Long to Reign?: The Survival of Monarchy in the Modern World

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If monarchy did not exist, nobody would invent it today. Its legitimacy stems from ancient ritual and childish stories, not from a system based on reason and intended to achieve good governance. It transfers power through a mechanism which promotes congenital defects rather than intelligence. It is sexist, classist, racist and designed specifically to prevent diversity, equality and personal merit from creeping into its inbred ranks. The 20th century seemed to herald its demise see chart. Revolutions and a couple of world wars brought monarchies tumbling down across Europe; they clung on only in the southern, northern and western peripheries.

Republican movements flourished, including in Britain. And, as democracy swept the developing world late in the century, any sensible observer would have predicted that the institution would soon have gone the way of the Habsburgs and Bourbons. Only two monarchies have gone out of business this century—the Samoan one, which slipped away naturally with the death of its last incumbent, and the Nepali one, which needed the combination of a communist rebellion, a popular uprising and a murderous prince, high on drink and drugs, who killed nine family members, to bring it down.

Some of them, arguably, are barely monarchies Australia keeps the arrangement largely because choosing another would be contentious and many are tiny Tonga, Lesotho and Liechtenstein come to mind , but plenty of influential countries Britain, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Thailand are monarchies, and there are plenty of monarchies in an important part of the world the Middle East. There are even significant movements to revive defunct monarchies, in Iraq and Romania.

So why does the system now look more durable than it once did? One reason is that most of the surviving monarchs are virtually powerless, and the less power a monarchy has, the less anybody bothers to try to get rid of it. Complete impotence was imposed on the already weak Japanese emperor after the second world war; in Britain the monarchy was stripped of its powers over centuries.

Politicians keep them informed; what they say is closely analysed for political content. But any constitutional monarch worth his or her salt knows that job security depends on keeping shtum about politics. Another reason is that many of the poor, weak monarchies have already gone, and some of the enduring ones have pots of money. Maintaining absolute power is a great deal easier for the Saudi or Emirati royal families than it was for the Albanians or the Romanians.

They can afford lavish welfare handouts to keep the people happy and well-paid goons to keep them quiet. When Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history in , the global victory of liberal democracy seemed imminent. In the Middle East, wars and uprisings to institute democracy failed. In parts of Africa and Asia, democracy has been struggling. Even in the West, populism and polarisation have tarnished it, and anti-democratic politicians are on the rise. Monarchy has benefited from the comparison.

Unlike most democracies or republics, monarchy has the advantage of historical pedigree. Sometimes it is real, as with the Japanese emperor, whose ancestors are ancient, even if they do not actually share DNA with the sun goddess. But even the more recent implants root their claims to leadership in ancient myths and religious traditions which resonate with their subjects. British advisers steeped in the niceties of protocol often give advice on how to embellish royal authority with paraphernalia, decoration and ritual.

Monarchies were less ruthless and more dexterous than the brittle republics. Only three people, including two policemen, were killed in 7, protests over two years in Jordan. Bahrain was the youngest and most brutal of the kingdoms. Its security forces killed scores as they suppressed its uprising. That was a lot in a population of 1. Unlike republics, which mark a rupture with the religious and tribal institutions of the past, monarchies tend to build on them. Their consultative systems are a mishmash of European and tribal traditions.

Morocco has an elected parliament. Qin remained a secondary power until after the great reforms of Xiaogong — bce and Shang Yang Wei Yang. Shang Yang, a frustrated bureaucrat in the court of Wei, went westward seeking a chance to try out his ideas. In the court of Qin he established a rare partnership with the ruler Xiaogong and created the best-organized state of their time. Shang Yang first took strong measures to establish the authority of law and royal decree. The law was to be enforced impartially, without regard to status or position.

He convinced Xiaogong that the rank of nobility and the privileges attached to it should be awarded only to those who rendered good service to the state, especially for valour in battle. This deprived the existing nobility of their titles and privileges, arousing much antagonism in the court.

One of his most influential reforms was that of standardizing local administration. It was a step toward creating a unified state by combining various localities into counties, which were then organized into prefectures under direct supervision of the court. This system was expanded to all of China after unification in bce. Another measure taken by Shang Yang was that he encouraged production, especially in agriculture.

Farmers were given incentive to reclaim wasteland, and game and fishing reserves were also opened to cultivation. A shortage of labour was met by recruiting the able-bodied from neighbouring states, especially from Han, Zhao, and Wei. This policy of drawing workers to Qin had two consequences: it increased production in Qin, and manpower was lost in the neighbouring states.

In order to increase incentives, the Qin government levied a double tax on any male citizen who was not the master of a household. The result was a breakdown of the extended-family system, since younger children were forced to move out and establish their own households. The nuclear family became the prevalent form in Qin thereafter. As late as the 2nd century bce , Han scholars were still attacking the Qin family structure as failing to observe the principle of filial piety, a cardinal virtue in the Confucian moral code.

