Tag Archives: government

What is a monarchy?

A popular misconception is to define a republic as the opposite of a monarchy. According to this line of reasoning any non-monarchist government would be automatically a republic. This is, however, a fallacy.

The definition of a republic is not depended on what title the head of state has, but on the idea of mixed government. If, however, we would proceed with defining a republic as a form of government without a monarch, then we should provide a definition of what a monarchy is. In this post we will attempt to work out what a monarchy is.

A popular definition of a monarch is that of a head of state who has inherited his or her position, instead of by election. This conception is, however, wrong. Throughout history monarchs has been elected, and in Malaysia the monarch is still assigned by election. And Sweden and Denmark were elective monarchies until the sixteen century. In the past elective monarchies were the rule. And only when members of the same family were elected as monarch generation after generation, these monarchies transformed from elective to hereditary ones.

Instead we could better look at the literal meaning of monarchy, which is Classical Greek for “the rule by one”. Thus a monarchy is system of government in which all power is concentrated in one person. The Greeks did classify forms of government by the number of people who had power, hence we get: the rule by one (monarchy), the rule by the few (oligarchy) and the rule by many (democracy).

Aristotle did not only categorize forms of governments by the quantity of people, but also by quality. For every number, there was a good and bad version. According to Aristotle monarchy was a good form, and tyranny was its bad correspondent. Whether a form was good or bad, is dependent on whether the ruler(s) did pursue the general interest (res publica in Latin), or their own interests. Those rulers who pursued the general interest are, of course, the good ones, whilst those who only pursued their own interests are the bad ones.

The problem the Greeks were facing was the fact that a good government could become corrupted, i.e. turn into a bad one. A monarchy could become a tyranny. Usually such a transition happens gradually overtime.

Important to note is that the Greek definition does not depend on how a monarch gets his/her position. Election, appointment or inheritance doesn’t matter, the number of people with power does. Only pure absolute monarchies are quite rare, and have been throughout history. In most governments there are several institutions, each with their own amount of power.

A more practical approach can be found in the political philosophy of John Locke. According to Locke government can be divided into three branches: legislative, executive and federative (this is foreign policy) power. Whether a state is a monarch, an oligarchy or a democracy, depends on the composition of the legislative power. If the legislature is consists of only one person, then this state is a monarchy in Locke’s view.

However, in most countries the legislative power is assigned to an assembly of (elected) people, rather than to just a single person. In constitutional monarchies, the monarch is, however, involved in the legislative process in several ways. First, laws can be proposed by the king, and secondly the King has to sign any law passed by the legislature.

When we study the legislative process of a state, we have to ask how has the right of initiative (the right propose bills). In many constitutional monarchies both the king and the members of parliament can propose bills. This is not necessarily the case, and most upper chambers have no right of initiative and are only allowed to vote on the bills. Hence we can have a legislature which can only vote on bills proposed by the king.

Related to the right of initiative is the right of amendment. Even if a legislature cannot introduce its own bills, it might propose amendments to those bills introduced by the king. Both the right of initiative and the right of amendment shift power from the king to parliament. And if these rights are absent, the position of the king is strengthened.

Even if a parliament has the right of initiative and the right of amendment, then there is issue whether the king might veto a bill. If the king has veto power, can it can either be absolute or suspensive. In the first case, if the king refuses to sign the bill as passed by parliament, it’s game over for that bill. In the second case, if the king refuses to sign a bill, then parliament has to reconsider the bill. But if parliament still upheld its bill, then the king looses.

Finally we have to consider whether the king might dissolve the legislature. It can be that a parliament refuses to pass any bill proposed by the king, in that situation (s)he can do two things: either (s)he accepts his/her defeat or (s)he dissolves the legislature and calls for a new election. By doing so the king can try to change to membership of parliament, in the hope of securing a majority for his/her bill.

Constitutional issues: Unicameralism or bicameralism?

