A monarchy is ruled by a head of government with absolute control, usually a queen or a king. In a Constitutional Monarchy, the head of government is still in place, but the absolute control disappears. The monarch is instead forced to use their authority according to the rules provided to them under the nation’s constitution.
A constitutional monarchy is often a formalized government arrangement, but it does not need to be. It can also be a set of traditional or unwritten rules that have a legal standard that must be followed as well.
We have seen many of the advantages and disadvantages of a constitutional monarchy throughout history. It is a form of government which promotes unity and equality when run justly, while it can also promote segregation and classism when run improperly.
List of Advantages of a Constitutional Monarchy
1. It provides continuity to the government.
A constitutional monarchy gets to benefit from two types of government structures. The people are given the power to elect their representatives, including a Prime Minister or an equivalent position, like in the United Kingdom. At the same time, there is a level of continuity to the government which also applies. A line of succession is in place so that all parties know who the next monarch will be should something happen to the current one.
2. It provides a system of equality to the government structure.
A constitutional monarchy, even though it can be structured in many different ways, strives to create more equality between the various levels of government. In most cases, this prevents one person or entity from obtaining too much power over the legislative process. It creates a system where the monarch and elected officials must work together to move their nation forward. It eliminates the ability of the monarch to rule by decree.
3. It offers more security than other forms of government.
A constitutional monarchy’s dual structure allows for the nation to experience higher levels of internal security. People have the ability to vote out representatives that they feel are not meeting their best interests. At the same time, there is still consistency within the structure of the government so that forward progress can be made. Historically, the coups that occur from within a constitutional monarchy are usually efforts to restore an absolute monarchy. Military coups are quite rare compared to other forms of government.
4. It creates a higher level of neutrality.
In most constitutional monarchies, the ruler involves is meant to stay neutral on all matters of politics. They can serve as an advisor, though are often have duties that are more symbolic than anything else. What they will not do is determine a specific direction for the President, Prime Minister, or similar individual must go. The monarch typically works to maintain the reputation of their country while the elected representatives do the daily work of governing.
5. It allows for political change to still occur.
Although a monarch cannot usually be removed by a vote of the people, elected representatives can be voted out of office. Even if the monarch creates new legislative seats or appoints a new position, that will typically be an elected position that the people have a say over who holds it. This allows the general population to maintain some power and control within government structures and can convince a stubborn monarch to look at alternative options if necessary.
6. It provides legislative consistency.
The bureaucracy of a constitutional monarchy naturally creates legislative consistency. Imagine the United States, if it were ruled under a constitutional monarchy. The House of Representatives and the Senate would pass legislation to send to the President. Before the President could sign the legislation, a consultation with the monarch would be required. Judicial consultation may be necessary as well. Each state would likely be given a chance to say their peace too. That could draw a 3-month process out to 3 years, providing fewer changes to the laws people are expected to follow.
7. It provides people with a unique cultural identity.
Many of today’s constitutional monarchies are forgotten about, viewed as an independent nation instead. Most are associated with Western Europe, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Thailand is also a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is over 16 constitutional monarchies in total, which are referred to as the Commonwealth Realms. Each has its own identity, but each is also joined together through history, tradition, and culture. When balanced properly, it can provide the best of a democratic and a monarchist form of government.
8. It can unify the people.
Monarchs are often viewed as a uniting symbol for a nation. It links people to their past, while providing a vision toward a better future. Even if the nation is politically divided, words or actions from the monarch can bring people back together so the population can move forward together, instead of being fractured.
9. It allows for reserve powers to rest at the discretion of the monarch.
Think of this benefit like an insurance policy. Imagine that the head of the elected government wants to take an action that is clearly against the constitution. The monarch has the authority to stop that action and even temporarily take over the government to maintain the status quo until a new leader can be appointed. If ever there is an emergency, the monarch in this form of government provides another layer of leadership that can help to resolve the situation being faced.