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Shang Yang also standardized the system of weights and measures , a reform of some importance for the development of trade and commerce. Qin grew wealthy and powerful under the joint labours of Xiaogong and Shang Yang. What remained of the Zhou royal court still survived, ruling over a fragmentary domain—poor, weak, and totally at the mercy of the contending powers. It was commonly felt that China ought to be unified politically, although the powers disagreed as to how it was to be done and who would be the universal king.

Huiwang, son of Xiaogong, claimed the royal title in bce. The adoption of the royal title by Qin was of course a challenge to Qi and Wei. Qin pursued a strategy of dividing its rivals and individually defeating them.

World: Can Monarchy Survive In The 21st Century?

Qin appealed to the self-interest of other powers in order to keep them from intervening in any military action it was taking against one of its neighbours. It befriended the more distant states while gradually absorbing the territories of those close to it.

Staying power

Within half a century, Qin had acquired undisputed predominance over the other contending powers. It continued maneuvering in order to prevent the others from uniting against it. The Qin strategists were ruthless: all means, including lies, espionage, bribery, and assassination, were pressed into the service of their state. For a time, the eastern power Qi had seemed the most likely to win. It defeated Wei, crushed Yan in bce , and annexed Song in bce.

But Qi was overturned by an allied force of five states, including Qin. Zhao , the power with extensive territory in the northern frontier, succeeded Qi as the most formidable contender against Qin. He was a strong and energetic ruler, and, although he appointed a number of capable aides, the emperor remained the final authority and the sole source of power. Shihuangdi made a number of important reforms. He abolished the feudal system completely and extended the administration system of prefectures and counties, with officials appointed by the central government sent into all of China.

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Circuit inspectors were dispatched to oversee the local magistrates. China was divided into some 40 prefectures. The empire created by Shihuangdi was to become the traditional territory of China. In later eras China sometimes held other territories, but the Qin boundaries were always considered to embrace the indivisible area of China proper. In order to control this vast area, Shihuangdi constructed a network of highways to facilitate moving his troops.

Several hundred thousand workers were conscripted to connect and strengthen the existing walls along the northern border. The result was a complex of fortified walls, garrison stations, and signal towers extending from near the Bo Hai Gulf of Chihli westward across the pastureland of what is today Inner Mongolia and through the fertile loop of the Huang He to what is now northwestern Gansu province. This defense line, known as the Great Wall , marked the frontier where the nomads of the great steppe and the Chinese farmers on the loess soil confronted each other.


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Yet the emperor failed in another great project: digging a canal across the mountains in the south to link the southern coastal areas with the main body of China. Shihuangdi, with his capable chancellor Li Si , also unified and simplified the writing system and codified the law. All of China felt the burden of these 11 or 12 years of change.

Millions of people were dragooned to the huge construction jobs, many dying on the long journey to their destination. Wealthy and influential men in the provinces were compelled to move to the capital. Weapons were confiscated. Books dealing with subjects other than law, horticulture, and herbal medicine were kept out of public circulation because the emperor considered such knowledge to be dangerous and unsettling.

These things have contributed to make Shihuangdi appear the arch tyrant of Chinese history. Some of the accusations leveled against him by historians are perhaps exaggerated, such as the burning of books and the indiscriminate massacre of intellectuals. Shihuangdi himself claimed in the stone inscriptions of his time that he had corrected the misconduct of a corrupted age and given the people peace and order. Indeed, his political philosophy did not deviate much from that already developed by the great thinkers of the Zhanguo period and adopted later by the Han emperors, who have been generally regarded as benevolent rulers.

Shihuangdi was afraid of death. He did everything possible to achieve immortality. Deities were propitiated, and messengers were dispatched to look for an elixir of life. He died in bce while on a tour of the empire. His death led to the fall of his dynasty. The legitimate heir was compelled to commit suicide when his younger brother usurped the throne.

Capable and loyal servants, including Li Si and Gen. Meng Tian , were put to death. Ershidi, the second emperor, reigned only four years. Rebellion broke out in the Yangtze River area when a small group of conscripts led by a peasant killed their escort officers and claimed sovereignty for the former state of Chu.

The uprising spread rapidly as old ruling elements of the six states rose to claim their former titles.

Escaped conscripts and soldiers who had been hiding throughout the land emerged in large numbers to attack the imperial armies. The second emperor was killed by a powerful eunuch minister, and in bce a rebel leader accepted the surrender of the last Qin prince. Load Previous Page. Social, political, and cultural changes The years from the 8th century bce to bce witnessed the painful birth of a unified China.

The decline of feudalism The most obvious change in political institutions was that the old feudal structure was replaced by systems of incipient bureaucracy under monarchy. Urbanization and assimilation Simultaneous with the demise of feudalism was a rise in urbanization. Load Next Page. Additional Reading.

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