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  • Writer's pictureSimon Vincent

The Power of the Monarchy

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II sits on her throne after the Coronation in Westminister Abbey. Photo from Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

"What exactly is the point of the Monarchy?" In the wake of the passing of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, many might have asked this question. Hundreds of millions tuned in to watch the Queen's funeral service and the myriads of archaic rituals that followed. It seems perplexing to the modern man that we still put so much effort into continuing an ancient form of government. Critics demand abolishment, claiming that taxpayers’ money could go to a much better cause than the privileged lives of the Royals. As King Charles III now assumes the throne, it becomes necessary to examine the question: what is the purpose of this monarchy?

We first need to examine the three branches of Government:

1. The Executive.

2. The Legislative

3. The Judicial. But there is a fourth branch of Government that is often overlooked, though it is the Heart of the nation itself:

4. The Symbolic.

While the first three branches are tangible and functional, the fourth is usually less visible, yet equally present. The symbolic power of governments is what gives legitimacy to the three other branches to operate. It relates to the government's role as the beneficiary of all its citizens, regardless of race, gender, class, or - crucially - political affiliation. Without healthy symbolic power, in other words, the government is just a corporation of individuals bossing about its citizens.

So how is symbolic power managed, and why does it matter? We will answer this question by contrasting the United States - a proud Republic - and the United Kingdom.

The United States: Symbolic Power in Republics

In the United States, symbolic power is inherited from the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. Both these are venerated religiously, as they bestow legitimacy to the elected President and are intended to enshrine the American vision. The President, in turn, is expected to take up the symbolic baton as the Head of State.

Perhaps the most perilous risk of this structure is that the elected President is supposed to wield both political and symbolic power. Keep in mind that the President is bred in a political party, with obvious loyalty to his/her voters. To expect this politician to represent all citizens is naïve at best. How often do we hear the criticism “President so-and-so does not represent me!” Well – how could they? They are there to implement their party’s political agenda.

Moreover, combining both executive and symbolic power is arguably quite excessive for one single person. The outcome is that these politicians become idolized to an intense degree. A review of the cultish following of Donald Trump or Barack Obama will suffice to make this point. Career politicians suddenly take center stage as the Fathers of the nation, and their spouses as the First Ladies of America. A new royalty – but one with political agendas.[1]

Yet, after all this praise and adoration, the Head of State is replaced every 4 to 8 years. Thus, the Symbolic leader of the Nation is by definition, unstable. The Symbolic Branch of Government is, by consequence, embroiled in the erratic and hostile world of politics. One can intuitively see how this could reinforce internal unrest, instead of countering it.

The United Kingdom: Symbolic Power in Monarchies

Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Jimmy Carter at Buckingham Palace, 1977. Photo from PA/ZUMA PRESS.

If we then look “across the pond” to the United Kingdom, we see a very different situation. Here, the Executive and Symbolic branches are very clearly separated in an irreducible manner because the Symbolic branch is made equally tangible and visible as the Executive. It is firmly institutionalized as the Constitutional Monarchy.

Its hallmarks are:

1: Separation of symbolic and political power

The Monarch holds only symbolic power, while the Prime Minister and the Cabinet hold political power. This allows Prime Ministers to be replaced as much as they need to without the expense of the symbolic image. Monarchs, as non-political actors, become immune to political division, which enables them to genuinely represent all People.

2: Engaging and unifying symbolism

The Monarchs are tasked to represent our highest good – the summit of what the nation believes in. Here, the nation’s history, traditions, faith, and culture, are all made tangible and visible to its citizens. And since this symbolic role is performed by a living person from a valid lineage, it becomes very real, engaging the people in a much greater capacity than, say, a historical document or historical person ever could. The Monarch becomes the one thing that binds everyone and everything, together in unity.

"(The Monarchy becomes) a visible point above multiplicity that is able to gather our attention and make us realise that we are One, we share a national identity, a home, a culture, and land...that therefore unites us despite our local differences."

- Jonathan Pageau, Canadian iconographer and scholar in his "God Save the King" podcast episode.

The Queen opens the Parliament. Photo by Fox Photos.

3: A solid structure that improves Democracy.

That is why all Ministers of Parliament, government agents, armed forces, and servicemen swear allegiance to the Queen or King not a politician. Every government document, all monies, are made valid in the name of the Monarch. It serves as a humbling reminder to the Prime Minister ("PM"). No matter how popular, the PM is always a servant to the Monarch. In addition, the Monarch outlives the politicians, making them sound advisors of long-term priorities to short-term thinking politicians.

When Queen Elizabeth II died, Britain’s previous Prime Ministers – who have fought viciously with each other for power – stood shoulder to shoulder in the crowd and proclaimed God Save the King. For a moment, they set aside their differences to mourn the Queen they all loved, and swear allegiance to their new King. A powerful re-orientation of shared loyalty. Of unity and identity.

Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Theresa May, and John Major, as well as Opposition Leader Sir Keir Starmer, stand shoulder-by-shoulder to proclaim "God Save the King" in King Charles III proclamation. Photo by: Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

This is not to say that a modern Republic is inherently flawed, or that a Constitutional Monarchy is flawless. For instance, a resentful and demotivated Monarch can do great damage as the Head of State. But then again, a selfless and gracious Monarch can do great good.

This is why Queen Elizabeth II was so beloved. Already at age 25, as Crown Princess, she declared: "my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service." And indeed, with elegance and grace, she spent her entire reign without a single personal scandal - a remarkable achievement and a testament to her unrelenting devotion to her duty. This made her, in particular, a beacon of stability and beauty for both the people and the government. Not only did she prove that the Monarchy can coexist in a modern world - she showed how it is absolutely necessary that it does.

I personally flew in to London to bow before Queen Elizabeth II one last time. What I saw there, shocked me. Read about the historic event here:


[1] The simultaneous concentration of political and symbolic power was, after all, what the West strived to separate when removing the absolute power of its traditional Monarchs.

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