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NOBODY is mad at monarchy these days. Britain’s angry John Osborne can sneer: “My objection to the royal symbol is that it is dead; it is the gold filling in a mouthful of decay.” But that was nearly a decade ago, and even Osborne has simmered down since. Antiroyalism was once such an embattled issue that even Americans—who basically adore royalty—could echo Mark Twain’s dictum: “There was never a throne which did not represent a crime.” But nowadays monarchy is not much of a villain. And what would astonish Mark Twain is not that so many kings have lost their crowns but that so many still wear them.

The great tide of regicide and republicanism that began with the French Revolution reached a high mark with World War I. The last European ruler to play the king game with real gusto was high-living Edward VII. His funeral, on May 20, 1910, was a perfect set piece to illustrate the end of the royal era. Glittering and clanking behind his catafalque came one emperor, nine kings, five heirs apparent, 40 royal highnesses, three queens and four dowager queens. Afterward all of them went back to their thrones and palaces, courtiers and horse guards and watched their world come apart. Within five months, Portugal fired its King Manuel and declared itself a republic, and during the next generation the rulers of Russia, Austria, Germany, Greece and Spain were relieved of their jobs. Italy’s royal family survived until 1946. By then exiled rulers cluttered the international resorts with their miniature traveling courts, surrounded by faded elegance and sour memories. Monarchy seemed to have reached the point where history turns into musical comedy.

When the Going Is Tough

Yet today there are signs everywhere that monarchy is far from obsolete. Spain is preparing to restore its royal house as a way of assuring political stability. In many Asian and African countries, the monarch alone provides a sense of cohesion, without which they would be torn apart by old animosities and new social forces. This is true even of some European nations. Certainly today’s rulers have serious problems. Greece’s young King Constantine is at loggerheads with the politicians in a country where politics is played like karate (a sport at which Constantine excels). Jordan’s Hussein is doing his best to stave off antimonarchist rioters instigated by his leftist neighbors, Syria and the United Arab Republic. Only last week the new African nation Burundi ended the 400-year-long tribal rule of King Ntare V.

But most of the twoscore crowned heads listed in The Statesman’s Year-Book fulfill a real function. In part, their significance is upheld by an old ally in a new guise: nationalism. The more closely peoples are brought together by high-speed communications and economic interdependence, the more they seem to react by turning inward to their national traditions. And to embody the sense of national integrity and unity when the going is tough, a king can do things that a President or a Prime Minister cannot do.

The going was tough for the Belgians, for example, when the Germans smashed into the country in 1914. In the crisis, King Albert, once known as a playboy, bravely led the fight against the invaders. As Barbara Tuchman wrote in The Guns of August, “Belgium, where there occurred one of the rare appearances of the hero in history, was lifted above herself by the uncomplicated conscience of her King.” The going was tough for the Danes when the Nazis occupied the country on April 9, 1940. Next morning the distressed Danes saw their King Christian on horseback, riding as he always did through the streets of Copenhagen, disdainfully ignoring the German soldiers. The surge of morale produced by this simple act was incalculable. Later that year, when Christian celebrated his 70th birthday, a small badge bearing his initials on the background of the Danish flag was struck—and worn by almost every Dane as long as the war lasted.

Fear of kings has always been mingled with love and longing for them. Even Saul was elevated to kingship against the advice of the Prophet Samuel, who warned Israel that a king “will take your sons . . . and he will take your daughters . . . and ye shall cry out in that day because of your king.” But the people insisted “Nay, but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” At this, the Lord gave in. “Hearken unto their voice,” he said to Samuel, “and make them a king.”

When to Kill the King

The mystique of kingship recedes into the mists of prehistory. Kings were not merely the well-muscled types who could grab the best females and strong-arm the rest of the tribe. They were magic—the precious contact between little groups of fearful humans and the awful forces of fertility or famine, prosperity or plague. These magic men were precious possessions, to be carefully guarded against contamination or capture. Sometimes they were incarcerated in darkness to keep them from the influence of the sun and moon, sometimes they were prevented from even touching the ground for fear that the earth might leach out their power. If the magic did fail—when the crops were poor or the hunting bad or the enemy prevailed—then it was time to get rid of the old king and get a new one.

