The Eventual Fate of Monarchical Rule in Asian Societies with Traditional Ties to Monarchy

Historically societies in both Europe and Asia have had their periods of rule by monarchs (under whatever title).  As Europe moved towards a model of more democratic societal organisation, and as the younger societies in North and South America were organised as republics with a democratic franchise for their citizens, this left Asia as a primary area where monarchy still had a reasonably strong foothold.  In some cases this was treated as a religious leadership, or at least the monarch was considered to be a representative of the divine, and in others it was based on a form of aristocratic dominance assigned to the religious or the military leadership.

Over the last century, however, influenced to a great degree by the domination by the European powers and their overlaying their conceptual framework over many Asian societies, and accentuated by the changes brought about through the two great world wars, we have been able to observe the move of these great Asian civilisations towards a more democratic form.  India for one has been converted into what is known as the “world’s largest democracy”.  Japan and Korea certainly have become democratic in form, and even in isolated kingdoms such as Bhutan, the hereditary king has moved the country towards the representative form of governance.  China, with the rise of the Communist Party, retains something of the monarchical tendency although as the society grows in economic power and distribution of wealth increases, we may see tendencies towards more power being conveyed to the citizenry in the field of governance as well.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…in Asia kingship has been not only a material fact resting upon political needs and conditions, but a spiritual symbol and invested with a sacrosanct character.  But in Asia no less than in Europe, monarchy has been a historical growth, the result of circumstances and therefore subject to disappearance when those circumstances no longer exist.  The true mind of Asia has always remained, behind all surface appearances, not political but social, monarchical and aristocratic at the surface but with a fundamental democratic trend and a theocratic spirit.”

“In India the monarchical sentiment, which coexisted with but was never able to prevail over the theocratic and social except during the comparatively brief rule of the Moghuls, was hopelessly weakened, though not effaced, by the rule of a British bureaucracy and the political Europeanising of the active mind of the race.  In Western Asia monarchy has disappeared in Turkey, it exists only in the States which need the monarch as a centralising power or keystone.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 23, Forms of Government, pp. 197-198