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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Forms of Government Other than Democracy: Monarchy

Monarchy is one of the earliest and ancient forms of government that existed in almost all the countries of the world prior to the relatively recent emergence of democracy, communism and military dictatorship etc as alternate systems of government.

Monarchy is rulership over a political entity (state or nation or a set of states or nations) by one individual (i.e. undivided sovereignty) who inherits his or her position by hereditary succession, is crowned and reigns for life (until death or abdication).

Ancient monarchies appear to have been elective originally but dynasties (hereditary succession) became customary in times to come.

The ruler is called a monarch or king (male) or queen (female). So monarchy is a government by a monarch.

People who were ruled were made to believe that the monarch exercised authority by the will of god rather than by the choice of the people.

Therefore, the powers of a monarch were unlimited- the monarchical absolutism. The 16th and 17th centuries mark the height of absolute monarchy. Its theoretical justification in the doctrine of divine right was exemplified by Henry VII and Henry VIII of England, Louis XIV of France and Catherine II of Russia.

Deification (considering that monarch was a god sent or was an agent of divine will) was general in ancient Egypt, Middle East and Asia and it was also practiced during certain periods in ancient Greece and Rome.

There were certain exceptions to monarchical absolutism e.g. Britain’s parliament was able to restrict the sovereign's freedom of action, particularly through the Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights (1689).

The Glorious Revolution in England (1688) and the French Revolution (1789) gave absolute monarchy a severe blow. World War I effectively destroyed what remained of it.

In some cases, the monarchy developed into the constitutional monarchy in Western Europe, though absolute (or near-absolute) monarchies continue to exist in Middle East. Notable constitutional monarchies include Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Thailand.

Currently, 44 nations in the world have monarchs as heads of state, 16 of which are Commonwealth territories that recognize Queen/King of Great Britain as their head of state. The historical form of absolute monarchy is retained only in Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland and Vatican City.

Over the past 200 years democratic self-government has been established and extended to such an extent that a true functioning monarchy is a rare occurrence in both East and West except for certain exceptions cited earlier.

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