contemporary monarchies

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By LINCOLN SECCO*

The main function of a contemporary monarchy is the spectacle

The death of the Queen of England in 2022 brought a wave of tributes to a frayed but resilient institution. Just contrast it with the other “great” European monarchy, overthrown several times since the Napoleonic invasion and resurrected in the mid-1970s.

In 2014 King Juan Carlos of Bourbon abdicated in favor of his son, Felipe VI. The dynastic transition was attributed to the scandals that only reaffirmed his controversial biography. After all, there was nothing new about the controversial African safari in which he targeted endangered elephants. Hunting is the main function of the nobility after it lost its military role. Juan Carlos had much bigger problems in his past. When he was 18 he "accidentally" shot his own brother to death.

The reinvention of the Spanish Monarchy in 1975 was a betrayal by the dictator Francisco Franco of Spain's own fascism, which was anything but monarchist. On the other hand, its opposition defined itself as republican. For this reason, many Spaniards rightly ask themselves why preserve such a recent monarchy and without a social base.

The legend was created that Juan Carlos would be a moderating element, a fact demonstrated when there was a military coup attempt in 1981 and the monarch, conveniently, did not support it, since it was a question of a few disgruntled officers.

But the movement of the indignados, the corruption scandals of the royal family and the resurgence of separatist proposals made the figure of the king inconvenient. However, contemporary monarchies insist on remaining on the political scene in the XNUMXst century. What is the reason?

 

What was the monarchy?

The Monarchy was a system fundamentally based on the traditional authority of an individual endowed with magical power and tending to be absolute. Thus, the King did not have his authority legitimized by laws, but by customs; he did not rule citizens, but subjects. Strictly speaking, there was no public opinion or civil society, much less the idea of ​​freedom.

A kingdom was the extension of the family. The subjects were children in a patrimonialist and paternalist State. And, as the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie would say, the population itself saw in the royal family and in the State, which was the King's patrimony, a representation of the subjects' families.

Of course, this definition is an ideal type. Kings were never fully absolute. Firstly, because they needed to respect the franchises (liberties) of specific bodies of the State. In addition, the modern state had less control over its subjects than the contemporary state, which had unparalleled power over territory and citizens.

 

fake monarchy

Monarchies were leaving the scene over the centuries, when the so-called bourgeois revolutions dethroned kings and created a system legitimized no longer by tradition and customs, but by laws.

But contrary to popular belief, the bourgeoisie did not govern after that. On the contrary. Historian Arno Mayer demonstrated that the aristocracy remained firmly at the helm of the main European powers. Until the two world wars of the XNUMXth century, the Old Regime forces were politically and culturally dominant and land ownership was still the ultimate sign of wealth.

In the English case this explains the permanence of the British crown. But for this it was necessary to invent traditions (as Eric Hobsbawm would say) to justify their continuity. In 1917, in the midst of the War, King George V changed his family's German surnames and created the House of Windsor. After all, England was at war with Germany. This did not prevent Edward VIII, crowned in 1936, from being a Nazi sympathizer, which made him an inconvenient figure until he was forced to abdicate on the pretext of wanting to marry a twice-divorced American woman.

At the start of World War I there were only three republics out of 17 monarchies. In the end there were as many republican as monarchical states because new national states emerged. Monarchies then had to redefine themselves. They were never nationalistic because the same king ruled territories and peoples in many different places. Even today, the new King Charles will be nominally sovereign of countries as different as Australia and Jamaica.

 

End of monarchies?

In recent decades, profound cultural transformations have uprooted the last monarchical foundations. The hierarchical extended family, that microcosm of royalty, has eroded. Compulsory monogamous marriage and paternal authoritarianism are in crisis, at least in the West, although machismo persists.

The current Swedish royal family descends from a general of Napoleon Bonaparte and the current heiress to the Swedish throne married his personal trainer. The Queen Consort of the Netherlands is the daughter of a minister of the Argentine dictatorship. Princess Martha Louise of Norway has announced her engagement to American Durek Verrett, a spiritualist charlatan who denounced his own ex-wife for deportation. The future Queen of Norway is a commoner and a single mother, which has nothing wrong with ordinary people. But it is not what is expected of a regressive institution like the Monarchy. Or maybe this is exactly it?

It is customary to contrast the “traditional” example of British royalty with the brand new Spanish monarchy. Nothing could be more false, as we have already seen. The traditions of both are equally invented. But that doesn't mean that England doesn't exert greater fascination. First of all, because Great Britain lost a large part of its empire, but it remained an economic, colonial and military power and Spain did not.

The death of the Princess of Wales, Diana next to her boyfriend, the Egyptian millionaire Dodi Al-Fayed in 1997 reignited the controversy of the survival of the monarchy. Is that the accident fit like a glove for the British royal family to maintain their "traditions" and avoid a Muslim. Soon there were young punks and old ladies weeping in front of network television.

More than making the news, the role of the royal families is to regularly produce scandals that delight the crowds. But only until the next chapter. It is almost indifferent to cry for the princess abandoned and supposedly killed by the English secret service (in the media imagination) or to mourn the death of Airton Senna. The spectacularization of the two is the same phenomenon.

But there is a not inconsiderable difference in content. The ritual old fashioned what prime ministers must do in the face of a monarchy serves to divide public attention between those pesky bureaucrats who govern Europe and the media figure of a monarch. This is the function of the Monarchy where historical chance has allowed it to still exist.

 

Why don't you call?

With this typical phrase courtesy of a king who still thought of Latin America as his colony, Juan Carlos challenged the president of Venezuela at the 2007 Iberoamerican Conference. As Chavez was the enemy of the United States at the time, the published opinion gave the king of Spain your last minute of celebrity.

But no one asked the king: why are there still kings?

As Marx taught, politics is a theater. In it, earthly inequalities appear represented in the celestial world without social conflicts. That a somewhat comical celebrity assumes the visible power of the state while "impersonal" bureaucrats de facto govern us is an imposition of modern life.

More and more the production of politics itself belongs to the entertainment industry. Heads of state should be generated by marketing operations as much as a movie or football star.

Including small states that only survive by historical condescension or as havens for billionaires like Monaco or Liechtenstein, there are still 12 European monarchies.[1] Having lost their historical reason for existing, they combined very well with the new demands of contemporary politics. And this explains its maintenance.

The main function of a contemporary monarchy is the spectacle. The economy was naturalized and theologians of the new capitalist dogma justify the total independence of Central Banks and state aid to large banks in bankruptcy. Nobody elects the bureaucrats who effectively govern the European economy.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of History of the PT (Studio).

 

Note


[1] Or thirteen with the Vatican's elective monarchy, but its nature is distinct as it is religious and, during Italian unification, lost the territories of the past that allowed it to interfere in European politics.

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