List of Disadvantages of a Constitutional Monarchy
1. It can be implemented with varying levels of power.
A constitutional monarchy can provide the monarch with virtually no power, making them a figurehead instead of a ruler. It can also make the monarch extremely powerful, with virtually no limitations to what they can do or how they can act. In Japan, there is zero formal authority given to the monarch, but the nation is still a constitutional monarchy. In Africa, several nations provide their monarch, President, or ruler with high levels of leeway when it comes to the power they are able to wield.
2. It forces political power onto people.
Within a constitutional monarchy, the monarch has no choice but to serve. They are often born into the life of a monarch. Some may even be forced into a role of ruling while they are still a child. In 1995, King Oyo of Uganda was crowned, becoming the youngest monarch in the world at the time at the age of 3. During the ceremony, he ran off the throne to his mother’s lap. You get to be a monarch, whether you want the job or not.
3. It provides no guarantee on the quality of rule.
Some monarchs are extremely wise and fair. Some monarchs are not. In a constitutional monarchy, the people can vote in new representatives to work with the monarch, but that is their only method of power. They have no say over who gets to be assigned the monarch role. If a monarch hates the job, rules unfairly, or takes unpopular action, there is not much the rest of the country can do about the situation since monarchs aren’t elected.
4. It can be costly to support a monarch in this government structure.
Many people know that Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is the monarch of that constitutional monarchy. What they may not know is that she is also the same queen for South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, Australia, and even Canada. Each country pays about $20 million toward the monarchy each year as part of the government structure. That equates to an average of about $1-$2 per person, per year, even if she does virtually nothing for the countries involved.
5. It does not force neutrality from a monarch.
Even when a monarch is supposed to be neutral, there are structures in place that can limit such neutrality if desired. In Canada, for example, the monarch is allowed to grant immunity from any prosecution. The monarch is also allowed to pardon offenses that are deemed to be against the Crown, including before the individual may even go to trial. These powers can often be changed as needed by simply applying a royal seal or signature to a change of orders.
6. It can discourage needed social changes.
Having two levels of executive bureaucracy can be a good thing, but it can also be discouraging. The structure often requires the head elected representative and the monarch to be on the same page when it comes to legislative needs. When push comes to shove, the monarch is the one who has the final say on things. That means if the monarch changes their mind, the entire legislative process might be forced to start over.
7. It is a haven for red tape.
Governing within a constitutional monarchy tends to be methodical, but slow. Numerous legislative bodies are often involved in the decision-making process. Before moving forward, everyone typically gets to voice their opinion on what is being discussed. In times of emergency, this can make it difficult for the government to respond quickly to situations. High levels of bureaucracy create consistency, but they also limit forward progress.
8. It is a form of government that is difficult to alter.
The sheer amount of bureaucracy within a constitutional monarchy makes it difficult to change to a different type of government. That is why it is one of the longest-running forms of government on our planet today. Whenever rules are changed, or a new constitution is proposed, everyone gets to argue their point of view. Objections can be lodged. Grievances may be heard. It becomes such a headache that no one bothers to attempt change. That can make things difficult if the country desires to see a change.
9. It can be used to oppress people.
For the average person, a dollar or two in their local currency, sent to the monarch, isn’t going to break them. Canada spent $5.6 billion more into their Child Benefit Program in 2017 for a -year period. In comparison, they’ll spend about $100 million on the monarchy. Not every constitutional monarchy is structured in such a way, however, and the power of the monarch can still be used to oppress people.
10. It can reinforce classism in society.
Classism isn’t solely reserved for a constitutional monarchy. In the United States, the wealth disparity between the top 1% and the bottom 70% is just as profound as the classism that is sometimes seen as being promoted in the Commonwealth realms. Only a few people ever qualify to become the monarch. It is often a birthright. That creates the idea that some people are born to succeed, while others are born to fail, no matter how much hard work might be put into improving one’s status.
The advantages and disadvantages of a constitutional monarchy are clear. It can be used to help people or hurt them, often based on the desires of the monarch. Extra levels of protection within the government exist through representation by elected officials to maintain consistency and trust. It is a compromise, a tradition, and is often a practical way to govern.