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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kingdom Come and Gone

posted by on June 12 at 10:39 AM

So Nepal—tiny little Nepal, way up there in the Himalayas—is no longer a monarchy.

The deposed Nepalese king, Gyanendra, today waved farewell to the salmon-pink Narayanhity royal palace in Kathamandu, vowing never to flee the country and denying persistent rumours that he had a hand in the 2001 royal massacre that saw him claim the throne.

In a speech to the nation followed by his first ever press conference, Gyanendra said he accepted the decision of the country’s newly elected assembly, which is dominated by former Maoist guerillas, to end his reign.

The king will move to one of his former summer palaces on a forested hill on the outskirts of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

Thus ends Nepal’s 239 year-old Hindu monarchy (the last Hindu monarchy in the world), which is to be replaced by a boring old republic. This development saddens me because… well, because I’m a monarchist.

It’s not the romance of it all; it’s not the palaces, the intrigue, the big, lavish weddings, the bigger, lavisher divorce settlements, or the occasional palace massacre. And it’s certainly not the tyranny or the one-man rule that appeals to me; I’m not in favor of Stuart-style absolute monarchies, but of those dull, gray constitutional monarchies. Think Queen Beatrix and King Harald, not Henry VIII or King Abdulla or the Sultan of Brunei.

Here’s why I’m partial to constitutional monarchies: Because here in the United States, our head of state is our elected president, and consequently all the head-of-state glitz and glamour can and is harnessed to the benefit of a particular political party. Air Force One, state dinners, the Lincoln Bedroom—currently the property of the GOP. And, more disastrously for our Democracy, the president enjoys (and our current president has brilliantly exploited) the deference due a head of state. Insult Gordon Brown to his face—which is done on a weekly basis, during “Question Time,” which we ought to pass a constitutional amendment that obligates our president to submit to the same treatment here—and you’ve only insulted the PM, and perhaps Labour, but not, you know, the nation. Insult George W. Bush—in person, to his face, not on Leno or Letterman—and you’ve insulted the nation. Remember this incident?

So I’m bummed to see Nepal jettison its monarchy, instead of transforming itself into a nice, dull constitutional monarchy while it had King Gyanendra on the ropes.

And reading about Nepal today reminded me of this brilliant essay in the most recent issue of Harper’s…

On the other side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, the Brits have become, in large part, what we were once supposed to be. Consider, for starters, the unavoidable (if largely symbolic) fact that our president lives ensconced in a palace, while 10 Downing Street is a row house. From there, consider the regal arrogance of the president and the president’s men: their refusal to justify or explain policy, or abide by the Constitution, or respond to the concerns of Congress. Next, consider the spectacle presented by the president’s “meetings with the people,” when he deigns to have them. Consider the extent to which he is scripted, buffered, coddled; the extent to which his audiences are screened to assure that they consist of cheerleaders whose “questions” are nothing more than praise couched in the shape of a question, or who don’t even bother with the interrogative form and, like one woman at a Bush “rally,” walk up to the microphone and say things like “my heroes have always been cowboys,” then sit down to thunderous applause.

More? Recall an average press conference: the president striding to the podium, his slightly irritated, patronizing manner. Recall the press corps’ sycophantic chuckling at every half-assed quip, its willingness to accept the most insulting answers, its downright Prufrockian (“and how should we presume”) inability to challenge an obvious untruth.

Read the whole thing here.

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You'd love Thailand, then. They play the national anthem and show a montage of photos of The King before movies, and you're expected to stand up (and everyone does). You can go to jail for saying mean things about him (and this happens sometimes, too)

He's been in power longer than even Queen Elizabeth (its true!)and is the longest serving head of state in the world at the moment:

plus Thailand also has Ladyboys, and everyone likes that.

Posted by Xenu, Warrior Princess | June 12, 2008 10:59 AM

If we had a royal family, we could focus all of our soap opera hero worship on it instead of the president.

Does he wear a lapel pin? Does he believe in Jesus? What does his campaign say about us as a people?

We can focus all that crap on some gilded symbolic royal mirror and elect people who are good at running things.

Except I like the "any American can rise to the highest seat of power" thing.

