Last night somebody googled the phrase “martin rundqvist republikan” and ended up here on my blog. Note the K: this person probably didn’t wonder if I’d vote for Sarah Palin. They wondered what I think about the Swedish constitution, which provides the country with a decorative king. Outside the US, “republican” means “anti-monarchist”. And yes, I am an anti-monarchist. I think it’s a disgrace that the Scandy countries, which are among the world’s strongest democracies, are still symbolic monarchies. And I think it’s deeply wrong that the hapless royals are born into their golden cage.

But there’s a paradoxical twist to this issue. When polled, most Swedes voice strong support for the current constitution and the royal house. So although monarchy is by its very nature undemocratic, it would be undemocratic to take monarchy away from the Swedish voters. Republikanism (with a K) is in fact a minority position of the intellectual elite in Scandinavia. And if we’d decide that anybody who supports monarchy is too stupid to be allowed to vote, then bang goes our strong democracy. So I tend not to think too much about the issue.

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  1. #1 Jocke
    October 13, 2009

    I agree with you. I think monarchy belongs to older times much, much older times…..Have it.

  2. #2 RyanG
    October 13, 2009

    As a Canadian who takes fairly liberal positions on most issues, I always get strange looks when I tell people I’m a republican.

    A majority of Canadians, when asked, will be opposed to the monarchy. But since the royals are never here there is no pressure to remove them. A frightening number of people here aren’t even aware we’re in a monarchy.

  3. #3 Tor
    October 13, 2009

    I, too, tend not to think too much about this issue; in fact, just about the only time I do is when you bring it up. Sure it’s obsolete and ridiculous — so?

  4. #4 Art
    October 13, 2009

    I actually think that a symbolic monarch is a good thing. A monarch is largely, damn near completely if they want to do, unburdened by the practical aspects of management of a nation and its functional role in the world. They are free to deal with the symbolic, quasi-civic religious, and aspirational aspects of a nation. They are free to be the conscience, bard, wise uncle, and adviser to the nation. While being the representative of the nation for ceremonial purposes.

    The splitting off of the ceremonial, symbolic and inspirational roles from the political leaders seems to be quite useful. Your not going to avoid it entirely but you might limit the friction, confusion, and inaction that comes with mixed desires to do the right thing on both the practical and symbolic levels.

    An example of this being giving needles to addicts. It is well understood that giving away clean needles and syringes to addicts goes a long way to limiting the spread of several diseases and it really doesn’t seem to promote drug use. But on a symbolic level giving away ‘works’ to addicts sounds a lot like promoting drug use.

    Divided the leader in charge of practical matters can operate largely free of the symbolism, do the right thing for the nation, and make sure users get clean needles. While the leader in charge of symbolic matters can take a uncompromising stand condemning drug use without being concerned with the contradictions of applying a monolithic approach to a highly variegated world.

    In effect having both a symbolic and dirt-level leader sets up a structure in government that is analogous to the very necessary and functional cognitive dissonance within the human mind.

  5. #5 Martin R
    October 13, 2009

    Tor, it’s in the constitution. That does bother me.

    Art, so let’s elect that symbolic figurehead for some brief period of office. We used to elect kings.

  6. #6 Mike Olson
    October 13, 2009

    As an American viewing your ironic position, I can only express admiration. A decorative monarchy is a minor thing. We have a whole party that screams about how patriotic they are, wraps themselves in a flag and then attempts to destroy everything many of us consider as the defining characteristics of America: Freedom and Liberty: of and from religion, the right to speak your mind, the right to a fair trial and against wrongful imprisonment…the list could go on…suffice to say I’ve come to a believe that fear and a desire for “the good old days,” (a time which never really existed), is a nearly lethal combination to the freedom of any dissenting opinion.

  7. #7 Tor
    October 14, 2009

    I’m aware it’s in the constitution, and I notice it bothers you. My question is: why?

  8. #8 Martin R
    October 14, 2009

    My counter-question is of course, is there anything you would be bothered by if it were in the constitution but did not lead to any great practical problems? For instance, if the Prime Minister must have ancestors born in Sweden and belonging to the Swedish church for three generations? All of them have had that so far, to my knowledge.

  9. #9 Lassi Hippeläinen
    October 14, 2009

    You seem to have excluded us Finns from Scandinavia. Besides our President beats the shit out of your King any day. At least in the field of political power.

  10. #10 Martin R
    October 14, 2009

    Finland is a badass republic. “Haista vittu” to the world!

  11. #11 Ny Björn
    October 14, 2009

    Finland is one of the Nordic countries (Norden) but isn’t usually seen as a part of Scandinavia.

    /N B (devoted RepubliKan)

  12. #12 Tor
    October 14, 2009

    I would object to having that in the constitution on the grounds that, regardless of “practical problems”, or whether it would in fact affect anyone today, it might easily unjustly block future worthy candidates from seeking Prime Minister office.

    But I fail to see how a corresponding argument against monarchy would go. I can sort of appreciate your point about the gilded cage — though I wouldn’t presume to know how the disadvantages of being born royal measure up against the benefits. Am I being very naive in assuming that they’re free to complain if they don’t like it?

  13. #13 Martin R
    October 14, 2009

    Aha! Unjustly block future worthy candidates! It seems you do have principles after all. Because you’re hardly arguing that people with a long Christian ancestry in Sweden are generally worse politicians than other groups. (-;

    As for complaining, if Charles XVI said “I quit” and moved to Fisksätra, do you think people would leave him alone to lead a quiet life?

