A monarchy is a form of government where a single person, designated as the monarch, serves as the head of state until they choose to abdicate or death. The governing power of this individual may be symbolic only, restricted, or fully autocratic where judicial, legislative, and executive powers are all at their disposal.
Most monarchies are hereditary, allowing different generations to take over from their parents to rule over a nation. There are self-proclaimed and elective versions of this form of government, but those options are rare. The authorities are proclaimed in the same way with all of the structure, recognizing different titles, insignia, and seats that are bound to a specific region or territory.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, this form of government was the most common one found on the planet. As of 2019, there are now 45 sovereign nations with a monarch serving as the head of state. This figure includes the 16 Commonwealth realms that recognize Queen Elizabeth II in separate capacities in this role. Most of them are constitutional versions of a monarchy.
There are several advantages and disadvantages of a monarchy to consider when comparing the various forms of government that exist today.
List of the Advantages of a Monarchy
1. A monarchy is regarded as one of the most stable forms of government.
A constitutional monarchy is less prone to a forced takeover of the government when compared to other arrangements because it provides a dual support structure. You have the side that includes all of the elected or appointed officials that govern over legislation and the daily tasks of governing. Then you have the monarch who serves as the head of state in some manner.
If the country feels that their government is no longer rendering them with what they require, then there is the opportunity to select new officials or request for a change in appointments.
2. Monarchies reduce the levels of political divide in a country.
Monarchy governments reduce the political arguing that takes place within a homeland. There are still fierce assemblages who pursue specific agendas, but there isn’t the same kind of gridlock seen in the various houses of government as there are in other approaches.
It is the ruler in most monarchies who will have the final say on all matters within the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of the government. That requires the elected officials to recommend strategies that fall in line with what the sovereignty desires.
3. Most monarchies rule from a centrist approach.
A monarchy does run the risk of having a dictator at the helm of government, exploiting the population for their personal benefit. Most of these rulers tend to come from a centrist approach because that is the easiest way to bring people together. There is more willingness to compromise because there is another layer of approval that must be obtained before something becomes law in almost all governments. Once the prime minister or equivalent supports an idea, then the sovereign must also sign off on what will happen – even if their role is not overly influential in the government.
4. It is possible to reduce or eliminate corruption within the boundaries of a monarchy.
Any government official, such as a king, queen, caliph, emperor, tsar, caliph, sultan, or khan can be corrupt. What is different in the world’s long-standing monarchies is that the ruler has nothing to gain by using the government to their benefit. They are the government. That means these rules benefit in numerous ways by holding the position. In return, the nation typically identifies with the ruler, and this creates a mutually beneficial relationship.
5. There are opportunities to refresh the government.
Since most monarchies take the constitutional approach in our world today, then there is an incentive to stay engaged with what the population needs within the country. If bureaucrats can secure themselves into a long-term status of service, then there is no longer the urge to stay actively involved with their communities. Because of the structure of this monarchy, there are occasions to alter who gets to participate in the government. This advantage allows for fresh viewpoints on different commissions, updated community representation, and better communication regarding the governing process.
Even though the monarch cannot be voted out in most government structures, every other position could be changed systematically to remove the menace of complacency.
6. Monarchy leaders are trained from birth to become leaders.
The order of succession is established in a monarchy based on the birth order within the family under most structures. This option allows everyone, including the people, the opportunity to understand who their next ruler will be. It also provides the ruling group a chance to train the new ruler thoroughly before they take the throne. That allows even young rulers to be experienced in the ways of government so that they can make a positive, immediate impact for their country in their role as the head of state.
7. The government can move faster when implementing decisions with a monarchy.
Democratic governments tend to operate with speed when the action benefits those elected to office in some way. The 2018 meeting of the legislature and Senate in Washington State is an example of this fact, with both bodies passing multiple bills within an hour of each other so that the officials could limit their liability with regards to new state privacy laws with a veto-proof margin.
State funding for education in Washington State took several years to complete instead, with the judicial branch fining the legislative one $100,000 per day because of their inaction. When you consider the advantages of a monarchy, then the fact that one person makes all decisions improves the pace of implementation. This benefit allows the administration to be more responsive whenever there is a need.
