I'm creating a space opera in a galaxy filled with various types of human subspecies. Is it plausible to have a country where the monarch retains powers of controlling the defense and foreign policy even if an elected parliament exists?

Basically, I want something like France's semi-presidential system but with a monarch instead of an elected president. The UK's ceremonial system doesn't work for me.

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    $\begingroup$ Fun thing about the English system is that hypothetically the Queen has all the power, as long as she agrees not to use it in any way except that directed by Parliament. This offers a nice little quirk where if the populace overthrows the government the Queen can step in and organise a new one without any real changes in the constitutional monarchy. Assuming the monarchy survives the (extremely) civil war. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 22 '18 at 11:24
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    $\begingroup$ Why does the name of the position matter? The presidents of France, Russia and the U.S.A. command both defense and foreign policy, and, in the last decade, seem to be able to make war and peace. France, Russia and the U.S.A. have strong presidential systems which you may very well call "elective monarchies". The only differences between a French, or Russian, or American president and a king are the name of the position and the duration of their reign. Mr. Putin seems to be eternal; and until recently the French president was elected for 7 years with the possibility of re-election... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 22 '18 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ Obligatory Seriously. This should be auto-commented under every question that tries to discuss politics. $\endgroup$ – Euphoric Jan 22 '18 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding Jiguna! It's recommended to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer to give everyone around the globe a change to have a look at your question and the answers. Sometimes there are discussions that could change your look on certain answers. Some people may be discouraged from interacting with your question if they think you already found your solution. You can accept/unaccept as often as you like. Of course it's completely your decision whether you want to accept something and if so what and when. Just a tip for the future. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jan 22 '18 at 12:41
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    $\begingroup$ Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you, The Queen $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon Jan 23 '18 at 11:33

15 Answers 15


In space opera, why not? A democracy with hereditary monarch having those powers is not really less democratic than a democracy where a small group of political elite holds those powers. It is a matter of perception, which means it is a matter of tradition.

In our society, high value is set for the people in power being somehow elected as the election is seen as giving a political mandate to use power for the people and having to face an election is seen as a form of accountability. Note that elections actually suck at both. One election result cannot really cover multitude of decisions taken after the election that the voters could have no knowledge of or give meaningful accountability for the multitude of decisions taken since the last election. We simply accept the accepted and traditional forms of government as proper and legitimate since that is traditional. Lack of better alternatives is also a big factor.

If you want to change this so that people accept the king as having mandate to use real and significant executive power you will need to provide similar level of legitimacy of mandate and credible accountability.

Mandate is simple enough. If the institution of the king has been given that power, has not lost it, and the current king is the legitimate king, then he has the mandate to use excutive power. The key here is how the monarchy was originally given the popular mandate.

In space opera the traditional solution is that the founder of the monarchy was a military leader who saved the nation/united the nation, the danger was not over when the democracy was returned by him and he was the only person who could be trusted to do the job. His heir was also highly capable and so it became accepted that the king handles defense and foreign policy while the things that are less critical but have more of a direct impact on people are handled by the elected politicians.

This is not particularly stable solution as politicians have a tendency to feel that they absolutely need more power to do their job. I am guessing this would be best handled by giving the king the mandate and responsibity for keeping the politicians in check. Since the starting point was a military dictatorship this would be something the founder would have wanted and if the people were angry enough at corrupt politicians causing the big problems. So the king would have some oversight powers over the parliament. This would solve the issue with current systems where politicians are barring major bad publicity essentially accountable only to themselves and also make the rules governing themselves.

Then you need some form of solid accountability and oversight for the King. The "solid" means that people must be at least as convinced he is subject to democratic process as they are in case of elected officials. Depending on the setting this might not be that high a bar with elected politicians having a really bad reputation or if people are really convinced about elections being absolutely necessary it might be impossible.

Typically this oversight would be handled by the parliament thru some sort of independent Royal Accountability Office with lots of arcane rules about transparency and impartiality.

This system like any political system works exactly as long as it works after which point it will be replaced by something new. Reasonably there would probably already have been one or two political reforms that fixed issues with oversight, clarified division of power between king and parliament and, after the first truly incompetent king set a formal process for replacing the king.

