Monday, September 26

Monarchy and democracy: the death of Diana of Wales and Elizabeth II

The death of Diana of Wales anticipated the unique relationship between the monarchical institution and democracy, whose consistency will be put to the test after the death of Elizabeth II. Carlos III will be the bearer of this unique relationship on whose execution the fate of the monarchy will depend. From England and from all the others.

The death of Diana of Wales in one way and that of Elizabeth II in a completely different way remind us of the democratic anomaly of the monarchical institution. Anomaly that is insurmountable, because the monarchy collides head-on with the two basic principles on which democracy rests as a political form: the principle of equality and the representative nature of all political power.

For this reason, democracy is a formally egalitarian and representative form of political organization. And that is why the monarchical institution is also a wedge of another wood. Democracy is a project for the rational organization of power, both in its origin and in its exercise, and in said project there is no place for a hereditary magistracy. Inheritance is an institution consistent with private property, but not with the power of the State, which is a political form that is essentially characterized by the separation of political power from property. Political power cannot belong to anyone, but must belong to everyone. Hence the demand for universal suffrage. This is what differentiates democracy from all other forms of organization of power known in the history of mankind.

In democracy, the monarchy is unjustifiable in rational terms. Where its justification still stands is for purely historical reasons. It is a consequence of the weight of the monarchical institution in the process of formation of the national State in the European continent. For this reason, although the French Revolution and the subsequent processes through which the Ancien RĂ©gime in Europe was put to an end were anti-monarchical in principle, they were not institutionally anti-monarchical. In Europe at the end of the eighteenth century and for most of the nineteenth century, a non-monarchical political form was unimaginable. Centuries of absolute monarchy still weighed too heavily.

Since then, this contradiction of principles and institutions has marked the evolution of all European monarchies without exception, always resolving the same in case of conflict in favor of the democratic principle and against the monarchical institution. At least from a double perspective.

In the first place, those monarchies that did not know how to adapt institutionally to the new principles of the Constitutional State, that is, those that did not know how to become parliamentary monarchies throughout the 19th century and in which the King continued to be a real and effective power of the State, were incompatible with the very existence of the Constitutional State in the transition from liberalism to democracy in the first decades of the 20th century. They would therefore be swept away by history. This is the case of the Central European, German and Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish authoritarian monarchies, although the latter, unlike the others, could resist as a result of the military rebellion led by General Franco and the civil War.

Secondly, the monarchies that knew how to adapt institutionally to the Constitutional State throughout the 19th century and thus managed to survive the democratic tide after the First World War, have undergone a process of democratization sui generis which makes them depend for their survival less and less on their hereditary character and, therefore, on their historical legitimacy, and more on their acceptance by public opinion.

The monarchy is, therefore, a historical anomaly that has had to be corrected by the Constitutional State, either through its suppression pure and simple, or by submitting it, in a unique way of course, to that axiom of democratic constitutionalism according to which “all power proceeds from the people.” The monarchy has either ceased to exist, or where it still exists, it has become an institution enormously dependent on public opinion. Its legitimacy of origin is not enough to continue justifying its existence in our days, but it also needs a legitimacy of exercise, which it can only obtain from its harmony with public opinion.

This evolution of the relationship between monarchy and democracy is what dramatically externalized the death of Diana of Wales. From a political-constitutional perspective, it was and still is, by far, the most significant part of that tragic accident. That which most affected the institutional design of the United Kingdom.

The impact of the death of Diana of Wales was the most visible proof of the change that has taken place in the justification of the monarchical institution in the democratic State of our days. The death of Isabel II underlines it again with much greater intensity.

What both deaths, each in its own way, come to show is that an institution whose political usefulness resided, initially, in its hereditary nature, that is, in the fact that the head of State was guaranteed by an order of succession perfectly defined and the first magistracy of the country was protected from the ups and downs of public opinion, thus becoming a symbol of the unity and permanence of the State. It has come to need a completely different justification. Different and not opposed, but provided that historical legitimacy is subordinated to democratic legitimacy. If this does not happen, the distinction turns into opposition and the monarchical institution cannot survive.

In other words: it is precisely because the monarchy is a hereditary magistracy, because the monarch cannot be evicted from the head of state every four years, that is why the demand for its daily acceptance by public opinion is even more accentuated than with respect to of the elected magistracies (although in a different way, of course). The personal element, the human factor, which is what was intended to be abstracted when establishing the monarchy as a form of State and which in fact has been abstracted in all monarchical States, has become an element of capital importance in the monarchy since the final years of the last century.

This is what anticipated the death of Diana of Wales and what is being raised now with much more intensity with the death of Elizabeth II. This is the challenge that the new King Carlos III has to face, in which the constitutional message of the death of the one who was his wife and the one who has been his mother converge. The monarchy, like the nation in Renan’s famous definition, has become a kind of permanent plebiscite. Elizabeth II’s execution as queen has been the best known example to date.

We will see if Carlos III is up to the challenge that the comparison with his mother’s performance will entail. Challenge that affects not only the survival of the British monarchy, but the monarchy in general. It is unlikely that the other European monarchies can survive the disappearance of the British.

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