8. There are fewer transfers of power that happen in monarchy governments.
There is a complete transfer of power in the United States in every 4-year or 8-year cycle depending on the Presidential election. Some elections come every two years under the American system, which means there are fewer opportunities to maintain consistency in governing. Even FDR, who served four consecutive terms before passing away in office, was limited to less than 20 years of serving the people.
A monarchy is usually in place for life. When you consider the multiple generations in a family that can stay in power, then there is more consistency in the approach to governing. That means long-term plans have a better chance of implementation under this government structure.
9. A monarchy works to support a nation’s cultural identity.
The Commonwealth realm may allow for extensive self-governing over its 16 different states, but this fact does not change the overall structure of the government. Each person in the domain, which stretches from the UK to Canada to the South Pacific, intensely identifies with their administrative structure. Their monarchy helps to define who they are as a people because of the approaches they see their leadership practicing. If there is an effort to cooperate and unify, then these are the core values that become an indispensable part of a nation’s cultural identity.
10. Monarchies can apply more money toward the economy and their people.
Elections can be a costly event in any country that holds them. The average price of a presidential election in the United States is more than $2 billion. When you add in the hundreds of House and Senate elections at the national level, then another $4 billion goes into the cost of putting people into government positions. When there is a monarchy in place, then this need is greatly reduced – or even eliminated.
Monarchies do have a reputation of hoarding wealth for the ruling family, but this issue is seen more with dictatorships today instead of as a general rule. Queen Elizabeth has an estimated private wealth of $530 million, or about 25% of the cost of a single U.S. presidential election.
11. The government can operate independently of the monarchy in some structures.
Although the constitutional version of a monarchy can grant almost unlimited powers to the leadership, most of these governments decide to give only a reserve power to this person or family. This process is what creates the head of state position, allowing the sovereign to serve in an ambassadorial role instead. There is still the authority to request revisions on any legislative agenda that they feel is unsuitable.
It is a process that can also maintain the authority of the government during a leadership transition that extends beyond the natural lineage. In an emergency, constitutional monarchies even provide a secondary layer of leadership that keeps the government operating while remaining helpful in its oversight role.
List of the Disadvantages of a Monarchy
1. Monarchies can require minors to serve as their country’s head of state.
Because a monarchy often uses family lineage as the designation of who can take over the throne, there are numerous instances in history when children were placed in this role. This disadvantage has even occurred in the modern era. The final emperor of China before the communist takeover was only two years old when brought into that position. Tahiti installed King Pomare III in this position at just 17 months.
There are even younger examples, such as King Sobhuza II of Swaziland who became a ruler at just four months of age. He would go on to rule for 82 years. Even England was not immune to this problem, with King Henry VI crowned when he was only eight months old.
2. It can be difficult to stop the powers of the monarchy.
The head of state has absolute control over the government. Even when this approach is more ceremonial than functional, an elected legislature must still work with the sovereign to ensure that laws and regulations fit within an expectation guideline. That means the person in charge can decree almost anything to have it become law if their authority is considered absolute.
If the sovereign decides to become violent or oppressive, then the nation has little choice but to go along with the problem or try to overthrow the government. Monarchs can even declare war on other countries unilaterally because there are so few checks and balances available in this system.
3. There is no guarantee of competency coming from the leadership.
New rulers in a monarchy come from the line of succession. This process is usually based on family lineage, but some leaders will designate a specific person if they don’t leave any heirs. That means some people can receive leadership training at an early age so that they are ready to ascend to the throne, but that advantage is not always possible. You can train some people to be political leaders and have them fail at the position. Others might not even want to be in charge in the first place.
When there is apathy within the monarchy, then the nation will suffer. This one leader plays an integral role in the entire governing process since they are part of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. This disadvantage is so powerful that it has caused entire governments to fall in the past.
4. A monarchy can decide to remove all checks and balances.
Even if a monarchy decides to take a constitutional approach, these individual leaders can decide to move in a different direction because of this government’s structure. King Sobhuza II helped to write a governing document for his nation only to throw it out about five years later. This disadvantage applies even when the head of state is in more of a symbolic role. They can even influence societal balances, such as freedom of the press, to continuously reinforce their powers over the population.