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    $\begingroup$ For a nice example of this in Space Opera go read "Empire from the Ashes" by David Weber. $\endgroup$ – Tonny Jan 22 '18 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ You could give it even more democratic legitimization by adding that in theory, the king could get disempowered by an election after a referendum due to some thousand years old rule in the constitution, but in practice, no-one ever tried that in the last thousand years, be it because the kings did a good job, people forgot about that opportunity, or just mentally stuck in the status quo, or fear what would come after the king… $\endgroup$ – Holger Jan 22 '18 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Tonny: The political structure of the Star Kingdom/Star Empire of Manticore, found in the Honor Harrington series (also David Weber) is also an example of space opera doing exactly what the question asks about. $\endgroup$ – Ben Voigt Jan 22 '18 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ @BenVoigt I haven’t gotten around to the Honorverse yet. On Basilisk Station is at the top of my ‘to read’ stack for several months but life keeps getting in the way :-( $\endgroup$ – Tonny Jan 23 '18 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ Much as anything else, this answer contains what is hands down the best, most objective description of a democracy that I've ever seen on any SE site (including Po)... +1 $\endgroup$ – Brent Hackers Jan 23 '18 at 13:29

It took 2 civil wars, a foreign invasion, and 500 years of semi-competent, completely mad, or alcoholic, monarchs for the British system to transition from absolute power in the monarchy to all the power being held by Parliament.

You can pick up the system at any point along that transition from the one to the other and say the monarch has this much power and responsibility without it falling outside historical precedent.

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    $\begingroup$ Even now it’s more of a traditional agreement between Queen and parliament. They agree to not get her involved in politics, and she agrees to not assume control of everything that starts ‘Her Majesties’. Both parties agree a civil war would be Bad, and the whole thing works out amicably. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 22 '18 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ well acutally this is an agreement between the parliament and Queen Elisabeth II. Georg VI. was involed in politics, who says the next King/Queen won't be $\endgroup$ – Christian Jan 24 '18 at 12:19

In Imperial Brazil we had a fourth power, beyond the legislative, the judiciary and the executive, the moderating power, that belonged to the Emperor. The emperor could fire ministers, convoke the assembly, sanction the assembly's decrees and pardon criminals.

The idea was that the Emperor, being unelected and dynastic, would be above the petty squabbles and could intervene to limit them when those squabbles would threaten the stability of the empire. It worked well for two emperors, from 1822 to 1889.

Also, during the imperial age, Brazil was somewhat democratic - There were elections for the parliament but there was no universal suffrage, had some freedom of press (the first emperor had to abdicate after people linked to him murdered a journalist - that was scandal was the last drop), you could form parties and associations, but there was no freedom of religion. But by modern criteria no country in the 19th century was democratic.

It's said that the moderating power of the emperor saved Brazil from fracturing like the Spanish viceroyalties fractured, even during the large scale rebellions like the ones in the Grão-Pará province and Rio Grande do Sul.

In Portugese: "Poder Moderador"

  • $\begingroup$ That sounds a lot like the Governor-General (Australia, and possibly other Commonwealth). Who has famously used their power at least once in recent history. $\endgroup$ – Bob Jan 23 '18 at 4:03

Thailand has a 'strong monarch' democracy....sort of

According to Thailand's constitution, the Thai monarch is the head of the armed forces, has the power to grant pardons, and must approve acts of Parliment by royal assent.

I say sort of because Thailand isn't the most stable 'democracy.' In fact, the most recently elected Prime Minister was removed from office by the constitutional court; her deputy took over only to be removed in a coup three weeks later, whereupon the elected Prime Minister was arrested. Thailand has had 21 coups since 1912, including 5 since 1980, so there is that.

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    $\begingroup$ It's true that Thailand isn't the most stable democracy, which makes it even more fascinating that through all of these coups the monarch was never openly questioned. Basically, all of these coups are just about who reigns below the monarch. It's positively fascinating. $\endgroup$ – xLeitix Jan 22 '18 at 14:59

Short answer: No two sentient beings will ever agree exactly on which regimes are democracies and which are not.

Long answer: It is my personal opinion that the very existence of a monarch, in and of itself, makes a country slightly less democratic. "Slightly" because there are a good number of constitutional monarchies where citizens enjoy much more freedom than some "republican democracies" which shall remain nameless.

