism will not cease to try to use the negative portrayal of the British Empire to their own advantage.

Moving on to monarchies in the first degree, we will look at the largest concentration of them in Europe, specifically western Europe. Here, again, most would think there is not too much cause for alarm. Even in countries where monarchs have undergone recent downturns in popularity (Sweden or Spain for example) most of the people still seem to prefer a new monarch rather than no monarch at all. However, while there are no countries posing a threat to the monarchies of Europe, there is a more subtle enemy at work in their very midst. It is a socialistic, egalitarian, fundamentally republican mindset that can, perhaps, be best summed up with two words: European Union. Admittedly, the EU cannot be blamed for every threat to monarchy in Europe but it embodies so much of it. For one, there is the economic policies that push for unsustainable social welfare states that invariably drive countries into debt and risk economic collapse. When those hard times come, anger frequently turns to the monarchy which is portrayed as an unproductive drain on the national purse (ludicrous though that argument is). There is also the egalitarian attitude which we have seen pushed on monarchies further and further with changes to succession laws, embracing ‘alternative lifestyles’ and any number of things that all push the same message; that everyone is equal and everyone is the same. It should be obvious that this is a mentality which is contradictory to monarchy and if it continues to strengthen, monarchy will become impossible to defend.

Finally there is that aspect most connected to the EU itself and that is the diminishment of national independence and national uniqueness. Some time ago I was asked why I seemed to follow news and events in places like Russia or East Asia more than Europe (when there are so many monarchies concentrated there) and my simple answer was that other places still have actual countries. Other places have countries that have differences and have disagreements and even the occasional unpleasantness whereas the EU has brought a dull uniformity to Europe. They rarely take any action on their own and any disputes are hushed up or handled “in house” by the EU government. Countries have fewer and fewer of their own national policies and this matters to monarchy because each monarchy is bound up with the history and national experience of their own country and not that of any other. The EU, by claiming to be the “answer” to the problems of the past, inherently condemns the way things were formerly done and that would necessarily include the role of monarchy in shaping the history of European countries. EU regulations on equality and anti-discrimination have already been used by some as a means of attacking the institution of monarchy. True, it may not seem relevant to many and there are some royals that appear to be all for it but this is simply my opinion. In the long-run it will be a danger because the values of the EU and the loss of national sovereignty (and “sovereign” is the key root-word there) are fundamentally at odds with monarchy.

In Africa there is not too much to talk about. There are only three independent monarchies remaining, one of them is in no danger and another (Swaziland) is mostly in danger from international busy-bodies and their own poor decisions. The Kingdom of Morocco fits in with monarchy across the Islamic world and can be viewed in that context. Islamic monarchies face threats and challenges that are roughly similar from Morocco to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and even to a lesser extent to Malaysia. Most monarchs face condemnation from one of two sides; they are either condemned by the western democracies for being fundamentalist and tyrannical or they are condemned by some of their own people for being too modern, “westernized” and not sufficiently Muslim (whatever that means). Many are also under constant criticism by the international busy-bodies who consider lèse majesté laws to be just as terrible as shooting people for their religious beliefs or killing a woman with a rock because she was accused of adultery. Malaysia would seem the most secure but for the Islamic monarchies of the Middle East there is little doubt that the biggest threat is Iran. At this point, most seem to have dealt with the problems of the Arab Spring well enough but ever since the 1979 Revolution the Iranian regime has been actively working to thwart monarchy in the Islamic world and is today building a network of alliances across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon that pose a direct threat to the monarchies of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Even without direct action by Iran, one of their clients or simply a spark caused by the arms race that will be set off if Iran obtains nuclear weapons could cause a conflagration that would be devastating to the cause of monarchy in the region. All in all, to summarize as much as possible, the biggest threat to monarchy in the Islamic world remains extremism and how swiftly its advocates resort to violence.

When it comes to Asia, outside the Muslim countries, the situation is unique from country to country and it is a fact that should be taken very seriously by monarchists that very few monarchies remain, particularly in a region so large, with so many different peoples and with civilizations that are so ancient and in which monarchy had been previously so engrained. Aside from the Muslim countries the only monarchies that remain in Asia are little Bhutan, the Kingdom of Thailand, struggling Cambodia and the State of Japan. Bhutan occupies the happiest position with no apparent threats to deal with at all. The recent trend toward embracing democracy and political parties is worrisome but that is an internal, long-term concern. Still, even for Bhutan, the threat always remains of being caught between any potential trouble including India and China. Communist China has made incursions into Bhutanese territory in the past and has territorial disputes with Bhutan (as it does with virtually every neighboring country) and while there are certainly very close and friendly relations with India, there is still the concern that what happened to Sikkim could happen to Bhutan as well. It is a victim of geography, caught between two giant republican neighbors and any trouble between them could mean a crisis for Bhutan.

