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The Emasculation of a King

[T]he monarchies were overthrown. And even where monarchies remained nominally in existence, as in Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries, monarchs no longer exercised any governing power.

~ Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed

Last February King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden went on an official visit to the Sultanate of Brunei. Two monarchs met. Perhaps that’s not very interesting, but on second thought perhaps it is after all. The Swedish King is one of the most emasculated monarchs in the world, if not the most emasculated. He wishes to go on an official visit to Brunei. The Swedish Cabinet decides whether he may go. The Cabinet accepts. The King visits Brunei on the same trip on which he goes to Vietnam, with which Swedish socialist politicians want to maintain good relations.

The present day monarchs of Europe are little more than figureheads. However, they do have formal, reserve, and advisory powers. The Queen of Great Britain formally signs every law. Her Britannic Majesty formally appoints the Cabinet of the United Kingdom and governors around the world. The King of Norway formally has a delaying veto when it comes to certain acts of Parliament. He normally meets with the Cabinet every Friday at 11 o’clock. These Cabinet meetings make all Cabinet decisions. The Cabinet as a whole can make no decisions on its own. The politicians may receive advice and critical questions, which hopefully make them think, but in the end they have their way. All over Europe, the monarch’s powers are limited to formal, reserve, and advisory powers. Liechtenstein and Monaco come as exceptions to this rule.

The King of Sweden has no role in the appointment of Cabinet and no veto of whatever kind when it comes to acts of Parliament. He generally does not meet with Cabinet. He presides a few times over Cabinet, i.e., for informational purposes and when there is a change of Cabinet. He formally appoints ambassadors; he himself being the foremost ambassador. This is due to international law requiring ambassadors to be received and appointed by the head of state. He has some other representative and ceremonial duties. Most Swedes believe he should be no more than the foremost ambassador. With no other formal powers than ambassador appointments and power over the Royal House, the latter a power shared with politicians, the King of Sweden cannot be said to have the reserve powers which by quite a few modern monarchists are said to be essential in democracies where ambitious politicians represent a potential danger, Hitler’s rise to power perhaps being the most common example of what needs to be stopped by a bulwark. You cannot guard a constitution without the means to do so.

King Carl XVI Gustaf receives information on the affairs of the state. This provides a good basis for giving advice to politicians who come and go. In Britain and Norway, the monarch and the Premier have a conference, which provides a good basis for advice, and hence, for, at least to some extent, balancing the short-term mindset of democratically elected politicians. Walter Bagehot has explained this in The English Constitution (also available online):

To state the matter shortly, the sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn. And a king of great sense and sagacity would want no others. He would find that his having no others would enable him to use these with singular effect. He would say to his minister: “The responsibility of these measures is upon you. Whatever you think best must be done. Whatever you think best shall have my full and effectual support. But you will observe that for this reason and that reason what you propose to do is bad; for this reason and that reason what you do not propose is better. I do not oppose, it is my duty not to oppose; but observe that I warn.” Supposing the king to be right, and to have what kings often have, the gift of effectual expression, he could not help moving his minister. He might not always turn his course, but he would always trouble his mind.

In addition, in Norway you have the weekly Cabinet meetings presided over by the monarch. In Sweden, there is a good basis for an advisory role, even though such a role is not constitutionally provided for. However, it seems that the Swedish kind of political correctness leaves little room for such a role. It seems the phrase “he is not to meddle in politics” is taken to the extreme. Moreover, without the formal role of being a superior an advisory role will easily not have the same effect. Walter Bagehot explains in The English Constitution:

The king would indeed have the advantage which a permanent under-secretary has over his superior the parliamentary secretary – that of having shared in the proceedings of the previous parliamentary secretaries. […] A pompous man easily sweeps away the suggestions of those beneath him. But though a minister may so deal with his subordinate, he cannot so deal with his king. The social force of admitted superiority by which he overturned his under-secretary is now not with him, but against him.

Swedish democratic egalitarianism has gone so far as to include the King in the citizenry. The King even has a right to vote in elections. This right, however, is not exercised. It would though perhaps be an irony of history if the Swedish monarch were not the most emasculated, or at least if he were the least emasculated in Europe. The Royal House of Sweden is the House of Bernadotte. King Carl XIV Johan was born Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a French general and son of the French Revolution, the cradle of modern democracy. He was made Crown Prince of Sweden in 1810 to succeed the childless King Carl XIII.

