At present time, Queen Elizabeth II has been on the English throne for 61 years. If she lasts another three, she’ll tie the record for the longest reign by a British monarch (my money’s on her doing it. She’s only in her 80’s, and her mother lived to be 100). There’s a reason that The King’s Speech was such a big hit: very few people are old enough to remember anyone else being on the throne. There’s a level of legitimacy in that all its own.
The nature of the monarch is sacral, traditional. Aristotle wrote of the earliest kind of Greek monarchy, that “was exercised over voluntary subjects, but limited to certain functions; the king was a general and judge, and had control of religion.” (Politics, III.xiv) They “embody the law.” This is more or less the role that Elizabeth, as a constitutional monarch, has; she decides not a single political question, but all political action occurs under her crown. Her authority is non-existent, her legitimacy, absolute. She is a sacral figure, quasi-mystical. And thus, the longer a monarch hangs around, the greater that legitimacy grows.
There are places where monarchs do more than that. Michael Totten just posted a dispatch from one such place, Morocco, where the King, Mohammad VI, is a real king, a giver of laws and settler of causes. One would have to be an American to be surprised that Morocco is one of the more liberal and tolerant places in the Arab world. Mohammad VI has been the beaux ideal of an enlightened monarch: liberalising institutions, permitting a modicum of free press, setting free the political prisoners of his father Hassan II. He does this without fear, because, like Elizabeth, his legitimacy is without question: his family has ruled Morocco since the 17th century, and his people believe him a stabilizing force: Continue reading → With Monarchy, the Name of the Game is Longevity.