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What are the differences and similarities between democracy and monarchy?  

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I will begin with the contrasts or differences between the two forms of government. First, a monarchy is top-down: if we imagine a society as a pyramid, the monarch is at the very top. Traditionally, across societies around the world, the monarch is understood to derive his or her power...

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I will begin with the contrasts or differences between the two forms of government. First, a monarchy is top-down: if we imagine a society as a pyramid, the monarch is at the very top. Traditionally, across societies around the world, the monarch is understood to derive his or her power from a divine force and to be enacting the divine will. His power comes from God and flows down through him to the aristocracy and finally to the people, who are expected to obey his commands. In contrast, in a democracy, power is bottom-up: the people choose the government, and those chosen to govern are expected to obey the will of the people.

A monarchy, in pure form, is the rule of one person. Its advantage is that there is no confusion about who is in charge and policies can be quickly implemented. Democracy reflects the collective will of the majority of the population. Its advantage, in contrast to a monarchy, is that everyone get a voice, which can lead to more thoughtful outcomes because the needs of different groups are taken into account. Its disadvantage is that it can be slow and cumbersome.

Similarities between the two systems of governance are more difficult to understand, but I will point out two: in Aristotelean thought, the monarch and the people are naturally allied against the aristocracy. The monarch appeals to and gains the support of the mass of people so as to check the power of the aristocrats, who would otherwise grab the crown. In a democracy, the president or chancellor or prime minister of a country is generally also aligned with the people, who are, after all, those who elected him.

Second, both systems can warp into tyranny. A monarch can decide to grab too much power and can make irrational or irresponsible decisions. In what John Stuart Mill called the tyranny of the democracy, a majority of the people can elect to follow an irrational and destructive course or leader.

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When speaking of a monarchy, it is important to differentiate between a constitutional monarchy like that of the United Kingdom and an absolute monarchy like that of Saudi Arabia.

A constitutional monarchy is similar to a democracy in most respects. Elections are held. Freedom of press is guaranteed. There are political parties. Elections, freedom of the press, and multiple political parties are key hallmarks of a democratic system. The monarch, a king or a queen, has little, if any real authority. The constitutional monarch is really a symbol of the state.

In an absolute monarchy, the king's decisions are final. The freedoms enjoyed in democracies are forbidden. Dissent is crushed, and people are imprisoned without trial or reasonable cause. Today, there are few absolute monarchies. In the past, they were far more common. Louis XIV, King of France from 1643 to 1715, was the quintessential absolute monarch.

What do democracy and monarchy have in common? Not much. Both are very old. Both reject anarchy—the absence of government. But the differences far outnumber the similarities.

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Historically, there are not many similarities between democracy, which is rule by the consent of the people, and monarchy, which is rule by a hereditary ruler. In a democracy, the people make basic political decisions, either directly or more often by electing representatives. In a monarchy, at least theoretically, the monarch makes political decisions. But in modern terms, many monarchies, such as those of Great Britain, Norway, and the Netherlands, are actually democratic in nature. In these systems, the monarch has very little actual authority in practice. Actual power is held by representative assemblies and prime ministers, all of whom are chosen, at least indirectly, by the people. Monarchs are really figureheads. So theoretically, there are really no similarities between monarchies and democracies, but in practice the actual systems vary. The monarchy of the United Kingdom has more in common with the democratic government of the United States than it does with Saudi Arabia, another monarchy.

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