Over at Pajamas Media, Bill Toddler writes about the new Thai constitution, and in giving background on the military coup that overthrew the previous nominally elected government observes:
Thaksin’s real mistake might have been drawing the ire of the King. No Thai official before him had received so many public rebukes from His Royal Highness.
It is interesting, I think, to see how a monarch or other type of unelected authority often acts to moderate the extreme actions of government leaders, elected or otherwise.
In many countries only such a figure as a hereditary ruler can evade being co-opted or killed by the government du jour. It seems that only such a ruler can provide any real form of checks and balances. A monarch often seems to bring a type of inertia to the political system, that serves the same purpose as common law, precedence and distributed government do in the West.
I think the key attribute of such rulers is that they have significant moral authority but little actual political power. They cause things to happen by suggestion rather than command.
Thailand isn’t a paradise by Western standards but looking at many of its immediate neighbors it is easy to see that it could have been much worse. A lot of the credit for that goes to the Thai royal family.
10 thoughts on “Sometimes, You Need a King”
Arthur Koestler, in Darkness at Noon:
“The individual stood under the sign of economic fatality, a wheel in a clockwork which had been wound up for all eternity and could not be stopped or influenced—and the Party demanded
that the wheel should revolt against the clockwork and change its course.”
It sounds like the people you are talking about believe that everyone *else* is controlled by the clockwork…although in this case the mechanisms are social as much as purely economic…but *they* somehow stand outside the machinery and are able to observe its functioning.
In a sense. I think it’s more of a matter that the Monarchs, monks or whatever, with few constitutional powers, stand outside of the competing patronage networks and clan alliances that dominate so much of non-Western politics. They don’t have enough hard power to be subverted by corruption or a grab for total power but at the same time they have enough soft power to stop the excesses of the government leaders who do hold the hard power.
I don’t think that Monarchs are smarter or wiser than anyone else, I just think they just maintain their difference. They provide an effective balancing opposition in systems that otherwise have none.
Actually, I meant to post this under Ginny’s post above. In the context of this post, it probably comes across as pretty bizarre…
I thought it was a bit odd but making it did sound as if you thought I was advocating some kind of elitist rule which would make sense in the context of this post. I am also to blame because I expected someone to read the post as such as was therefore primed to see that argument.
The King of Thailand,Bhumibol Adunyadej ( actually the royals) are considered sacred personages in Buddhist Thailand but this King in particular has accumulated much high regard for his good works and interest in the welfare of rural Thais. His political judgment, it must be said, is also very, very, shrewd.
The reign of his son and heir may not be quite so smooth as his father’s being neither as popular nor, perhaps, as politically deft.
The reign of his son and heir may not be quite so smooth…
That is rather the hitch and the main reason that I believe that the kind of successful figures I am thinking of really need only very soft power. That prevents the figure from doing to much active damage. Their main function seems to be to step in at a moment of crises when everything is up in the air and use their moral authority to restore order. Otherwise, they just have ceremonial duties.
Frankly, an idiotic political weathervane could function admirably in this post by simply divining the majority will during times of crisis and acting accordingly.
“Their main function seems to be to step in at a moment of crises when everything is up in the air and use their moral authority to restore order. Otherwise, they just have ceremonial duties.”
Having a monarch is a small price to pay for that priceless thing: stability in a crisis.
As a general matter, the countries which are constitutional monarchies are among the better places to live in the world, and usually the best places in their region, though there are exceptions. (UK + Crown Commonwealth (CN, AU, NZ), Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Morocco, Japan, Thailand, Oman, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Nepal). Not a bad list. The USA is almost an outlier NOT having a king.
That is rather the hitch and the main reason that I believe that the kind of successful figures I am thinking of really need only very soft power. That prevents the figure from doing to much active damage
Their main function seems to be to step in at a moment of crises when everything is up in the air and use their moral authority to restore order. Otherwise, they just have ceremonial duties.
King Juan Carlos of Spain, early in his reign (1980 ? 1982 ?)was instrumental in crushing a pro-Fascist coup by Franco loyalists.
Frankly, an idiotic political weathervane could function admirably in this post by simply divining the majority will during times of crisis and acting accordingly
Dangerously close to Rousseau, Shannon. ;o)
Dangerously close to Rousseau, Shannon. ;o)
Heh, I suppose so. I think you have to remember though that I am thinking of best possible real-world outcome given the political, social, cultural and historical constraints of any particular country. Theoretically, we might build a case for a better system given different conditions but I’m really not interested in that right now. I really just interested in the idea that a monarch might provide the best relative outcome.
Personally, I find the idea that a king or similar cultural figure might be a good thing in certain circumstances very surprising because of my innate American distrust of all political power that does not evolve from the active consent of the people.
I intended to suggested a weathervane elitist moral leader would work well only in conditions in which the people otherwise have little influence upon the elite leadership. As an American, I intuitively believe that the people on whole will be right more often than they are wrong (even if it is just 51% to 49%). A weathervane moral leader that responded to the majority will in crises would, I think, be more likely than not, to make the best decision.
Shades of King Juan Carlos in King Bhumibol’s role in restoring democracy in 1992 in the face of an incompetent military coup and brutish tactics utilized against protesters should have marked a turning point for Thailand.
Do you truly believe that? If we were to offer a series of ballot measures on the future of American domestic and foreign policy for the people to decide I would think more than 2/3’s of their decisions would damage the country terribly. My humble opinion is that the people are ill-informed by a feeble education system and an atrocious media that largely ignores real debate or even dispensing of informatioin in favor of outrageous shock, fluff, scandal and sop stories.
Then again, left to their gut instincts, I don’t think they’d do much better. Perhaps I’m too negative….
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