This is the second part of our series on constitutional arrangements of space governments. In a previous post we discussed the topic of elections versus random selection of politicians. In this post we will look at the issue of unicameralism or bicameralism.

Virtually all modern political systems have an institution known as parliament. This institute has multiple functions, which might vary from country to country, but generally these are: representing the citizens of the state, the creation of laws and as check to the executive.

Because of the first function, most parliaments are elected by its citizens or have at least one elected chamber. According to democratic theory, the representative function of parliament, entails it to exercise legislative power. The third power is actually a reminder of ancient, classical republican thought, which we will discuss in future post about classical republicanism and the separation of powers.

In this post, and for that matter in all our future posts, we will discard of the fiction that parliament represents its citizens. Therefore we will treat parliament primarily as a legislative body.

In many countries parliament consists of either one or two chambers. Parliaments with three chambers have existed in the past, but are nowadays obsolete. Arguments for tricameralism are usually similar to those in favour of bicameralism, so we will not discuss such system in this post.

Historically bicameralism has been defended by republicans, whilst democrats were in favour of unicameralism. (NB. the terms republican and democrat does not refer here to the US parties of the same names, instead these terms are used here accordingly to 18th century political theory.)

Republican political thought has traditionally be concerned with the corrupting nature of political power. As remedy against the abuse of power by governments, republican believe in mixed government or in more modern language, checks and balances. By having several competing political actors, the possibility of abuse of power by a single actor would be reduced, but not eliminated.

On the other hands, democrats are arguing from concepts such as popular sovereignty and the unity and indivisibility of the nation. Therefore, democrats argue, having a multicameral parliament is unnatural, since in a bicameral parliaments the two houses might disagree with each other and only one of them could be truly reflect the public opinion. And if the two houses would always agree with each other, such arrangement would be superfluous.

Unfortunately, in our days the distinction between republicans and democrats has severely eroded to the point that people will use these terms interchangeably. Therefore other arguments have been introduced in the debate between unicameralism and bicameralism.

In line with the idea of checks and balances, proponents of bicameralism in both federations and unitary states argue that a second chamber, which is often either appointed or elected indirectly, as a chamber of reflection. In some countries, such as the UK,  the upper house is merely an advisory body, whilst in other countries, such as the Netherlands, the upper house has absolute veto on all legislation.

Bicameralists argue that in parliamentary systems of government (in which the executive depends on the support of at least one of the chambers of parliament) there can only be a real separation of powers, if there is a second parliamentary chamber. Since in a parliamentary system the executive usually is supported by a majority of MPs, the separation between the legislative and executive branches of government is only theoretical. The solution for this problem is therefore, to have two chambers of parliament.

Unicameralists might, on the other hand, argue that a bicameral parliament is inefficient and/or undemocratic. This because a bill has to be discussed in both houses, before it could be passed.

Further unicameralists could argue that there other methods of ensuring checks and balances. One way could be the direct election of the president or prime-minister, which would enhance the separation of powers.

Also constitutional review can provide an alternative check, in this case the court system or a special constitutional council could exercise as check. The difference between a constitutional court and a second chamber, is that the former is apolitical (in that it only looks whether a law violates the constitution) and that it only reviews laws on request (of citizens or specified government institutions).

Some more democratically minded proponents of unicameralism, argue that referendums are a way of ensuring checks and balances in government. This would also eliminate the concern that a second chamber is undemocratic (because it is elected indirectly or is appointed).

A special case for bicameralism is made in federations. Virtually all current federations have a bicameral parliament. Federalism is based on the idea of shared sovereignty of the states and the federal government, both receive their authority from their respective citizens. Therefore one chamber is directly elected by the citizens of the federation, whilst the other chamber represents the states and is often indirectly elected.

However, the specifics of legislatures in several federation vary widely. In some federations have weak bicameralism (one house dominates the other), whilst others have strong bicameralism (both houses exert equal power). But one should also consider that in different federations, the distribution of power between the states and the federal government also varies. Some federations are highly centralized, that they are only distinct from unitary states on paper.

