European monarchies aren’t what they used to be. Not only do they wield little political power, they also, not unrelatedly, no longer inspire much republican fervor. On the whole, those who do object to monarchies tend to ignore them or mock them, making strong republican arguments only when a major event – such as a royal wedding – rolls around.
Tomorrow’s British royal wedding is much covered in the press (and, in fairness, at the top of the public mind), but, unlike when Prince Charles married the late Princess Diana in 1981, criticism is not hard to find. Even the BBC has debated the subject.
German newsweekly Der Freitag (Friday) has a novel take on the issue of the legitimacy of the aristocracy. Unsurprisingly, the left-leaning publication is against inherited privilege. But instead of proffering the opinions of union leaders, social workers and other liberal usual suspects, it gets aristocrats to condemn privilege. Former aristocrats, at any rate.
Jutta Ditfurth notes self-serving myth-making on the part of Europe’s nobility: "One of the most successful is the myth of noble resistance against the Nazism," going on to say that many nobles hated Germany's Jews.
Ms. Ditfurth herself traded tiaras for sandals back in the 1970s, helping to found Germany’s Green Left Party. Now a journalist and politician, she was once known as Jutta Gerta Armgard von Ditfurth.
Noting that the children of Germany’s remaining aristocrats are privately educated, Ditfurth says that “this not about solidarity, social equality, emancipation, but about relationships, networks and social boundaries. … Education of "noble values" is always associated with elitism, social ignorance, blood and racism.”
Benjamin von Brackel, who says his family is “totally ‘embourgeoisified’ ” except for still retaining its coat of arms, says that even in Germany, where formal privilege was abolished long ago, aristocrats enjoy more influence than may people care to admit.
Mr. Von Brackel notes there are seven aristocrats in the German parliament, saying that this is a disproportionate number and thus exemplifies continuing power:
While Germany has a population of about 82 million people, there are estimated to be only 80,000-120,000 nobles. The aristocracy lost its legal status in 1945, the nobility in the GDR [East Germany] its property and much of the nobility their homes east of the Elbe. In the old Federal Republic [West Germany] the nobility managed to preserve itself as an exclusive group, and to keep its assets, palaces and its land.
Back on 'planet pleb' with the rest of us, journalist Stefanie Hardick, who says she is “nobody’s subject,” argues that European monarchs exert subtle but real pressure on politics and, despite attempts to paint themselves as just being families like any other, enjoy “privileges that go far beyond the rights of their subjects.”
The issue of cost also rears its head with the magazine noting a Dutch government study that found the country's monarchy cost the taxpayers €110 million euros (about $163 million) annually.
On the other hand, she says, countries with monarchies tend to have a stronger sense of identity:
Juan Carlos I is deemed the father of Spanish democracy. The German government spokesman Steffen Seibert referred to King Albert II recently as a symbol of the threatened unity of Belgium. And without the Grimaldis, Monaco would probably have ago long become a French province.