The Kingdom of Thailand also enjoys a mostly happy position with the current King being widely revered and the monarchy highly respected and viewed as the cornerstone of the entire national structure of the country. However, the current King is old and ailing and cannot live forever. The Crown Prince does not enjoy the same popularity and prestige (though it has increased somewhat) but more concerning is the internal politics of Thailand. This came to world attention mostly with the rise of the red shirts and yellow shirts. The yellow shirts are those most supportive of the monarchy and traditional Thai values but the red shirts, while claiming to support the monarchy, want less of a role for royals and nobles whereas the yellow shirts want more. They have an agenda that is much more class-driven and egalitarian and thus, at heart, fundamentally hostile to the basic values of monarchy. They have also held more support in the heavily populated urban areas and their increasing hold on power combined with the deteriorating health of the King is undoubtedly the biggest cause for concern the Thai monarchy faces. Cambodia is in a relatively worse position, certainly since the death of the controversial but undoubtedly powerful figure of King Norodom Sihanouk. King Norodom Sihamoni does not have the same power his father had and is more or less at the mercy of Prime Minister Hun Sen, dictator of Cambodia in all but name, who was placed in power first by the Vietnamese when they invaded Cambodia and overthrew the regime of Pol Pot. So long as the status quo remains, the monarchy is secure but if Hun Sen or perhaps even the government in Hanoi, Vietnam feels it would benefit them to get rid of the monarchy the situation could change in an instant.

In Japan the monarchy is, happily, widely accepted and respected at home however it is under considerable, indirect, threat due to widespread anti-Japanese bigotry on the part of neighboring republics. The tool most often used in this regard is, of course, World War II because doing so generates immediate sympathy among many other people who are anxious to uphold and defend the world order established by the victorious Allies (subsequently the United Nations) after the war was finished. The most prominent hostile powers are Communist China and the two Koreas. North Korea poses the most straightforward threat by constantly threatening to attack Japan but theirs is perhaps the least effective since they make similar threats against other countries so that Japan is certainly not being singled out in that regard. More worrisome is Communist China and South Korea. South Korea has lately adopted the position that their entire national identity is to be that of the poor, perpetual victim and they have worked overtime to spread anti-Japanese sentiment not just in their own country but around the world by colluding with Communist China to celebrate the Korean who assassinated the first Prime Minister of Japan, by erecting statues of the so-called “comfort women” in foreign countries (which had nothing to do with the issue) such as the United States and Australia or using a festival about comic books in France to highlight Korean victimization by Japan. Communist China, similarly, has lately been feeding their population a steady diet of anti-Japanese propaganda through literally hundreds of films and television shows that portray the Japanese committing atrocities in World War II. This has caused such a level of bigotry that one Chinese citizen was recently beaten to death for driving a Japanese car.

Anything that existed in Japan prior to the surrender in 1945 is singled out as “proof” that Japan has not sufficiently cut ties with its imperial past and that, of course, includes the monarchy as well as it is certainly not lost on any of these people that the Emperor of Japan was the only Axis head-of-state to retain his position after the war. Japan has apologized on numerous occasions, paid tens of billions of dollars in reparations yet it is never enough and the campaign to vilify, isolate and weaken Japan continues. That is a threat to the monarchy but so also is the response this generates inside Japan. On the left it encourages those who want to go to any lengths to win popularity, whether that is getting rid of the national flag or the national anthem and that leads to getting rid of the monarchy as well. On the right it encourages those who say that any reconciliation is impossible, playing nice has not worked, so the answer is to rearm and become more strident which itself would mean running the risk of a confrontation that could prove disastrous. It is also true that many on the right in Japan do not appreciate the threat to the monarchy and close their eyes to the ideological struggle going on against traditional authority in the world in favor of viewing everything through the lens of race. They do themselves no favors by criticizing other monarchies while denying any wrong-doing on their own part. To link back with the beginning of this look at threats to monarchy, similar to the situation in some other countries, this also involves foreign powers, whether countries or international organizations, defining an existing monarchy, its national legacy and dictating what is or is not acceptable in what is supposed to be an independent, sovereign country.

From all of this we can see that monarchies remain under threat today from within and without to varying degrees. Some are subject to threats totally outside of their control while others have put themselves in a position of weakness by either surrendering their independence by degree or by adopting policies that have made them dependent on others. It is also a lesson which history has taught us again and again that even trouble which does not seem to effect the monarchy of a country directly can quickly change to do so. Monarchy in France and Russia was taken for granted as being permanent but persistent enemies are always quick to seize on any economic downturn or even the sacrifices of war to turn a loyal public into an angry mob with the monarchy as the scapegoat. Monarchists should be ever vigilant and on guard for these threats and should also work to encourage pan-monarchist solidarity. Countries, like people, tend to follow trends and every time a monarchy falls, even in a place as relatively remote as Nepal, this adds to the burden on those that remain and strengthens the republican cause which tends to portray itself as always representing the “inevitable” outcome. If you live in a monarchy, you should do what you can to encourage support for other monarchies and if you live in a republic you can also do what you can to at least encourage your government to do monarchy no harm.

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