Chapter XXIII Part III
Forms of Government
The collapse of the monarchy
Amidst the political turmoil of World War I, the doomsday of the monarchy was accelerated. The monarchy had served a purpose in ancient times with the rule of the conquering race as the initiating point but had become increasingly irrelevant in a new world-order under changing circumstances. Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1917: 'The monarchical idea itself is beginning to pass away after a brief and fallacious attempt at persistence and revival. Almost it seems to be nearing its final agony; the seal of the night is upon it....The social aggregates have ripened into self-conscious maturity and no longer stand in the need of a hereditary kingship to do their governing work for them or even to stand for them – except perhaps in certain exceptional cases such as the British Empire – as the symbol of their unity.... It's (the monarchy's) prestige and popularity tend therefore not to increase but to decline, and at some crisis when it comes too strongly into conflict with the sentiment of the nation, it falls with small chance of lasting survival.... When it disappears, it will be truer to say of it that it has ceased to survive than to say it has ceased to live' (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 466-467).
In fact the twentieth century witnesses a rapid collapse of the monarchy, sometimes through revolutions and wars, sometimes through decolonization or sometimes through conflicts within the monarchy itself. Sri Aurobindo continued in that 1917 write-up: 'Even in these days it has fallen in Germany and Austria, in China, in Portugal, in Russia; it has been in peril in Greece and Italy; and it has been cast out of Spain'(Ibid, pg 467). Sri Aurobindo's observations during the World War I acquire significance as historians now unanimously agree that the greatest spate of abolition of monarchies occurred during that period. Of especial importance is how the monarchy was toppled in Russia culminating in the institution of the Marxist-Leninist government. However constitutional monarchy was surprisingly restored in Spain in 1978 after the death of General Franco but hopefully the existence of the absolute monarchy has not been revived. After all, a constitutional monarchy restricts the power of the monarch and does not allow the monarch to define public policy or choose political leaders. Very recently, between 2007 and 2008, Bhutan transited from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. The United Kingdom and fifteen of its former colonies exist as constitutional monarchies while three states, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Holy See have elective monarchies where rulers are periodically selected by sophisticated electoral collegiums.
While Sri Aurobindo in 1917 had pointed that the monarchy was at peril in Italy, in a footnote added during 1949-50 he commented 'Now in Italy too it is gone with practically no hope of return'. This was in reference to the famous referendum on the 2nd of June, 1946 where 54.3% of the electorate who comprised 89% of the citizens voted for the end of the monarchy and the victory of the republic. In a desperate attempt not to lose the monarchy, the King, Victor Emanuel III had abdicated his throne in favour of his son barely a few weeks before the referendum but the victory of the republic led to the exile of the new king and his family. The die was cast.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu