Modern Monarchs and Democracy: Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej and Juan Carlos of Spain

Serhat Ünaldi

Abstract


The history of democracy is typically a history of struggle against monarchs and other such autocrats. The elevation of one person over others by virtue of blood and birth has come to be seen as anachronistic; yet some monarchies have managed to survive to this day. This paper analyses two examples of the uneasy coalition between popular sovereignty and royal leadership that is constitutional monarchy. Whereas Juan Carlos of Spain has been described as having steered Spain away from dictatorship, Bhumibol of Thailand has come under scrutiny for allegedly lacking a principled approach to democracy. I argue that structural as much as personal factors influenced the ways in which the two monarchies were legitimised – one by positively responding to the modern aspirations of the king’s subjects, giving him a “forward legitimacy,” the other by revitalising the king’s traditional charisma and opting for “backward legitimacy.”

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