  14. #14 Mörkerman
    October 14, 2009

    Monarkin fungerar utmärkt. Vissa moderater vill till och med fördjupa den genom att låta HMK utse regering:

  15. #15 Nomen Nescio
    October 14, 2009

    whether Finland is in Scandinavia or not tends to depend a bit on whether you’re talking to a Finn or not. (it is, of course; it’s just those silly Swedes and Norwegians don’t always know their geography.)

  16. #16 Tor
    October 14, 2009

    Of course I have principles — what have I done to suggest otherwise? But I’m still waiting for _your_ argument against monarchy. Or are you telling me that all your fervour springs from the sole concern that, of all the stinking-rich families in Sweden, one gets more than its share of unwanted media attention?

  17. #17 Martin R
    October 14, 2009

    Here are my main complaints about Swedish symbolic monarchy.

    1. A group of public officials are inheriting their positions without regard to competence.

    2. Regardless of their performance at their tasks, they live in luxury off public money.

    3. A certain Swedish family’s members are born, generation after generation, into a formally severely circumscribed set of life options. Even Sweden’s poorest families have greater freedom.

  18. #18 SM
    October 14, 2009

    I feel about the same as you fell about your kings about the Canadian monarchy, although we aren’t such good democrats in practice as you Scandinavians seem to be. It helps that the Crown’s representatives in Canada (the provincial Lieutenant Governors and federal Governor General) are appointed for a limited term rather than chosen by heredity for life. And our constitution works pretty well in practice so why change?

  19. #19 essbeck
    October 14, 2009

    I see the Swedish monarchy as a comprimise with the history. Maybe it will be gone in the future, until them the monarchy actually can work to promote the country in ways that a primeminister never would be able to do. I see him as a door opener and it seemes like the monarchy are used by Swedish companys on promotion tours for Swedish companys and products abroad.

    The essential thing is that the monarchy stay out of the political process and have no political power what so ever or a position to dictate in politics.

  20. #20 Tor
    October 15, 2009

    There, that wasn’t so hard to do, now was it? 😉

  21. #21 Akhôrahil
    October 15, 2009

    I’d like to see is an elective monarchy; none of this newfangled inherited title. ‘The Svear may king take and also cast aside’, after all.

    On the other hand, whether we have an elected monarch, a hereditary one, or a powerless representative president ranks really, *really* low on my list of things that actually matter.

  22. #22 Chris' Wills
    October 17, 2009

    ….minority position of the intellectual elite….

    Do delusions of adequacy run in your in group?

    Modesty seems to have escaped you, must be terribly frustrating having all those unintellectual proles around.

  23. #23 Martin R
    October 17, 2009

    Well, me and my friends are pretty solidly in the top quartile for education if nothing else. You may have some other definition of “intellectual elite”. Welcome to ScienceBlogs.

  24. #24 Chris' Wills
    October 17, 2009

    So you went to University and got a degree, well done.
    Lots of us did that.

    Strangely enough it was actually the use of the term intellectual elite I found disparaging, as if you believed yourself better and or superior to those who didn’t agree with your opinion.

    Education doesn’t make one wise.

    Oh, just in case you wondered, I’m a monarchist; though of the UK variety.

  25. #25 Astrofys
    October 17, 2009

    Regarding 3; It’s not entirely valid, there is alway the possibility to abdicate, and the context of your uppbringing always limits your possibilities, regardless if you are the son/daughter of a wealth or someone born under less fortunate circumstances.

  26. #26 Mattias
    October 19, 2009

    In reply to your three points above, Martin:

    1. This is in fact one of the strongest reasons for having a hereditary monarchy, since it is precisely the chance element which distinguishes the office from its alternatives. You cannot deserve the office, therefore you will always end up with mediocritas (in all senses of the word, which C. XVI G. exemplifies). Reinfeldt and Sahlin can only ever hope to represent around 45% of the population, but C. XVI G. represents everybody (even you) which gives him greater freedom from politics in representation. Many of Sweden’s present foreign political relations started as personal relationships which were not attainable for Swedish politicians.

    2. Here you certainly have a point. In order to look at this matter, however, one must first eliminate all risk of one coveting their position. This is generally extremely difficult, because those who are anti-monarchists solely on these grounds tend to be generally anti-establishment and only willing to pay for resources which they or their demographic group are using.

    3. There are many cases in European royal families which proves that it is perfectly possible to resign from office.

    Yes, we used to elect Kings, and were we to replace our monarchy with a position of president, we would reinstate an office very similar to that situation.

    What I find funny is that I, as a royalist, have no problem with Viktoria marrying into common families, whereas many republicans find it outrageous. A friend of me recently said: ‘I have always been mildly against monarchy, but now they have gone to far’, revealing that her anti-monarchy sentiment were rooted in the concept of royalties being destined in some special way.

  27. #27 Martin R
    October 19, 2009

    So do you, as per #1, think that all public office-holders should be recruited at random?

  28. #28 Mattias
    October 19, 2009

    Certainly not, Martin – I hope that reductionist interpretation was made tounge-in-cheek. What I stress is the complementary function of a constitutional monarchy in relation to an elected parliament. A constitutional republic, on the other hand, is highly problematic in its acting on the same premises of the parliament, thus having political authority.

    / Mattias

  29. #29 Martin R
    October 19, 2009

    Re-reading your comment I think I begin to understand. You think that a greater part of the people will feel themselves represented by a hereditary head-of-state than by an elected one. I don’t agree. If I have not elected him, then it is irrelevant to my sense of being represented how he ended up there. Either way, the sense of being represented plays no part of my argument against monarchy.

  30. #30 Martin R
    April 8, 2012

    I almost wrote this entry again today. Good thing I googled first. I’ve been blogging for so long that I may have covered all my opinions by now.

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