The word monarch (Latin: monarcha) comes from the Greek μονάρχης (from μόνος, "one/singular," and ἄρχων, "leader/ruler/chief") which referred to a single, at least nominally absolute ruler. With time, the word has been succeeded in this meaning by others, such as autocrat or dictator. In modern use the word monarchy generally is used when referring to a traditional system of hereditary rule, with elective monarchies often considered as exceptions.
There is no clear definition of monarchy. Holding unlimited political power in the state is not the defining characteristic, as many constitutional monarchies such as the United Kingdom and Thailand are considered monarchies, while other states which concentrate political power in the office of a single head of state are known as Presidential republics.
Hereditary rule is often a common characteristic, but elective monarchies are also considered monarchies (the Pope, sovereign of the Vatican City State and the head of the Catholic Church, is elected by the College of Cardinals) and some states have hereditary rulers, but are considered republics (such as the stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, or the Great Council of Chiefs in Fiji). A 1914 edition of Bouvier's Law Dictionary states that "Monarchy is contradistinguished from republic," and gives this definition:
Tribal kingship is often connected to sacral functions, so that the king acts as a priest, or is considered of divine ancestry. The sacral function of kingship was transformed into the notion of "divine right of kings" in the Christian Middle Ages, while the Chinese, Japanese and Nepalese monarchs continued to be considered living gods into the modern period.
The system of monarchy since antiquity has contrasted with forms of parliamentarianism, where executive power is wielded by assemblies of free citizens. In antiquity, monarchies were abolished in favour of such assemblies in Ancient Rome (Roman Republic, 509 BC), Ancient Athens (Athenian democracy, 500 BC).
In Germanic antiquity, kingship was primarily a sacral function, and the king was elected from among eligible members of royal families by the thing. Such ancient "parliamentarism" declined during the European Middle Ages, but it survived in forms of regional assemblies, such as the Icelandic Commonwealth, the Swiss Landsgemeinde and later Tagsatzung, and the High Medieval communal movement linked to the rise of medieval town privileges. The modern resurgence of parliamentarism and anti-monarchism begins with the overthrow of the English monarchy by the Parliament of England in 1649, followed by American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1792. Much of 19th century politics was characterized by the division between anti-monarchist Radicalism and monarchist Conservativism. Many monarchies were abolished in the 20th century, especially in the wake of either World War I or World War II.
Full article ▸