Does Europe Need Monarchs?
On the same day that Princess Kate gave birth of a new heir to the throne of Great Britain, Belgium received into office a new king, Philippe I, following the abdication of his aging father.
Do monarchies in Europe still serve any useful purpose? Yes, and although we Americans have an aversion to kings which dates back to our Revolutionary War, the modern history of European monarchs shows how these kings and queens can help preserve their nations.
This showed up dramatically during the Second World War. The House of Windsor along with Churchill's soaring rhetoric was vital to British morale. Princess Elizabeth, later the current Queen Elizabeth, was trained as a driver and mechanic in the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service. In 1940, at the age of fourteen, when the prospects of British survival looked bleak, she told the nation:
We are trying to do all we can to help our gallant sailors, soldiers and airmen, and we are trying, too, to bear our share of the danger and sadness of war. We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well.
No dramatic speech, but like her grandsons' service in the British military, the symbolic power of royal families defending their nation is potent. Elizabeth was a girl speaking to the nation about very great things in simple but clear terms.
Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands were overrun, and the monarchs of these lands provided strong rallying points against Hitler. King Christian of Denmark remained in his country, even as German troops occupied it, and any Dane could see a king who openly snubbed Hitler and his henchmen. King Christian in 1933, after Hitler came into power, conspicuously and despite the warning of the chief rabbi of Denmark attended the 100th anniversary of the Copenhagen Synagogue. Nearly all Jews in Denmark escaped the Holocaust, and the strong symbol of King Christian helped lead this subversion of Nazi aims.
Norway was also overrun, and King Haakon left and formed a government in exile. The Norwegian parliament, the Storting, still sat in Oslo, and when the king refused to appoint Vidkun Quisling, the Nazi toady, as prime minister, Hitler demanded that the Storting vote to remove Haakon as king. With remarkable courage, the Storting defied Hitler.
Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who also left and formed a government in exile, gave radio broadcasts into her nation calling Hitler the "arch-enemy of mankind." When the prime minister of the Dutch government in exile sought a separate peace with Germany, Queen Wilhelmina removed him from office.
King Victor Emmanuel of Italy probably could have done more to keep Mussolini from becoming head of government, but in 1943, when the Grand Fascist Council voted to remove Mussolini, it was the timely intervention of the king of Italy which led to the arrest of Mussolini and the formation of a new government which would declare war on Germany the same year.
Since the end of the Second World War, monarchies have also help preserve civil peace and quietly support ordered liberty. Spain was torn apart in the 1930s, but King Juan Carlos, who has reigned now for thirty-seven years, allowed Spain to move bloodlessly and easily from a Francoist dictatorship to a constitutional democracy. The king defied the generals who had been running Spain and instituted the reforms associated with ordered liberty. The king acted again in 1981 prevented a coup by the Guardia Civil and may have spared Spain another civil war.
Belgium from June 2010 to December 2011 had the longest period of any parliamentary democracy in which there was no government formed after a general election. How did Belgium remain intact? How did the normal operations of government operate? King Albert played a quiet but important role in pushing negotiations and allowed the formation of a temporary government.
What makes European monarchs valuable? They are nonpartisan and do not campaign for votes. They hold office "by the grace of God," as even the increasingly atheistic Sweden includes in the royal oath.
Queen Elizabeth II, in her 2000 Christmas address, told her subjects:
To many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.
Europe is a mess. There may, in fact, be no hope for the continent once the sovereign debt default dominos begin to fall. The immigration of young, unemployed Muslim men is also turning quiet streets and towns in Europe into dangerous places. There may be no way to save Europe -- but if there is, the monarchs of Europe may well be an important part of that salvation.