In the wake of the recent abdication and a new monarch taking over in the Netherlands it feels like it’s just not the media that has been discussing royal abdications, but also monarchists and royal watchers. But after so many centuries of hereditary monarchies and relatively few abdications in Europe, why are so many discussing the occurrence and its pros and cons now?
I think it’s simply the times we live in; a global media world which is very age-fixated, prone to surface and image, used to multiple-choice and voting out what is not liked. That’s why, in some countries, a few people (and maybe mainly media, who want to sell more) are beginning to question ageing monarchs and seeing better options in their young, attractive heirs with their often glamorous spouses and young children. Some are even questioning the health and mental abilities of older people; others are trying to suggest that monarchs should be retired to a peaceful and private existence for those last golden years of life.
All of this discussion even went so far that I myself began pondering on what I really thought about it, after once deciding that constitutional monarchy was my preferred political system and basing most of my royal interest on that decision. Would it really be so bad to introduce a system of abdication in more countries, modelled after the Netherlands where an ageing monarch retires and lets a new generation take over?
After much thought my answer is yes, it would really be so bad. We have monarchies for a reason and if we begin to fiddle with them too much then they lose what is good about them in the first place. For me a constitutional monarchy is the preferred model of government and apart from my favourite argument that it gives a country a non-political and uniting figurehead, which in these times should carry some weight, I also cherish the continuity, stability and tradition that a monarchy entails.
Abdications might work in the Netherlands and Luxembourg where the monarchies have that tradition since a long time (and they are still constitutional and hereditary, mind you), but introducing it elsewhere in the 21st century would only turn the other European monarchies into popularity contests. The idea of a monarchy (in the form we have) is that it’s hereditary and provides continuity in an otherwise uncertain world and we must let monarchs thrive in their positions no matter what their age is. In most countries there is legal room for regencies if a monarch is incapacitated, but that’s another issue altogether.
Modern monarchies are already enough focused on personalities and receiving mostly only very superficial coverage by the media, we don’t also need the institution of the monarchy to turn into a new version of docu-soaps where we vote out the least liked people from the house or island and go for the most attractive and/or attention-grabbing person. That’s not what a monarchy is about and if that’s what the media and/or some people want then they should go for another form of government.
There is no doubt that the remaining monarchies of the world will face enormous challenges in the future, and that some challenges are already presenting themselves in plentiful for some of them. Apart from some scandals and rocky years that have come and gone in recent years, there are larger issues at bay for the monarchs and the future generations of family. Questions such as how will they be able to imprint the same kind of service and duty attitude that they themselves were brought up with in the old royal world, in a time where royals are no longer raised apart from the rest of the people and have the same kind of requirements for keeping their status? And how can being a monarch or a royal be a calling and not a job? How can the younger generations learn not to take things for granted? And how can they keep royals from becoming too much like celebrities?
These are some of the issues for both present time and the future, but no matter what I hope that we can allow all people, monarchs or not, to be seen as equally useful and productive no matter their age. Personally I think that a long period of learning, preparation, freedom and time to raise a family is good, everyone should have the opportunity to amass some life experience before having to step up to something. An ageing monarch can simply scale back on their duties and let the family help more, if that’s what they need or wish to do, but age in itself should never be an argument for abdication. Monarchs like Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and King Bhumibol of Thailand are good examples that age is nothing but a number and that one is never too old to contribute and serve.
A few generations ahead, I hope that we will still be able to call the monarchy an anchor of the country, the guarantee for continuity, stability, and a connection to our history. The challenges are many but there is no reason why they can’t be met, and that’s why I remain a supporter of a constitutional, hereditary monarchy in its original form.