In some federations, such as Germany, the chamber representing the states can only vote on legislation which affects the authority of the states. On matter which belong to the exclusive authority of the federal government, are only voted on in the chamber which represents the federation. We believe that this is the proper method to be followed in federations of space settlements.

The discussion about bicameralism, is not only about whether there should one or two houses of parliament, but also what roles these houses should have. Only in few countries both houses have equal powers, in most bicameral systems the (directly) elected house has the most powers, whilst the other chamber is limited to scrutiny of the executive and proposed legislation.

Weak bicameralism is often used as a compromise between unicameralists, who wants no second chamber, and bicameralists, who often favour a stronger version of bicameralism. On the other hand strong bicameralism is often associated with political gridlock, but it also forces politicians to make political comprises. This reduce the effects of political extremism.

Space settlements and citizenship

In the model we propose, people who are immigrating to a space settlement will do this by their own choice. Further those residents who wish so, are allowed to leave the settlement at any time, either to return to Earth or to move to another settlement.Though some authors have suggested to impose a minimum period of residence by contract, we believe that save for some exceptional circumstances, such contractual clauses should be avoided.

As such it follows that the residence of a space colony is voluntary (I restrict myself here to the case of adults). However, if the residence of a space settlement is voluntary, then the citizenship of such settlement should also be voluntary. Citizens have more rights than residents, mainly rights such as suffrage, but have also additional duties such as conscription. Of course, different space settlements will have different sets of rights and duties, according to principles on which their societies are based.

Any person who is seriously committed to the idea of democracy, should recognize the right of any person to choose in which society he or she wants to live. A socialist, for instance, should be able to migrate to a socialist society, whilst a libertarian should have the right to move to a libertarian one. This idea is known as foot voting. If democrats give us the right to choose between socialist and libertarian parties, they should give us a similar right to choose between socialist and libertarian societies.

This might sounds the bloody obvious, but in reality it is not. Many countries such as France, the Netherlands and Singapore, do not allow their citizens to renounce their citizenship unless they acquire the citizenship of another country. Some countries, such as Argentina and Morocco, go even further and deny their citizens the right to give up their citizenship at all. If you are born as a citizen of such country you are out of luck, you will remain a citizen until your death. At least these countries do allow their citizens to leave the country, but some countries such as North Korea do anything to keep their citizens prisoners of their own country.

People who do not agree with the principles of their own countries should not be forced to stay. And since many country still impose all kind of obligations, such as conscription or taxation, on their citizens, people should not be forced to keep their citizenship if they do not subscribe to the principles of their country.

The reason why many countries have made it hard to renounce citizenship voluntarily, is the convention on the reduction of statelessness. This treaty is meant to combat the ills resulting from involuntary statelessness. The last century has seen a lot of instances of governments arbitrarily revoking citizenship of their subjects, it’s this abuse which has caused many people to see statelessness as a thing to be avoided. But the general principles of the convention are:

  • Everyone has the right to a nationality.
  • No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. (Wikipedia)

Therefore if a person should desire to become a stateless person, a state should not prevent such action. The only thing prohibited to states, is to arbitrarily deprive their citizens from their nationality against their will. Only by due process of law, a state is allowed to involuntary deprive a citizen of his citizenship.

Republicanism is based on the idea that citizenship should be voluntary, which is a logical extension of the core principles of democracy. Persons are not the property of their prospective governments, therefore states are not entitled to impose citizenship on their subjects against their will. In practice this would mean that if a citizen should desire to give up his nationality, he or she should be allowed to do so.

See also:

Federalism and Space colonization

Adam Smith on the functions of government

The Lagrangian Republican Association promotes the establishment of an independent and sovereign republic, which is based on the principles classical republicanism and classical liberalism. With classical liberalism we mean the tradition in political theory based on the works of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. In this post I will discuss Smith’s vision on the proper functions of government. Continue reading Adam Smith on the functions of government