5. Monarchies create a class-based society.
Almost any government structure results in the formation of a class-based society. Only true socialism where the public owns everything avoids this disadvantage. The one threat that you’ll see in this area from a monarchy is that wealth becomes a foundation of family status. If you are born into money, then society says that you’re superior to those who don’t have as much as you do. There are even titles that some people have, such as Lord, Duke, or Baron, that reflect the “importance” of wealth.
6. The structures of a monarchy are variable throughout the world.
Because about one-quarter of the monarchies in the world fall under the leadership of the Commonwealth realm, there is a lot of consistency in this government structure. Once you get outside of those 16 nations, the structures have a lot of variabilities. Japan has an emperor who has zero political authority, serving as a figurehead and nothing more. There are African nations that have a sovereign serving as a leader, but the role of that person is closer to an authoritarian dictator than a benefactor.
This flexibility can offer a lot of advantages when the monarchy serves the people first. It can also be inherently dangerous because one person or family can make drastic changes to the government without many ways to stop them.
7. The head of state is usually the final say on all governing matters.
When a monarchy is in place, including constitutional ones, then those who are in leadership roles (such as a prime minister) can wield considerable power. Their decisions are held in check by the sovereign who serves as the head of state. The ability to override is often an unaccountable power given to this one person. Even if Queen Elizabeth II says that something needs to change in presented legislation, then everyone must go back to the drawing board to create something new.
8. Even a figurehead sovereign can replace elected officials who are in charge.
Many people see Queen Elizabeth II as a figurehead head of state, but that has not always been the case during her reign. There are three times when she has decided to appoint the prime minister instead of allowing the elected officials to do so. This outcome happened in 1957, 1963, and 1974. She has even dismissed people in the past because of her desire to change something specific in the government. There can be more stability with this governing structure, but it often needs the monarchy to take a back seat to the rest of the government.
9. A monarchy reduces the amount of diversity found in the government.
Countries become more powerful when diverse ideas, views, and backgrounds come together to form a pathway that encourages progress. When a nation decides to use a monarchy as their form of government, then these components exist in one person or their family. That perspective is what becomes the driver of national momentum.
Because sovereigns train for their role from an early age with this governing structure, the only influence they encounter comes from those responsible for their training. This disadvantage reduces diversity because it encourages a closed mind.
10. The structure of a monarchy encourages one person to stay in power.
The intention of a sovereign or ruling family is to preserve their power before any other action. These leaders depend upon their ability to govern to maintain their status. That means the temptation to hold onto this role by any means possible can be a massive temptation.
The need to reinforce their position in the government can come at the cost of social programs or basic government structures. That is why a monarchy is often one of the most expensive forms of ruling a country, even if the family doesn’t hoard wealth or use past riches to shore up their position.
11. How a sovereign behaves becomes the definition of a country.
President Donald Trump makes a lot of headlines for the way that he treats people on social media. The fact that his wife runs an anti-bullying campaign only reinforces the public perspective of the Trump administration globally. His actions become the definition of how the world perceives Americans, even if the president’s approval rating remains below 40% consistently.
This disadvantage, when applied to a lifelong sovereign, can become a tremendous problem for some countries. If the head of state is in more of a ceremonial role, then some nations might not take their opinion seriously. When an abusive dictator is in charge, then other world leaders might not even want to do business with their country. Since no one can really control the leadership’s behavior, an unfit monarchy can lead to a difficult life for the average person.
A monarchy is a government structure that pre-dates nation and territorial states. Since a constitution, or even a nation, is not necessary since this ruling approach requires a single person, the sovereign can bind separate territories to create political legitimacy.
There are several advantages to consider with this form of governing, but it can also be a dangerous method of offering power to one person. It is not unusual for the king, queen, or someone with a similar title to see themselves as a protector of religious or spiritual approaches in addition to their legislative duties. Even the Roman Emperor once saw themselves as the protector of Christianity.
The advantages and disadvantages of a monarchy are essential to consider when comparing it to other government structures. Giving one person a lot of power can be risky, but the rewards can be incredible.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.