Ed West

Are we about to see the return of the Kings?

Are we about to see the return of the Kings?
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With only two months until the Rio Olympics, Brazil's woes continue, with a minister in the interim government being forced to resign after being accused of plotting to stop the country's national corruption probe. It is not just president Dilma Rousseff being investigated, of course; a full quarter of Brazil's congressmen are accused of criminal acts, which suggests the country may have a slight problem with corruption.

There is a solution at hand, however, and one favoured by the people. Two thirds of Brazilians say they would like to get rid of presidents altogether - and bring back the monarchy. And there is a man waiting in the wings.

Seventy-five-year-old Bertrand Maria José Pio Januário Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orleans e Bragança e Wittelsbach, who prefers the more informal Bertrand Maria José Pio Januário Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orleans e Bragança, is the great-great-grandson of Pedro II, the country's last emperor, and lives in a two-bedroom rented home in Sao Paulo. But now may not be a terrible time for a return of the king.

Brazil, a young country in the new world, might not strike us as obvious monarchy material, but it might also be just the sort of society that benefits from a king: huge in potential, it's also huge in corruption and low in the social solidarity that creates what the Americans used to call 'republican virtue'.

Monarchies are proven to help build social solidarity, creating a sense of continuity and togetherness around one family; they are also a healthy way for a country to project patriotic feelings, which otherwise might turn nasty. Monarchs serve as relatively neutral figures, especially useful in societies that are beset by class, clan, ethnic, religious or linguistic divide. No wonder then that whether you have a safe, secure life in the Middle East depends almost entirely on whether you are ruled by a monarch or president. And no wonder then, that, restoration of the Libyan monarchy is not a totally improbable idea at the moment.

This is not just crankish reaction on my part. Business Insider recently reported on the benefits of monarchy:

Andreas Bergh and Christian Bjørnskov find that social trust is higher in monarchies. Social trust is an important factor in sociology and economics, and generally correlates with lower crime and lower corruption, among other things.

Other studies have suggested that monarchical states seem to promote cohesion. A study by Sascha Becker and others shows higher trust and less corruption inside the borders of the old Habsburg empire than among the people who live just outside the empire's historical borders.

Former Bank of England rate-setter Tim Besley wrote a working paper earlier in the year suggesting that "in a country with weak executive constraints, going from a non-hereditary leader to an hereditary leader, increases the annual average economic growth of the country by 1.03 percentage points per year."

Oxford University's Petra Schleiter and Kent's Edward Morgan-Jones suggest that governments under constitutional monarchies are more likely to consult their people with early elections, in comparison to both appointed and directly elected presidents.

The advantage of monarchy is that, although it's essentially reactionary, in its modern constitutional form it's ersatz reaction, which is probably the best kind; it takes all those things we miss from the past, the sense of community, certainty and common ritual, but without the actual horror of the past. A bit like spending two weeks drunk in a French farmhouse while imagining this is what traditional countryside living is about, when actually it probably involved untold poverty and horror until the 20th century.

In Europe, there is still widespread support for restoring the monarchy in Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia, and even in Russia there is talk of a Romanov return. Sadly I don't think I'll ever live to see Louis XX crowned at Notre-Dame de Reims, but we can always dream.

Almost a hundred years after the Romanovs, Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns were driven out, could this be the dawn of a new golden age for monarchy?

Written byEd West

Ed West is the author of The Diversity Illusion, 1215 and All That and is writing a series of books on medieval history

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