Posted by six shooter | June 12, 2008 11:04 AM

dan- i dont know if u read a little further into nepal, but it is going to be ruled by maoist.

the former maoist guerillas who decided to participate in the elections swept into office.

nepal was no lovely kingdom, it had a brutal caste system and it forced a lot of the rural people into semi slavery, this caste system is similar to what india use to have. the maoist arent going to be any better, but im guessing a lot of the anti chinese tibetans living in nepal are thinking about new digs right about now.

Posted by SeMe | June 12, 2008 11:07 AM

Mr. Savage, rather than monarch-love, it sounds like you're more a fan of the parliamentary style of government in general, rather than our presidential system. Many republics (Germany, Israel, Italy, India, etc.) have a figurehead president with little or no power beyond the official head-of-state functions. For the most part, they remain out of politics and are intended instead to serve as figureheads, much in the same way those constitutional monarchs act in Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and so on... In all those cases, the PM takes the daily flak as head-of-government.

I'm envious. I think in presidential systems, the people all too often can't distinguish when their leader is acting as head of state or head of government, and critics are all too often silenced with accusations of being unpatriotic or treasonous.

Posted by James | June 12, 2008 11:10 AM

I wonder how many bleeding heart libs who support Tibetan independence know how oppressive the ruling monks could be.

Posted by mere mortal | June 12, 2008 11:31 AM

Also, I've just discovered Prince Carl Philip of Sweden, possibly the best modern argument for monarchy out there. (I have, to be fair, only seen pictures.)

Posted by Abby | June 12, 2008 11:33 AM

I feel precisely opposite Mr. Savage, and am appalled that the British haven't yet thrown off the Platonic notion that there's a singular form that we should all pattern our lives after.

Plato is the source of much ill in the world, and monarchies are but one manifestation of that.

Posted by Timothy | June 12, 2008 11:42 AM


Oh, I totally agree! Friends of mine in college used to live in Sweden, and told me that Prince Carl Philip was once something of a gay icon there. Pictures of him up in gay bars, etc. I can see why! But, he's not heir to the throne.

Posted by James | June 12, 2008 12:05 PM

I'm inclined to go with the Bolshevik approach to royalty, but unfortunately the people that throw out the royals usually wind up taking up in the palaces...

Posted by Mike in MO | June 12, 2008 12:16 PM

The new Maoist government has done a compassionate thing though; the 94 year-old lsat living mistress of a king who died in 1955 is being allowed to stay on in her pavillion in the pace grounds because she has no other home. I think it is very sweet.

Posted by inkweary | June 12, 2008 12:17 PM

@8: I can see why! Between Carl and the football team, the Swedes that are into men are spoiled for choice.

Besides, it's more fun to not be the heir, I'd say.

Posted by Abby | June 12, 2008 12:26 PM

This is more galling than the Malkin post. @3 is correct about the brutality of this regime, maybe you should post something about yearning to live under Stalin's rule. Hitler had a flare for the dramatic - sure he exterminated gays, but how about those lightning bolts on the collars and some of those rallys with the Wagner and the torches.

Posted by left coast | June 12, 2008 12:50 PM

@6 & 8, Felipe, Prince of Asturias, is another very, very good argument for monarchy. Yowza.

Posted by rb | June 12, 2008 1:27 PM

I agree completely. Take Canada. We have a fabulous, hot, amazing Governor General (who represents the Queen) who does all the ceremonial acts of state--and speaks for all Canadians when she does. ( She can visit the troops, and you know it's not to score electoral points.

Posted by Dean P | June 12, 2008 1:36 PM

You never really get rid of royality. Here is the proof:

Pretenders are all the rage in europe. They are the celebrities.

Posted by jeff Seattle | June 12, 2008 1:59 PM

Obviously you've never seen our lot then...

Posted by Griet | June 12, 2008 2:06 PM

@14: I see your point, but she still can't hold a candle to Adrienne Clarkson.

As for Dan's glamour criterion though, Canada hasn't hit the mark since Trudeaumania. (The man dated Streisand!)

We Canadians are probably doomed to enjoy only the reflected splendor of the Windsors.

Posted by saxfanatic | June 12, 2008 7:20 PM

Thank you, Dan. I first noticed this with King Ronnie in the 80's. People want the prez to embody the nation.

What they seem to forget is that they have just elected... a politician.

Nation, government, two different things.

Posted by CP | June 12, 2008 10:44 PM

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