The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Community News Network

May 1, 2013

Why do so many European countries still have monarchs?

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated on Tuesday, making way for her son Willem-Alexander to become the first Dutch king in more than a century. European monarchs are largely powerless. Why do so many countries keep them around?

Because breaking up is hard to do. When asked whether they want to keep their monarchies, large majorities of Europeans answer "yes." Around 80 percent of Dutch subjects want the royal family to stick around, and about the same proportion of U.K. citizens favor Queen Elizabeth II. But there's a quirk in the polling data: Fewer than 1 in 4 Britons think the monarchy will actually last another century. This suggests that Europeans envision a future without kings and queens but don't personally want to undertake the national convulsion that might accompany the change. Although monarchs these days are more likely to be voted out rather than guillotined or shot, overthrowing a monarch is an act of revolution, and Europeans have long since lost their taste for sudden political change. Countries historically only overthrow monarchies after a major crisis makes the system untenable. Kaiser Wilhelm, for example, was blamed for Germany's defeat in World War I. Italy's House of Savoy was overthrown for tolerating Mussolini, after a contentious national referendum.

Powerless monarchs bewilder many Americans, but, in fact, the arguments for and against them are fairly evenly balanced. Royal families are apolitical symbols of national unity and, in ideal circumstances, sources of pride. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, for example, became a national hero when she fled the Nazis and encouraged resistance from abroad. Monarchs sometimes intervene when the government veers off track. Spanish King Juan Carlos notably turned back fascism after the death of Franco. During the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, Queen Elizabeth's representative righted the teetering government by ousting the scandal-ridden prime minister. Many Europeans also have genuine affection for their monarchs. On a more mundane level, monarchs can be lucrative. The British royal family brings tourists to England in droves.

The financial costs of monarchy are fairly modest. The British royal family, for example, costs the average taxpayer less than $1 per year and probably brings in far more than that in tourism dollars. (The Dutch monarchy takes home somewhat larger paychecks.) The more significant costs of monarchy are harder to measure. Critics argue that an aging white person is a lousy national symbol for an increasingly diverse Europe. Moreover, some political scientists theorize that a monarch undermines the feeling of ownership a citizen should have for his government. Then there's the obvious problem of having an unaccountable hereditary leader sitting atop a democracy, even if the job entails very little power.

Without a convincing argument for or against their positions, the surviving European monarchs have proven surprisingly adept politically. They have surrendered power and land in exchange for their jobs. They have adapted their images to suit the times. The Dutch royal family are, along with their Danish and Scandinavian counterparts, the so-called "bicycle monarchs," who eschew the pomp of a royal cavalcade for a simple bicycle, giving them the appearance of being an ordinary family. Willem-Alexander has neutralized the charge that he symbolizes the Netherlands of the past by marrying an Argentine woman, and the couple is regularly photographed visiting schools full of immigrant children. The British royal family works for a variety of charitable causes, in part to give their subjects a good reason to keep them.

    

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • 072214 Diamond Llama 1.jpg Llama on the loose corralled in Missouri town

    A llama on the lam cruised Main Street Tuesday before it mistook a resident’s fenced backyard for a place to grab a meal and freshen up.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • When your doctor commits suicide, things get complicated

    When they call for appointments, patients are told they can't see their doctor. Ever. The standard line: "We are sorry, but your doctor died suddenly."

    July 15, 2014

  • NWS-HB0713-HowardMartin-004.jpg Airman laid to rest back home in Indiana six decades after death

    The mystery of what happened to a military transport plane that disappeared in the fall of 1952 into an Alaskan glacier was solved two years ago when a helicopter crew spotted the wreckage. But it took another two years to retrieve the remains of Airman Howard Miller and 16 other servicemen passengers. Saturday, Miller was laid to rest in his hometown of Elwood, Ind., with full military honors. Hundreds turned out for the funeral and burial services.

    July 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps

     I climbed the ladder quickly, free to work any hours in any location for any pay. I moved from market to market, always achieving a better title, a better salary. Succeeding.

    July 8, 2014

  • Nation's first soda tax could come to Berkeley

    The Berkeley City Council unanimously decided last week to put the 1-cent-per-ounce tax on the ballot this November. Approving the tax would mean a major defeat for the soda industry, which has spent millions to crush the effort nationwide.

    July 7, 2014

Front page
Clinton Herald Photos


Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.

Poll

What are your plans for the weekend?

Enjoying the outdoors
Staying in out of the heat
Traveling
Other
     View Results
AP Video
Olympics 2014
Featured Comment
Featured Ads
Blue Zones Project
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.