That said, I can imagine some attributions a monarch may or may not have, which don't make a country undemocratic if they have it. Obviously, YMMV. For example:

  • Veto a few selected kinds of executive of legislative acts, like, say, declarations of war, or changes of the country's flag or anthem.
  • Call for new parliamentary elections - not at will, but in some few cases like a well-defined gridlock.
  • Pardon a few selected kind of crimes, like the President of the USA does.

I do believe, though, that any monarchy should be free to eventually declare itself a republic.

Also: "being a democracy" is not an "is-or-is-not" proposition, any more than "being fat" or "being tall" is.

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    $\begingroup$ The President of the USA has the power to pardon any and all federal crimes "except in cases of impeachment". So far they have only used that power selectively, but there is nothing requiring them to. (Unless you mean that the power only applies to federal crimes; in which case, yes, but most state governors have a similar power of pardon for state crimes.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 23 '18 at 9:48

Without properly defining a democracy (which is a never-ending debate in the current political world), it's hard to provide an all encompasing answer. However, one approach may be to have the Monarch's power backed up with their life.

Give the monarch the power to do great things (perhaps the right to do almost anything). However, it comes with a catch. When the monarch invokes this power, their life is on the line. At some time later (you will have to work out the details of when), the parliament gets to vote whether to continue with the monarch, or take their life for making a poor decision.

The idea here is to give them the power to do anything, but to make sure parliment holds the power of consequences over the monarch when they do so. The idea is borrowed from the Octospiders from Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. They had a fascinating system. The parliament controlled everything except for the ability to go to war. Only the Queen could call for war. Their approach was even more brutal than mine. If the Queen called for war, parliment voted on it. If they voted against it, she was put to death for being clearly too violent to rule the Octospiders. If they voted for it, the entire species underwent a genetic-level transformation into a warrior race, and stopped at nothing short of xenocide. At the end of the war, all the warriors were put to death, being good for nothing else. The queen was also put to death, to ensure bloodlust never entered their government.

My approach at least gives the parliment the opportunity to decide to reinstate the monarch, but it's roughly the same approach.

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    $\begingroup$ If you want to milden it, instead of killing, just connect those decisions with an automatic abdication (and a pre-defined heir). $\endgroup$ – Paŭlo Ebermann Jan 22 '18 at 21:33

Look at Europe

Almost all the European countries have had elections for senates and/or congresses, or whatever you want to call it, while retaining a powerful monarchy -- that's pretty much what you're asking for.

Usually, the monarchy would deal with defenses while the elected officials dealt with everything else, including lawmaking, with plenty of examples where this is not the case. The real crux seems to be who controls the judges -- if the monarch do, the democracy part of the society is pretty moot. Otherwise, the monarch is just the government -- something akin to the cabinet of ministers in a European democracy (+ any head of state, such as a president akin to how the USA is governed).

Look at Scandinavia

The Scandinavian kingdoms used to have their kings elected when the old king (was)[1] died, and I seen no reason why a democracy can't have an elected emperor or king in the same way.

[1] Incorrect language intentional.

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    $\begingroup$ I believe in ancient germany the emperor was also elected among the kings of the small kingdoms that formed it but it was the royal families that voted also the vikings sorta had this thing going as well. $\endgroup$ – Kaotis Jan 23 '18 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Kaotis The tradition of electing kings in Scandinavia does go, at least, as far back as the Viking age. And yes, you are correct that there was a similar system in the HRE; I believe it's more a common Germanic thing rather than a Scandinavian thing -- the tradition has just been part of Scandinavia for much longer than other places (plus, I'm Danish, so I'm a bit biased). $\endgroup$ – Clearer Jan 23 '18 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ Which European country do you see as having a powerful monarchy? $\endgroup$ – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 23 '18 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinBonner Today? None. But not too long ago (post WW1) a lot of them did. $\endgroup$ – Clearer Jan 23 '18 at 9:56

Give the British Monarchy model a try. You'll like it :-)

I live on the leading edge of the empire (first to see the sun) - and disagree with Martin. While the Queen may in theory have little political power, the difference between theory and practice is greater in practice than in theory. The Queen's [tm] power lies in presumed steel fist in many many layers of velvet glove, to the extent that while everyone "knows" that the steel fist is not actually there, in practice it is (even though it's not, even ...)

The end result is that the Queen can very easily "lean" on people / organisations / traditions ... and has to (and does) take great care to not to be seen to do any leaning.

