Rule by a hereditary monarchy was the apex of a feudal system; it might be accepted because it is traditional, but it needs to govern well
Monarchies, exerting what Max Weber described as “'traditional' domination” in paragraph 8 of his lecture Politics as a Vocation, used to be more common than they are now. Some monarchs claimed a religious mandate, or even claimed that they themselves were divine, to increase their legitimacy and strengthen their hold on the people. In these situations the religious authorities and the monarchies supported each other in an exercise of joint power.
The Saudi Arabian government is a more recent example of rule by a hereditary monarchy, created by a successful dictator setting up a dynasty. It shares the same problem as other hereditary monarchies: it can only justify itself by being seen to govern well. It is now starting to modernise, but Prospect Magazine has asked the question: Can Mohammed bin Salman really save Saudi Arabia?
A constitutional monarch, in complete contrast, doesn't govern the country. The role of the Monarchy in Britain, for example, is described on its website – which notes that “the ability to make and pass legislation resides with an elected Parliament”, but “The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity.” It is valuable to have a strong sense of national identity, but that cannot come from a government whose role in a democracy is time-limited by definition. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden, among others, have all chosen this model of sovereignty – whereas in America, for example, people rally around the flag as a symbol of shared identity.
(This is an archive of a page intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. The latest versions are at book contents).