The idea persisted to the threshold of modern times that the monarch was a divine personage with magic powers, including the gift of healing by touch. Belief in the king’s divine curative powers vanished as surely as belief in the king’s divine right to rule—at least in the West. Today’s monarchs can be roughly divided into three types: Europe’s chairman-of-the-board king, who presides over his country but is not its chief executive officer; the tribal king of Africa and the Middle East, who most of the time still really leads and still does it from horseback; and the god king of Asia, whose divinity is fading but whose power persists and most closely resembles the old notion of heaven-touched royalty.

The amount of real power wielded by modern monarchs ranges from zero in Europe to the Old Testament authority which Emperor Haile Selassie, the seemingly indestructible Lion of Judah, still exercises in Ethiopia. Royal trappings run the same range—from the furled umbrella that Denmark’s King Frederik carries to go shopping, to the nine-tiered umbrella throne of King Bhumibol of Thailand. The champagne-and-chorus-girl monarch is gone or going; uncrowned dictators or oil millionaires are much freer to be glamorous wastrels these days than are kings.

This is the time of what Critic Kingsley Martin has called “TV monarchy”; and no royal house works for its ratings so hard and skillfully as the British. The dignity and the distance, the pageantry, the speed to the spot of a national disaster, the miles of cut ribbons are something for the TV citizen to look up to and yet feel comfortable with. Sophisticated Britons consider it all a tiresome and maudlin joke and regard the royal family as the personification of squareness. But the general attitude is one of admiration, almost of religious reverence, and no one seriously wants to do away with the monarchy, if only because Britons can scarcely imagine an alternative. An indication of how seriously Britons take the institution is provided by the earnest current debate on whether Prince Charles should go to a university or not. Most people nowadays seem to prefer an educated monarch, but some feel that too much learning is dangerous for a ruler whose job, after all, is not to rule. Recalling that Elizabeth II was poorly educated when she came to the throne, Journalist Iain Hamilton observes: “She was good on a horse, though; and we have Ben Jonson’s word for it that princes learn no art truly but the art of horsemanship.” As for Charles, it would be wrong to encourage him to be “an ‘ordinary’ upper-class young man and enjoy life among property speculators, advertising agents, public relations artists, fashion photographers, pop painters, dressmakers, atheistic Anglican prelates, pornographers, social scientists and other such heroes of our day.”

The problem of not being “ordinary” and yet not seeming too aloof—of lowering the barrier between sovereign and subject and yet not “staining the mystery,” as Sir Harold Nicolson put it—is probably the greatest public relations problem of Britain’s royalty. Scandinavia’s rulers have ignored this problem, on the whole, by opting for ordinariness. No one crowds around Sweden’s 84-year-old King Gustaf Adolf when he walks alone through the streets. A man passing him will take off his hat with a slight bow, whereupon the King will remove his hat and bow politely in return. At state dinners, the footmen behind every other chair are restaurant waiters hired just for the occasion. Sweden is the kind of kingdom where the leader of the Communist Party, resplendent in white tie and tails, enjoys dining with the King—despite the fact that he is the country’s only political leader who says he wants the monarchy abolished.

Britain and Scandinavia could undoubtedly lose their monarchies and suffer only psychological damage; the fabric of nationhood would not be torn. The situation is different in Belgium. No country in Europe needs its King as much. His actual power is only moral and advisory, but Baudouin carries out his duties with an energetic seriousness. Not long ago Baudouin exchanged his rimmed glasses for contact lenses so as to look less solemn. He is, in fact, the only Belgian; everybody else is either a Walloon or a Fleming, fighting over the smallest points of the language war between the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking south. The federalist movement may yet split the country into two states. The only man able to bridge the two communities—as he does today—would be the King.

One difficulty besetting all European dynasties is the shortage of fresh blue blood. A related difficulty is the shortage of suitable consorts. Juliana’s daughters have greatly upset the Dutch by their propensity for falling in love with politically impossible men. Bloodlines and realms are royally scrambled. The Queen of Denmark, for instance, is Swedish by birth, the Queen of Greece is Danish, the Swedish royals are French, the English royal family is of German descent. This kind of mélange used to be considered just right. “A Prince,” said Queen Victoria, “should not be imbued with the prejudices and peculiarities of his own Country.” Victoria’s grandson, King George V, marked the end of this way of thinking. When H. G. Wells attacked Britain’s “uninspiring and alien court,” the King stormed, “I may be uninspiring, but I’ll be damned if I’m an alien!”

