Left: Thailand's Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (far right) greets Crown Princess Mette-Marit from Norway; photo courtesy of CNN
(Bangkok, Thailand) Representatives from 22 of the world's 44 remaining monarchies are expected to arrive in Thailand to mark the 60th anniversary of the accession to the throne by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Of those 44 countries with a monarch at the head of state, 16 are part of the British Commonwealth, and include such countries as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Thus, Queen Elizabeth II "speaks" for 16 nations; Prince Andrew is the UK representative being paraded past the crowds of Thais.
I am amazed that this outmoded form of government continues to hold on to some power. True, most of the remaining monarchies are constitutional in nature (Bhutan, Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland and the United Arab Emirates are the only absolute monarchies left), but a great deal of expense is associated with the upkeep of these historical anomalies. Great Britain spends over $40 million per year to keep its royals feted in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.
Even more interesting are the number of monarchophiles in the United States and in other countries that do not have a monarch. An estimated 700 million people worldwide watched the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981, while some 33 million Americans watched all or part of the 25 hours of network coverage of the funeral of Diana in 1997.
By comparison, the televised funeral of President Ronald Reagan - arguably the most popular American leader of the last few decades - was viewed by 36 million Americans.
Despite our professed love of democratic traditions, many Americans seem to have an odd fascination with the idea of monarchy. Perhaps the rise of the imperial presidency, which many historians trace to the era of Theodore Roosevelt, owes a debt to monarchophiles. That presidency witnessed the beginning of a gradual increase in the power of the executive branch.
The founding fathers feared and hated monarchy. George Washington was reluctant to accept a second term for fear of setting a monarchical precedent, and he adamantly refused to seek a third term for the same reason. Jefferson perhaps foreshadowed the rise of the imperial presidency with this quote:
"The general [federal] government will tend to monarchy, which will fortify itself from day to day, instead of working its own cures."
As I write this, my 15-year-old son is playing "God Save the Queen," the anti-monarchy anthem by the Sex Pistols.
Moments like this give me hope for the future, but if I turn on one of the cable news channels, I will likely see more of the ostentatious frivolity being lauded on the world's monarchs in Thailand.
I think I'll leave the television off today.