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Monarchy of various kind have been the prevailing type of government for the vast majority of human existence. A good, brief, definition would be a state where all authority rests in the hands of one person, or a small group of specifically defined persons. A very good general discussion of monarchy can be found at the Related Link below.


Generally speaking, the greatest advantage of absolute monarchy is the clarity of the locus of power. The people of the state know exactly who wields the power of the state, since all power resides in a single defined person or group of persons. The benefit of this clarity is the relative absence of other persons or groups who can try to legitimately claim the right to rule. Another benefit is that there is generally a very defined succession of power. For example, in a traditional western hereditary monarchy, the eldest son of the the monarch gains power upon the death of the previous monarch. If there is no son, then to the eldest daughter, etc. This clarity of succession of power likewise prevents other competing claims of legitimate power which would cause conflict and undermine the stability of the state. In addition, centralization of power allows a better and cohesive military and diplomatic defence of the nation's interests against other competing powers. There are many other advantages, but these are the top three. In ancient times, these advantages far outweighed the disadvantages of other systems. Limitations in communication, literacy, the impossibility of easy travel over long distances, rendered participatory systems such as democracy impossible in all but the very smallest of nation states such as Athens, Greece.


Clearly, one of the disadvantages of absolute monarchy is the selection of a ruler by means which did not include capability or a dedication to the desires and needs of the population. In ancient times, one of the assurances that a monarch would rule in the interests of the nation was to give the monarch ownership over all land and persons who reside therein. The belief was that people generally foster and protect what is theirs, and a monarch would do so. In ancient times, a monarch's power over the daily lives of the populace was fairly limited by the historical limits of communication, and insulated by distance. Therefore, the ability of a ruler to create a military and diplomatic system to protect his or her interests, and around whom the populace could rally in times of emergency, outweighed the threat of the arbitrary and abusive use of power over a subjects daily life. In other words, having an idiot in charge was better than having no one in charge at all.

A monarchical system is slow to adapt to changing circumstances. An absolute monarch is necessarily surrounded by those who derive power from the continuation of the system as it is. Therefore, there exists substantial inertia to political and social change which which may effect or threaten the status quo.

A monarchical system can be subject to a claim of the right to rule that derive from sources outside the established system of rule. The disruptive effects of these claims can outweigh the benefits of absolute monarchy. The papacies competing claims to power during medieval times were founded upon a religious doctrine that divine right trumped hereditary claims to rule. Similarly, evolving political philosophies (such as those espoused by john Locke) that power is given over by those to be governed became the driving force for change during the renaissance. During the industrial revolution, communism's claims that scientific principles of social/economic evolution became a claim of right to govern all nations and peoples by Bolshevik/Leninist groups. In modern times, religious claims to the right rule are substantially undermining monarchical systems in Islamic countries such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Some monarchical systems such as Great Britain, very slowly but relatively peacefully, evolved democratic accommodations in response to those competing claims of the right to rule. Others, such as France, Russia and China, could not evolve, requiring domestic revolution and great internal upheaval. Others, such as Germany, Japan, and most recently Iraq, had democracy imposed by outside powers, in part because the monarchical system was unable to adapt to changes that modern times required.

A monarchical system can act in a destructive manner. Since a ruler in a monarchical system rules by claim of absolute right, there is usually no adequate established means to remove the monarch who is exorcising that power to destroy the state, or damage the populace. For example, when Rome needed a ruler to defend the state, the long insane Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

(and yes, I know that Rome at this time was in fact a hybrid autocratic authoritarian regime, with a aristocracy functioning on a derelict but nominally existent limited participatory semi-democratic Senate, which had really decayed into something more feudal than anything else, but it was a good example, anyway - so don't edit it out.)

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Q: What are some advantages and disadvantages of a monarch ruling with absolute power?
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