Reading Winston Churchill's "The Second World War" and other of his writings makes it clear that the then King had substantial influence on Churchill's actions - especially his considered more extreme ones. These mainly related to Churchill's health and safety and likelihood of being alive next week on various occasions, but were not limited to this area.

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  • $\begingroup$ Loved the photo, but I thought it would be accompanied by the real answer that everyone else seems to be missing. Unfortunately it wasn't. Queen Elizabeth does have power, and it is very real. See my answer. $\endgroup$ – Ray Butterworth May 1 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ @RayButterworth As a "getting older" New Zealander, just across pond from Australia, I'm well aware of the Queen's ability to dismiss and appoint Parliamentary heads, and of this having happened. While I agree that that would have been useful to include in my answer, I don't feel that it is the greatest example of the British monarchy's exercise of power. I feel (such things are necessarily opinion) that the aspects I mentioned have greater long term import than occasioning the very occasional changing of the guard. $\endgroup$ – Russell McMahon May 1 at 6:58

Sure you can. Others have given a lot of reasons as for why the monarch can hold power, now let's also ask why we'd want the monarch to remain in power.

One of the more interesting views on this is the reknowned libertarian Hans Herman Hoppe, who wrote a book called Democracy: The God that Failed. He basically makes the case that a democratic government has some very shitty incentives that rewards splitting the population into voting block, taking from Paul and giving to Peter (because 51% of the population is Peter and the remaining 49% is Paul), and a lot of other "fun" things. He calls this the uncivilizing effects of democracy.

You can argue that Ukraine had a similar problem when "enthusiastic tourists" engaged with the public officials, so to speak, and Crimea left. And I am oversimplifying here, but bear with me.

You see, there was a big problem with Ukrainian politics, other than the fact that they were completely dysfunctional in a way otherwise only seen in a banana republic: They were essentially culturally and politically split. Down about the middle. This meant that the democratically elected government spent its time shitting on half of the population, and depending on which side had the most babies 18 years+ ago, the side that got shat on changed. This of course leads to very dysfunctional governance, because neither side will build up stuff, because the other side will just destroy it afterwards. I'm not saying that either side were good or bad here, they were both shit. However, shit is what survived under such systems.

When Crimea left, you had a new situation: The Crimeans were culturally Russian-friendly, and when they left Ukraina for the Rodina, the Russian-hostile/Western-friendly party had a permanent majority.

Imagine getting 40% of the votes in every election, and the only issue we're voting over are cutting your benefits and raising your taxes... You can't complain because it's democratic. This is the kind of problem (although I'm simplifying massively) that the easterners faced. Hence the revolt, hence the police action (it's not a civil war because then Ukraine can't get loans from the IMF to stay afloat) involving armoured columnns and artillery, and hence the general shit-show.

But imagine that there was a King. He had a 2-5% income tax or something as his only source of income. He had about 50% of the power. Now what interests would the King of Ukraine have? He wants to have money right? So he would not do anything that made people earn less money. He would in fact likely stop any shitting on any group as far as he could, because it would be against his interests. He would also oppose with a vigour seldom seen in politics against any robber-politician because while the politician will spend 5-10 years in office to take as many bribes as possible, looting the country and then just leaving, the King will spend his life as King, and he will pass the title on to his son. So he has a very, very real incentive to have political looters like that shot.

In such a state the Monarch would in fact be a massively stabilizing force because the elected officials cannot loot without his consent and to him looting does nothing but ruin him. And he wouldn't be alone either. He'd have a family who would definitively want to keep him around and stop him if he did something evil.

Therefore you could have had a stable Ukraine because there would have been a King/Tsar that would have had a vested interest in shit not hitting the fan. Ukraine's problems are pretty deep and complex (or rather there are two sides of shitty politicians that have taken their turns looting the country since the nineties, but that's a mean thing to say, but you'll never find Ukrainians really denying it..) and there are no obvious solutions except for federalization with extensive states' rights and forced neutrality. But you'd need something like a King or a Tzar to be able to wield enough powers for that shit to even begin to happen, so...

Summa summarum, kings can happen and they can have good stabilizing influence on a polity in such a way that the various groups in the country will trust him more than the democratically elected politicians.


Is it plausible to have a country where the monarch retains powers of controlling the defense and foreign policy even if elected parliament exists?


