Friday, June 14, 2013

Mad Rant: Monarchy Value for Money

In this day and age of republican dominance there is a great deal to annoy the average monarchist. Clichés, all of them negative toward monarchy, seem to have the gift of immortality. At the same time, the drawbacks of republicanism are often commented on and agreed to but never seem to shift public opinion. Every serious historian, for instance, knows that Queen Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake” and yet it continues to be endlessly repeated over and over again. Everyone with any knowledge of the world around them knows that, with the exception of the little principalities of Monaco and Liechtenstein, European monarchs have virtually no political power at all and yet the word “king” remains synonymous with someone wielding absolute power. A politician who oversteps the limits of his constitutional authority is always said to be behaving like a king or like royalty when, in fact, there are far more republican tyrants all around the world today than there are absolute monarchs, all of whom are confined to the Islamic world save for little Swaziland in Africa. It seems this is a double standard we will never be rid of. Yet, tiresome as it may be, falsehoods must be refuted with facts, as often as they arise, regardless of the circumstances. The world at large could really use a good education when it comes to the idea of monarchy.

Today, one of my biggest aggravations is the constant association of royalty with idleness, luxury and extravagance. Both sides of the political spectrum like to make use of accusations of “royal” behavior to condemn their opponents. In the past, the overreach of President George W. Bush in the United States, along with the fact that he is the first son of a President to become President himself since John Quincy Adams, led many Democrats to dub him “King George” -and they didn’t mean it as a compliment. Not to be outdone, when First Lady Michelle Obama took lavish vacations the Republicans compared her to Queen Marie Antoinette and when Obama holds lavish parties, goes golfing with celebrities or has his annual Christmas in Hawaii at taxpayer expense, his political enemies complain about Obama presiding over an “imperial presidency”. Do any of these people have any idea what they are talking about? No, of course they don’t. The odd misstatement here or there could be attributed to simply being unable to pass up a damaging analogy but at this point it really does begin to look like sheer ignorance. It is that ignorance combined with a gross misconception about monarchy that leads to this ridiculous analogies and that can be illustrated with a few examples and monarchists should point these out.

First, to be fair, we can certainly understand why the images of opulence exist in the popular imagination. One of the things most monarchists love about monarchy is the pomp and splendor that (traditionally anyway) goes along with the institution. Royals live in palaces, ride in gilded carriages attended by liveried footmen and wear magnificent jewels. It certainly looks pretty lavish, doesn’t it? Even the famously bicycling royals of The Netherlands don an ermine robe when it comes to swearing-in day. However, the fact remains that those magnificent jewels and robes are very old family heirlooms, bought and paid for many years ago (in some cases centuries ago) and their continued use costs the taxpayer nothing. In Great Britain, the Queen is known for being exceptionally frugal, using the same car until it practically falls apart. In fact, in a recent year, the travel expenses for the entire British Royal Family was considerably less than the travel expenses for President Obama and his small crew. The Queen would never dream of spending so much as the American president nor would any British government allow such a thing for ‘mere’ royals. Yet, when the average republican thinks of royalty, they think of big expenses for taxpayers. They do not think of the Prince of Liechtenstein whose subjects pay him nothing at all. In fact, he gives from his own private funds to help the government run smoothly.

The comparisons of Michelle Obama to Queen Marie Antoinette over lavish vacations seems particularly ridiculous considering that the ill-fated French Queen never went on even a single foreign vacation in her life. Bundled off to France as a very young lady she never left the country again and, indeed, seldom ventured far beyond the confines of Paris and Versailles. Royal travel has traditionally been extremely limited. In Britain, no monarch from King Charles II to King George IV ever even made it over the border to Scotland. Yet, when people think of Marie Antoinette, they think lavishness and frivolity, they do not think of a woman who gave large amounts to charity, who broke down social barriers at court and who invited poor children to eat with her own royal offspring at Versailles. When it comes to royal children for that matter, it may surprise some to know how much more luxuriously the children of a President of the United States live compared to royal or even imperial offspring.

All of those who talk of Obama having an “imperial presidency” should consider two of the great, old empires of Europe. The Romanov Archduchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, for example, had to sleep on camp beds and take cold baths. Their educational schedule was positively Spartan with dawn till dark studies and exercises. The White House may not be the Winter Palace but you can be sure the Obama daughters are taking hot baths at night. Similarly, when one thinks of an Emperor one doesn’t usually think of someone like Emperor Francis Joseph who slept on an army cot and wore clothes until they were worn out -and then patched them and wore them some more! One of his contemporaries, German Emperor Wilhelm I, was also notoriously frugal. He was known to sit down at a small table with his grandson (future Wilhelm II) for a glass of wine. After their glasses were poured, the emperor would mark the level of the wine with a pencil on the side of the bottle to make sure no one was pinching any when he wasn’t looking. In Russia, Emperor Alexander III preferred the simple meals of his servants to the delicacies of the banquets thrown by the upper class and his idea of recreation was a simple walk in the Russian wilderness with some sausage and a piece of bread for his lunch. These imperial leaders were hardly men of lavish, wasteful luxury and indulgence.

Of course, not every monarch was known for being frugal. Neither has such a trait always been considered positive. Indeed, even as far back as the Roman Empire, certain Caesars were criticized for being miserly. However, these examples should be pointed out, and there were plenty of others (such as King George VI putting the palace and Royal Family on the ration system in World War II). Even today, the spending habits of some monarchs are no doubt troublesome. The King of Swaziland, for instance, does himself no favors in that regard. However, the fact remains that monarchy remains a much better value for money than the average republic even if not every one is like the Emperor of Japan, growing his own rice. Monarchs, especially today, are much more thrifty than politicians if for no other reason than that they are scrutinized to such a vastly greater extent than any elected official. There is also the fact that much of what people see as the lavish and glamorous side of royalty comes at the private expense of the royals and not from the public trough which is, again, something rarely seen in a republic. Furthermore, most of the expense comparisons between monarchies and republics do not even usually take into consideration the immense costs of elections and election campaigns, held with great frequency even if they never seem to actually change anything.

It is a struggle to change such entrenched popular misconceptions and, naturally, the republican crowd will never allow for a fair and honest exchange if they possibly help it, but the effort should be made. It pains me to think of someone like Emperor Franz Joseph being thought of as extravagant simply for being of imperial status. Plenty of monarchs were quite thrifty and plenty of royals and royal children lived far less pampered lives than many of their republican opposites. However, even for those monarchs who were rather lavish, such as King Louis XIV of France, I would take that lavishness any day over the republican politicians in power today. At least the lavishness of someone like Louis XIV served a higher purpose (whether he intended it to or not is irrelevant) to raise the status of his country, the glory of his country and make it a land to be marveled at from people all over the world and for generations to come. Given how many people still go to visit Versailles, filled with awe and wonder at the magnificence, I would say it was worth every penny.

But, of course, I would; I am … The Mad Monarchist


  1. This is a valuable piece, MM. Any republicans who refuse to see the reason in this must truly be delusional.

  2. George Bush depicted as Napoleon? I flinched.

    1. Yes, I'm certainly no Bonapartist (and though I do think Bush was better than Gore would have been), I still am of the opinion that such a portrait is quite insulting to Napoleon.

  3. Monarchs can afford to be frugal. They are confident in their status. In republics, status is manifested in the trappings of wealth. It's a way to show that "you've arrived."


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