Monarchy and ideology

12 02 2022

A few years ago, British political scientist Vernon Bogdanor argued in The Monarchy and the Constitution that the British monarchy was able to modernize by becoming more utilitarian. Commenting on the 1990s era of turmoil, he believed

… the main change the Queen has overseen during her reign is the transformation “from a rather magical monarchy to a public service monarchy”.

“In 1952 we were a very deferential society. Apparently, one third of people thought she had been chosen by God.” The monarchy was a “distant and remote institution”. Now “it is a much more utilitarian institution, to be judged by what it contributes to public service and community feeling”, said Bogdanor.

As The Economist recently commented:

legitimacy [now] rest[s]… on the good it does. It became necessary for royals to be hardworking and do-gooding. It embraced the rhetoric of meritocracy: never mind how the queen got her job, what mattered was that she performed it as well as any elected head of state. Intimacy succeeded reverence….

In a sense, this is what King Bhumibol and his advisers did. They made Bhumibol a demi-god, but one known to the people and perceived by them as “good” and busy for them.

But Vajiralongkorn appears to have rejected this image and ideology, preferring to be less seen, less connected to the country, and lazier, barely bothering to be seen doing anything much at all. He seems more interested in power and intimidation rather than “public service.” If a modern monarch is not seen as useful, does he have a future? Does the monarchy have a future?


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