Absolute monarchy pros and cons: Yes, there are benefits and drawbacks to life under an authoritarian monarch. Here’s what both sides of the spectrum say. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
What is Absolute Monarchy?
Before dissecting absolute monarchy pros and cons, let’s review how this system works and its history.
Absolute monarchy is a political system in which a king or queen maintains complete authority over the state. An absolute monarch’s power isn’t limited by a constitution or governing laws. This supreme role as head of state is usually passed down through heredity.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, absolute monarchies originated in early modern Europe as the decentralized order of the Middle Ages collapsed. Leaders of newly formed nation-states assumed absolute authority to strengthen their power and that of their states. By the 18th century, absolute monarchies were widespread throughout Europe. To defend their authoritarian roles, absolute monarchs asserted that their power derived from God. This theory allowed monarchs to oversee the church as well as the state.
Today, a handful of absolute monarchies still exist. Saudi Arabia, the seven United Arab Emirates, Brunei in Southeast Asia, Swaziland in Africa, and Oman in the Arabian Peninsula are among these.
In contrast, the United Kingdom — arguably the world’s most famous monarchy — is a constitutional monarchy. In this form of government, the monarch shares its power with the constitutionally organized legislature and judiciary.
Absolute Monarchy Pros
Now, let’s explore absolute monarchy pros and cons, starting with the pros.
Historically, the primary benefit of an absolute monarchy was the ability to strengthen a nation’s power by consolidating all political power under one central leader. Rather than spreading power among many, absolute monarchy allowed kings and queens to lead their nations forward dissively.
Similar to communism — which also relies on one supreme leader — it’s believed that absolute monarchy allows for a more nimble government. Absolute monarchs have full decision-making power. They can dictate the country’s priorities and laws without wading through — or getting curtailed by — congressional or parliamentary processes. This benefit can be especially advantageous during national emergencies.
Another pro of absolute monarchy: the long-term tenure of monarchs. In most monarchies, the king or queen serves for life. Generations under one leadership style can provide additional stability for the people and allow governments to work toward long-standing goals. In contrast, the head of state of most republics and democracies typically changes every four to seven years.
Additionally, elections are expensive. Forgoing regular presidential, congressional, and parliamentary elections and maintaining one consistent leader can spell major cost savings for a nation.
Absolute Monarchy Cons
Next, let’s turn to cons of absolute monarchy. First, the people do not select absolute monarchs. The ruling family determines who will serve as the next king or queen, usually based on heredity. The people have no say in who leads their country and dictates the laws of their land. Absolute monarchs can allow citizens to elect a legislative body. However, the monarch retains absolute authority and can disregard election results.
People generally believe absolute monarchies enjoy less crime and more social order due to strict laws and heavy policing. However, without oversight of restrictions, policing, and the justice system, human rights can suffer greatly.
Additionally, absolute monarchies usually heavily restrict freedom of speech. Absolute monarchies can prohibit and harshly punish any speech and public protest against the royal family and its government.
However, absolute monarchies are at greater risk of societal rebellion. Absolute monarchs are under great pressure to keep the majority happy to avoid insurrection or a military coup, which can result in measures that oppress the minority.
Lastly, the life-long tenure of monarchs can be a bane for society. The inability to remove an ineffective leader can damage the economy for generations on end.
Absolute Monarchy Pros and Cons: What Both Sides Are Saying
Neither Republicans nor Democrats actively support absolute monarchy. The US has long held a complicated relationship with Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that controls the world’s second largest oil reserve. Activists criticize both Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden for failing to hold the crown accountable for human rights abuses.
However, pundits on both sides of the aisle throw weight behind constitutional monarchies.
The US owes a debt of gratitude to the British monarchy for creating due process and trial by jury, argues Joseph Loconte, PhD, in the conservative National Review. “No other political system at that time, anywhere in the world, upheld these basic concepts of justice. Foundational to the American constitutional order, they still have no place in many parts of the world today.”
Dylan Matthews, of the left-leaning news site Vox, calls constitutional monarchies “the best system of government known to man.” He argues monarchs are more democratically legitimate than presidents or prime ministers and more cost effective than presidencies.
American historian and Harvard professor Eric Nelson also asserts that America’s Founding Fathers designed the presidency with “far more power than any British monarch had wielded for almost a hundred years.”