The Quickness of the Hand

In the Middle East, a few years ago, monarchy in the region seemed doomed, but it has since gained considerable prestige, partly because of hardworking, youthful rulers, partly because of the failure of Arab socialism to do enough for the people in the U.A.R., Iraq and Yemen, where monarchies were overthrown. Iran’s Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi has emerged as a popular social reformer who destroyed the landed class that held back modernization. Even in tradition-bound Saudi Arabia, monarchy has undergone a vast change. Since the ouster of wastrel King Saud in 1964, determined and ascetic King Feisal has begun modernizing the country as fast as a Stone Age situation permits.

Arab monarchy still involves subtleties and power plays difficult to find elsewhere. In Morocco, since protocol requires that ministers kiss the King’s right hand, and royal etiquette says that the King should draw his hand away before contact is made, the speed at which the King pulls away is an indication of the importance a man carries at court. (The method is, at any rate, simpler than many signals of favor and disfavor given at Communist courts or even in democratic presidential mansions.) Last year Morocco’s King Hassan dissolved Parliament and has been running the country singlehanded ever since. Critics mutter about his highhandedness as well as his high living, which includes ten palaces, plus fleets of airplanes and automobiles—including several curtained buses for ladies of the harem. But even his critics agree that he is worshiped by his people and that he works harder than any politician. Almost anywhere today, do-nothing kings have very little job security.

In the troubled landscape of Asia, kingship can be anything from a semireligious show to true, traditional force. Even in Malaysia, where a new king is elected every five years, or in Laos, where the King sits largely helpless but pleasant above war and factions, the monarchy provides at least a semblance of unifying tradition—plus something to talk about. In Thailand, it is immensely important. King Bhumibol Adulyadej seems all but divine to his Buddhist masses—an impression enhanced by the tradition that people must approach him crawling along the floor on hands and knees. But he is really a modern monarch, using the ancient ways and rituals to carry his country forward. Theoretically he is a figurehead, limited to ceremonial functions. Beneath the surface he keeps up a mosaic of relationships that make him the most influential man in the kingdom; no governmental change could succeed without his legitimizing nod.

The Symbol Of Unity

One of the chief criticisms of monarchy is that it is not only an anachronism but also a mighty expensive one. Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, even though he formally declared himself mortal in 1946, draws a stipend of $3,000,000 a year, plus another $3,000,000 of taxpayers’ funds to support an Imperial Household Agency of 1,200 officials. Inside the palace compound in Tokyo, a $38 million ceremonial hall is now abuilding for him, and a $27,000 Nissan Royal limousine has just been added to the royal fleet of three Rolls-Royces, a Daimler, a Cadillac and a Mercedes. The irreverent young in the big cities question the point of keeping a royal family, but oldsters still burst into tears at the sight of their ex-god’s expressionless face.

Queen Elizabeth’s household allowance comes to $1,330,000 a year, and the allowances for the rest of the family to nearly $500,000 more. What with six palaces, the royal yacht, the Queen’s flight of six assorted aircraft plus the cost of royal trains, telephone and postage, the grand total is nearly $6,000,000. No doubt a republican president might be able to shave these royal expenses, but drab ex-politicians usually do not do the job as well as kings and queens who are trained for it. And the more flamboyant types, from De Gaulle to Sukarno, are not exactly cheap either.

Pomp and circumstance has its place, and monarchy has the advantage of separating the pomp from the power. This is an enormous timesaver for the government, whose machinery can tick quietly behind the pageantry, processions and boredom of state visits. Besides, the separation is a safeguard against political demagoguery. Modern monarchy often seems to reduce the tensions to which democracy is prone. According to Sociologists Edward Shils and Michael Young in the Sociological Review, it provides an effective segregation of love and hatred. “When the love is directed toward a genuinely love-worthy object, it reduces the intensity of the hatred as well. Just as the existence of a constitutional monarchy softens the acerbity in the relations between political parties, so it also lessens the antagonism of the governed toward the reigning government.”

A more serious charge against monarchy than costliness is that it keeps people in tutelage and prevents them from learning how to rule themselves. This may be true in autocratic kingdoms, but it is scarcely so under constitutional monarchy. According to a widespread psychiatric view, constitutional monarchs represent parents who are always reassuringly present without, however, curbing a people’s freedom. They thus embody the continuity and unity that is lacking in so much of modern life. Shorn now of the military ambitions and political self-seeking that made so many of them the scourge of the world, they seem to be reverting to their ancient magical role.

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