Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

May 2, 2013

Why do so many European countries still have monarchs?

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated on Tuesday, making way for her son Willem-Alexander to become the first Dutch king in more than a century. European monarchs are largely powerless. Why do so many countries keep them around?

Because breaking up is hard to do. When asked whether they want to keep their monarchies, large majorities of Europeans answer "yes." Around 80 percent of Dutch subjects want the royal family to stick around, and about the same proportion of U.K. citizens favor Queen Elizabeth II. But there's a quirk in the polling data: Fewer than 1 in 4 Britons think the monarchy will actually last another century. This suggests that Europeans envision a future without kings and queens but don't personally want to undertake the national convulsion that might accompany the change. Although monarchs these days are more likely to be voted out rather than guillotined or shot, overthrowing a monarch is an act of revolution, and Europeans have long since lost their taste for sudden political change. Countries historically only overthrow monarchies after a major crisis makes the system untenable. Kaiser Wilhelm, for example, was blamed for Germany's defeat in World War I. Italy's House of Savoy was overthrown for tolerating Mussolini, after a contentious national referendum.

Powerless monarchs bewilder many Americans, but, in fact, the arguments for and against them are fairly evenly balanced. Royal families are apolitical symbols of national unity and, in ideal circumstances, sources of pride. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, for example, became a national hero when she fled the Nazis and encouraged resistance from abroad. Monarchs sometimes intervene when the government veers off track. Spanish King Juan Carlos notably turned back fascism after the death of Franco. During the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, Queen Elizabeth's representative righted the teetering government by ousting the scandal-ridden prime minister. Many Europeans also have genuine affection for their monarchs. On a more mundane level, monarchs can be lucrative. The British royal family brings tourists to England in droves.

The financial costs of monarchy are fairly modest. The British royal family, for example, costs the average taxpayer less than $1 per year and probably brings in far more than that in tourism dollars. (The Dutch monarchy takes home somewhat larger paychecks.) The more significant costs of monarchy are harder to measure. Critics argue that an aging white person is a lousy national symbol for an increasingly diverse Europe. Moreover, some political scientists theorize that a monarch undermines the feeling of ownership a citizen should have for his government. Then there's the obvious problem of having an unaccountable hereditary leader sitting atop a democracy, even if the job entails very little power.

Without a convincing argument for or against their positions, the surviving European monarchs have proven surprisingly adept politically. They have surrendered power and land in exchange for their jobs. They have adapted their images to suit the times. The Dutch royal family are, along with their Danish and Scandinavian counterparts, the so-called "bicycle monarchs," who eschew the pomp of a royal cavalcade for a simple bicycle, giving them the appearance of being an ordinary family. Willem-Alexander has neutralized the charge that he symbolizes the Netherlands of the past by marrying an Argentine woman, and the couple is regularly photographed visiting schools full of immigrant children. The British royal family works for a variety of charitable causes, in part to give their subjects a good reason to keep them.

    

 

1
Text Only
Slate
  • baby-generic.jpg For millennials, out-of-wedlock childbirth is the norm

    This month brings us yet another reminder that, for young Americans, having children outside of marriage is very much "the new normal," as The New York Times once put it.

    June 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • May 2014 was the hottest may in recorded history

    According to new data released this week, May 2014 is officially the warmest May in recorded history.
    Both NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency have tentatively ranked May at the top of historical measurements, though NASA's numbers are preliminary because crucial information is still missing from China.

    June 20, 2014

  • GM recalls soar past 20 million. Why don't consumers care?

    In case you thought there couldn't possibly be another General Motors recall so soon, you're just not thinking big enough. This week, GM said it was recalling 3.36 million more cars. The cause: an ignition switch defect that could result in keys carrying extra weight (read: a keychain) to slip out of position and shut the vehicle off abruptly during "some jarring event."

    June 18, 2014

  • No one is against devoted dads

    Father's Day is Sunday, which means that it's time for pundits and politicians to scold the American public - with special ire reserved for black members of the American public - for our supposed indifference to the wonder and awe of fatherhood.

    June 12, 2014

  • 74129880-graduates.jpg The fate of the overeducated and underemployed

    According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, about 44 percent of young bachelor's degree holders lucky enough to be working are employed in positions that technically don't require their degree. While that number isn't far off from the historical norm — 22-year-olds have always needed a little time to find their professional footing — the fraction stuck scraping bottom in truly low-paying jobs has grown quite a bit since the recession.

    June 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Skype's real-time language translator

    This week at Re/Code's Code Conference, Microsoft announced a real-time, multilingual translation beta called Skype Translate. The service can mediate between two video chatterers who speak different languages by providing text and audio translation after each person finishes speaking. Currently the service works for English and German, but Microsoft says it will support other languages soon. The beta will be released later this year.

    May 29, 2014

  • New Orleans does away with traditional public schools

    The second-graders paraded to the Dumpster in the rear parking lot, where they chucked boxes of old work sheets, notebooks and other detritus into the trash, emptying their school for good.

    May 29, 2014

  • Amazon sells steroids and stimulants banned in sports

    I have by no means executed a comprehensive search of wares sold by Amazon directly or through its third-party sellers, but I found other prescription drugs for sale without a prescription, including the antibiotic norfloxacin and the muscle relaxant methocarbamol. Both compounds, like clindamycin, warrant careful oversight to avoid complications or endangering public health, such as by breeding antibiotic resistance.

    May 29, 2014

  • 2010-Winter-Olympic-Games-001.jpg Nobody wants to host the Winter Olympics

    If we end up watching slopestyle from the Central Asia steppes in 2022, it will likely be because it's becoming clear that nobody in Europe wants to host these Olympics anymore. Publics may finally be getting wise to the fact that the long-term economic benefits of hosting mega-events like the Olympics or the World Cup are usually negligible at best.

    May 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Woman sues a New York Hospital for forcing a C-section. Can doctors do that?

    Though Dray's doctor claims he did not force her to have a C-section, her hospital record included a note signed by the hospital's director of maternal and fetal medicine that said, "I have decided to override her refusal to have a C-section."

    May 21, 2014