The influence and relevance of royal families in modern times

Written on 23 November 2020

The dispute over whether countries should continue to support the historic institution of monarchy in modern times is a complex debate to resolve. The existence of monarchies is a divisive subject for many, and often provokes emotional reaction depending on who you ask. Nonetheless, the current composition of the world’s royal families and modern governance practices beg the question of how these institutions continue to be relevant. While many would like to point out these prominent dynasties as old-fashioned remnants of a by-gone era, there are many justifications to the contrary. Monarchy has a long history across the world, having been established as early as the Ancient Egyptians and taken root as a vital form of government for European nations from the Middle Ages until the First World War.

Currently, there are 26 distinct royal families that preside over 43 countries globally. Among them, there is an assorted mixture of different levels of authority and power. For most monarchies in modern times, the absolute right to dictate public policy that was held in earlier centuries has given way to purely symbolic and ceremonial responsibilities. At the same time, some nations continue to uphold the supreme reign of certain royal families. The enigma that monarchy resides in due to its continued prevalence as a traditional institution among today’s modern systems of democracy, makes it difficult to reconcile.

These monarchies endure for several key reasons. Monarchs exist above and beyond the daily political struggle of governments, as they represent their whole country despite political leanings. Hence, they are less inclined to be influenced by the views of the dominant political parties, and instead offer a more neutral representation of national pride. In the same vein of thought, our modern-day royals can establish a shared loyalty amidst the populace, regardless of class or ethnicity. For a world that is being overtaken by ever-increasing globalisation, the existence of a unifying royal family is fundamental to stabilising countries. Finally, monarchs embody the customs and traditions of a country, while also interacting with elements of the present. Essentially, royals can be described as the custodians of a country’s historical culture.

Even so, the criticisms levelled at modern monarchies continue to doubt the relevance of such institutions. Typically, arguments for this realm of thinking purport that monarchies promote unworthy successors, and in effect are unreflective of modern democracy. However, the overall support from the public provides an important function in enforcing accountability on these institutions. Kings and queens of the past, present and future, are subject to powerful scrutiny that generally hinders illegitimate conduct. The relationship between the monarchy and its people, remains a significant indicator of cultural and societal unity. The relevance of such an ancient hereditary institution is assured by this relationship.

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