1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Monarchy

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

MONARCHY (Fr. monarchie, from Lat. monarchia, Gr. μοναρχία, rule of one, μόνος, alone, άρχή, rule), strictly, the undivided sovereignty or rule of a single person. Hence the term is applied to states in which the supreme authority is vested in a single person, the monarch, who in his own right is the permanent head of the state. The character of true monarchy is well defined in the well-known lines of Cowper (Verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk):

“I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute.”

The word “monarchy” has, however, outlived this original meaning, and is now used, when used at all, somewhat loosely of states ruled over by hereditary sovereigns, as distinct from republics with elected presidents; or for the “monarchical principle,” as opposed to the republican, involved in this distinction.

The old idea of monarchy, viz. that of the prince as representing within the limits of his dominions the monarchy of God over all things, culminated in the 17th century in the doctrine of the divine right of kings, and was defined in the famous dictum of Louis XIV.: L'état c'est moi! The conception of monarchy was derived through Christianity from the theocracies of the East; it was the underlying principle of the medieval empire and also of the medieval papacy, the rule of the popes during the period of its greatest development being sometimes called “the papal monarchy.” The monarchical principle was shaken to its foundations by the English revolution of 1688; it was shattered by the French revolution of 1789; and though it survives as a political force, more or less strongly, in most European countries, “monarchists,” in the strict sense of the word, are everywhere a small and dwindling minority. To express the change phrases were invented which have come into general use, though involving a certain contradiction in terms, viz. “limited” or “constitutional monarchy,” as opposed to “absolute” or “autocratic monarchy.”

Finally, a distinction is drawn between “elective” and “hereditary” monarchies. Of the former class the most conspicuous was the Holy Roman Empire; but in Europe all monarchies were, within certain limits, originally elective; and, after the introduction of Christianity, the essential condition of the assumption of sovereign power was not so much kinship with the reigning family as the “sacring” by the divine authority of the Church. The purely hereditary principle was of comparatively late growth, the outcome of obvious convenience, exalted under the influence of various forces into a religious or quasi-religious dogma. (See also Government and Sovereignty.)