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  Monarchism (Greek, ‘rule of one alone’) is the embodiment of sovereignty in one individual. Hereditary monarchy was the normal form of rule in agrarian societies, but it is infrequent in tribal societies where ‘elected’ chieftains are more common, and it is increasingly infrequent in industrial societies.

The arguments used to justify monarchical authority have changed considerably throughout history, although there have always been attempts to legitimate monarchical authority through religion: the debris of multiple kingdoms and empires bears witness to the idea that monarchs are divine, the idea of the ‘divine right of kings’, and the idea that the monarch is God\'s chosen leader. There have also been regular attempts to justify monarchy as the only alternative to anarchy (whether the anarchy be denigrated as feudal or democratic chaos). In such reasoning monarchy is justified as the only sure way of ensuring authority. Monarchy has been justified also purely by virtue of hereditary property rights: King X owned and ruled this land and its people, and therefore his legitimate heir has the right to rule them now.

The Enlightenment, democratization, ideas of representative government and the development of industrial society served to undermine monarchical authority. From the 17th to the 19th century most European monarchs were either displaced in republican revolutions or transformed into ‘constitutional monarchs’—pale shadows of the real thing. In most extant constitutional monarchies the powers of the monarch have been reduced to ceremonial and residual prerogative functions which normally have little if any direct effect on government.

Most modern monarchs are living museum pieces, ancilliaries of the tourist and antiquarian industries, but with considerable popular appeal. On being deposed as King of Egypt King Farouk remarked ‘Soon there will only be five kings left in the world: the four in the pack and the King of England’. He was right about the prospects of the four kings found in any pack of cards, but the permanence of the British monarchy is by no means assured. There are though some countervailing trends at odds with the Farouk hypothesis. The Spanish people have established a constitutional monarchy after being redemocratized in the 1970s, and if Kim Il Sung is succeeded by his son as ruler of North Korea the world will witness the novelty of hereditary communist despotism. BO\'L

See also absolutism; republicanism.



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