The Sultan of Brunei is often described as an absolute monarch. Elections have not been held in Brunei since 1962. Now, what’s so bad about that? We see what has happened in the West with the “blessings” of democratic elections. Well, perhaps I’m being a bit harsh? Montesquieu did have a point in valuing the British mixed government. However, what really should worry are the allegations of real rights violations. But critics of the government in Brunei don’t seem to see the difference. The misconceived dictum that liberty and democracy necessarily are compatible has the high ground, as so often is the case.

Now, the perhaps most emasculated monarch in the world, a representative of democratic monarchy, and an absolute monarch meet. This is maybe the greatest contrast when it comes to monarchs one can get in today’s world. It’s worth remembering in this world of the ideology of conformity and global democracy. The Sultan of Brunei is probably no angel, but he should not necessarily be viewed as a demon for suspending elections.

I might add that if Hans-Hermann Hoppe were ever to receive The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel [sic, it’s not actually a Nobel Prize], he would receive it from the hands of the King or Queen of Sweden. This would perhaps be as contrasting, if not even more; an economist valuing the monarchies of the old order over modern day democracies receiving this prestigious prize from the hands of perhaps the most ceremonial monarch of them all; the most emasculated monarch on the planet.

This state visit would likely have passed without much notice in Scandinavia were it not for that His Majesty The King of Sweden made a statement; “a country which is much more open than one may imagine." Of course, the Sultanate of Brunei is an absolute undemocratic monarchy, and hence, no nice things can be said about the way the country is run. There was an immediate uproar among Swedish politicians. Their foremost representative couldn’t say such a thing. Sweden is a democracy, and hence, represents the good. Brunei is an absolute monarchy, and hence, represents the bad. This is a variant of the attitude Russell Kirk refers to in Popular Government, i.e., the Animal Farm attitude: “four legs good, two legs bad."

Soon after His Majesty’s return to Sweden the Premier requested a conference. The Premier met with the King at the Royal Palace in Stockholm. His Majesty regretted his statement, and the routines for state visits were going to be reviewed. A few days later it was decided that His Majesty would in the future always be accompanied by a Cabinet secretary (see story), i.e., he is not to be trusted in the future. Basically, what they are saying is that although they want him as head of state, they can’t let him go around without a nanny.

When it comes to what can and cannot be said, Swedish socialists have double standards, which should come as no surprise. As mentioned above, this royal trip included a visit to Vietnam. The Swedish government wants to maintain good relations with this country. The governments of the two countries are actively cooperating, and Vietnam is on the Swedish development aid budget. As one might guess, there are almost no limits to what good things one might say about the communist government of Vietnam. The Swedish socialists are living up to their traditions. In the days of Moi in Kenya and Nyerere in Tanzania, to the Swedish government Nyerere was an angel, representing a socialism of their liking, and Moi a despot, representing something closer to capitalism. The truth is that neither were angels, but not so in the eyes of the Swedish socialists. This fits nicely into the worldview that socialist dictatorships are benevolent and other dictatorships malevolent; a worldview which sadly is widely accepted in today’s world.

Politicians believe that they know how to represent in a civilized manner. However, there is evidence of the contrary. Swedish Premier Gran Persson went to the Nobel dinner last December. As a leading politician he was seated next to Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria. Of course, being present at this prestigious dinner in all ways was obviously too much to ask. His cell phone was more important.

Recently, royalty and politicians from all over Europe gathered in Spain to pay their respects to the victims of the March 11 bombings. Sweden sent no royalty, and the politician that was sent was the deputy treasury secretary. The excuse was that all Cabinet secretaries are of equal rank. Maybe so in the minds of Swedish believers in egalitarianism, but what matters in representation is the real world.

Shortly after the Brunei incident it turned out that the King was inspired by a memorandum from the Swedish Department of Foreign Affairs when he made his statement. Politicians control this department, so they are responsible for the statement after all. The King, however, never tried to decry the politicians for this in the way that he was decried. That says something about character.

There are a few statements that King Carl XVI Gustaf has made that are quite politically incorrect. For instance, he has publicly stated that he was opposed to the sacking of Crown Prince Carl Philip, and that men are better fit for the throne. Of course, one could argue that making such controversial statements publicly is not wise for a monarch whose main tasks consist of, among others, to be a unifying national symbol across political divides. However, perhaps the making of such statements is a symptom of emasculation. Maybe it is a symptom that the removal of even the monarchy’s role of guidance isn’t working too well. If so, this should be taken seriously. The advisory role is a remnant of the old regal powers and an important one indeed.

Lots of people believe that more and more of the regal duties successfully can be transferred to democratically elected politicians and their appointees. Experience suggests otherwise.

May 11, 2004