Research Activities
Useful or Useless Relics? Today’s Strange Monarchies
2006 International Workshop No.2
■Speaker :Benedict Anderson, Professor of International Studies, Emeritus, Cornell University
■Place :REC Hall, Seta Campus, Ryukoku University
■Date :13 November 2006, 15:10-16:55
■Number :060004
Prof. Anderson has been working on the political culture of Southeast Asian countries, with a special focus on Indonesia. He became well known in Japan as well as in the world through the publication of his representative work, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.

At the workshop, Prof. Anderson took up the issue of the continued existence of monarchies and discussed the present-day significance of, and future outlook for, monarchies.

One hundred years ago, at the beginning of the twentieth century, most countries were monarchies. Changes were brought about, however, by major historical factors -- the spread of knowledge resulting from the development of printing technologies, numerous scientific discoveries resulting from the advancement of modern science (discoveries that overturned previously-held common assumptions), and the rise of nationalism that preached popular sovereignty and democracy. Thus the foundations were laid for a transition of political systems, and after the two world wars of the twentieth century, many countries abolished their monarchies. With the exception of Japan, all countries that were defeated in World Wars I and II abolished their monarchies, while the victorious and neutral countries maintained theirs, albeit in a new form. Are the monarchies that continue to exist today useful legacies, or useless relics?

Posing this question, Prof. Anderson indicated that modern monarchies have changed to serve the needs of modern society including the acceptance of the sexual norm of the middle-class, and have worked to promote the significance of their own existence through proactive participation in charitable activities. He also suggested possible significant roles that can be played by modern monarchies. That is, monarchs can serve as a symbol of a nation, and if overly ambitious politicians fail to reflect upon the welfare of the people and concentrate their efforts on expanding their own power and protecting their own interests, a monarch who is above political rivalries can act as an alternative authority that can bring the society together. Thus Prof. Anderson suggested that, rather than simply being relics from the past, monarchies can serve certain roles in halting the decline of democracy.

However, he also touched upon one problem of contemporary monarchies, i.e., the problem of succession. Under traditional systems, some kind of rivalry factor was involved in the decision of a successor. However, as the system of primogeniture became widely accepted, the scope of successor candidates became extremely narrow. It might be safe to say that with the dismantling of the traditional systems that supported monarchies, now it is the character and personality of the monarchs themselves and the acceptance of female monarchs that hold the keys to the continuation of the old system of monarchies.