The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science

Authors: Bogdanor
Summary: In about 1500 words, this entry defines monarchy in Platonic and Aristotelian terms, distinguishes between the two major types of traditional European monarchies, and discusses the significance of constitutional monarchies.
In Platonic terms, a pure monarchy is a government by one individual exercised in the public interest. Conversely, a corrupt monarchy is a government by one exercised purely for selfish ends. Aristotle defined monarchy similarly as good government by one. He calls Plato's corrupt monarchy tyranny. The notion of monarchy arose from a conservative value system that was essentially religious and paternalistic. Prior to the eighteenth century, monarchy was the most widely known form of government.
Aristocratic and absolute are the two major types of traditional European monarchies. Aristocratic monarchies evolved after Europe broke up into feudal dukedoms in the post-Roman Empire era. Absolute monarchies developed as kings began to circumvent any checks on their reign, thereby claiming total political power. The entry details a few significant examples of each of these types of monarchies.
Constitutional monarchies emerged in the late seventeenth century as divine right was challenged by demands for greater representation and participation. Essentially, a constitutional monarch acts on the advice of his ministers who are responsible for the sovereign's actions. Thus, the monarch remains seemingly politically neutral but still wields great influence. Additionally, constitutional monarchs retain various formal, ceremonial and prerogative powers.