Having seen what a hash that both universal suffrage republican democracies and absolute dictatorships have made of things, the wise Founder of The New Order -- someone like a General who led the country through a big and destructive war -- sets up a New Way where the King controls defense and foreign policy. He'd have to be limited by Parliment's control of the purse.

Suffrage would be earned by demonstrating your worthiness to choose leaders: some sort of service to the State (a la Starship Troopers) plus demonstrated proof of your contribution to society.

I doubt that it would work in a multicultural society, though.


Look at real life European example - Liechtenstein. From wikipedia:

In a national referendum in March 2003, nearly two-thirds of the electorate voted in support of Hans-Adam II's proposed new constitution to replace the 1921 version. The proposed constitution was criticised by many, including the Council of Europe, as expanding the powers of the monarchy (continuing the power to veto any law, and allowing the Prince to dismiss the government or any minister).

So, basically you need your polity to enjoy high life standard (at least compared to neighbours), the monarch to be very popular and not stupid (and this is a problem, in a hereditary monarchy you will get a rotten apple from time to time). Though, given the space opera setting, with a bit of genetic engineering, there is no reason for the royal family not to be perfectly healthy, intelligent, charming, hard working and generally beloved by the population.

  • $\begingroup$ Republican countries don't get to talk about stupid heads of state. You choose idiots. At least domesticated monarchs can be bred to be better heads of state... ;) $\endgroup$ – Haakon Løtveit Jan 24 '18 at 8:05

If you're looking for a real-life example i'd suggest looking at the first german republic of 1918-1933 and their president. He had very substantial powers to interfere with the entire government in case of an emergency. Through a rather complex system of loopholes and rule-bending the last president, Hindenburg, basically ruled like a monarch, disbanding the government, backing a minority government, revoking basic rights... The position got these powers to protect the country in case of emergency. The founders thought that a strong ruler was needed to ensure quick responses to imminent dangers.

You'd just have to make that system hereditary, then you'd already have your limited monarch.


Maybe I'm wrong but I believe that Naboo (from Star Wars) has a system that might fit what you want to do - as in, you could take inspiration from it.

A more direct answer to your question: yes it's perfectly possible. You could even separate the state powers and divide them between the monarchy and the political side where 1 has power over its attributes and can't interfere with the other in which case I'd suggest giving the military to the monarchy, as in, their role in society is to defend the people (like in ancient times mostly).


There are many countries that are mostly democratic today, and which once were ruled by monarchs with strong powers, even though there has never been a monarch who was really "absolute" and all powerful.

Some of of those mostly democratic countries still have monarchs today who have little or no political power. Study the history of those countries to find the changes between largely nondemocratic rule by the monarch and largely democratic rule by representatives elected by (most or all) of the people. In some of those countries the process may have been gradual.

In countries where the process was gradual, you might find periods where the monarchs had enough power to satisfy your "real power" requirement and the government was democratic enough to satisfy your "democracy" requirement.





A few answers start on the right track, mentioning the British system, and then dismiss it or describe it as being unofficial and behind the scenes. That is totally wrong.

For the UK, Canada, and most other countries that have the Monarch as their head of state, there is one very real power available. In fact, their Monarch has the ultimate power over the government.

The Monarch's responsibility is to ensure that the government is acting constitutionally and in the best interests of the country. At any time, the Monarch can fire the current Prime Minister and either call a general election or ask some other politician to form a government.

If such power were abused of course, it wouldn't take long for the next government, with the almost certain support of the electorate, to change the constitution and remove the position of Monarch.

But the Monarch is aware of this, so almost only uses this power at the request of the current government.
In practice, when the current government decides that it's time to have a new general election, the Prime Minister submits a resignation to the Monarch and requests that the Monarch declare a general election.

That doesn't necessarily have to happen though. In Ontario Canada in 1985, instead of wasting time and money on another general election, Queen Elizabeth, through her Governor General, instead decided to ask the leader of the opposition to be Premier. No election necessary. The new PM simply made a deal with the third place party and formed a new government.

A more extreme case happened in Australia in 1975. The political situation was so bad that the Queen simply fired the current Prime Minister and appointed a new one, without being asked. This was known as the Australian Constitutional Crisis.

Don't fool yourself. Just because she doesn't use it very often, don't think that Queen Elizabeth's power isn't real.


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