A monarchical perspective on constitutional governance: H.S.H. Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein and The State in the Third Millennium.

Author:Salter, Alexander William
  1. Introduction

    How should a state be ordered if its authority is to remain within well-defined and nonarbitrary bounds? What is the relationship between constitutional craftsmanship and the rule of law? Can constitutions with nondemocratic elements, and even monarchical elements, be effective at restraining majoritarian and autocratic abuses? Each of these questions undergirds a separate research project within the field of constitutional political economy. This essay explores, rather than settles, some of these questions by examining the ideas of H.S.H. Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein in his recent book, The State in the Third Millennium (2009).

    Liechtenstein and its reigning prince are an interesting case study for scholars interested in constitutional economics. Since the end of World War II, Liechtenstein, a tiny state with a population of 35,000, has transformed from a largely undeveloped agrarian nation into the country with the highest income per capita in the world. In addition, Liechtenstein's head of state is hereditary. In contrast with other European monarchies, whose function is ceremonial, Liechtenstein's reigning prince has the authority to veto legislation, call for popular referenda, propose new legislation, and dissolve parliament. The combination of a powerful, hereditary head of state with largely liberal economic policies is an outlier in political history and deserves attention.

    Although The State in the Third Millennium is not an academic work--His Highness readily admits the book should be thought of as a "cookbook of political recipes" rather than a treatise on political philosophy (Hans-Adam II 2009, p. 1)--Prince Hans-Adam Il's perspective on constitutional governance bears investigating because of his unique experience as a public figure. In addition to being a hereditary head of state, His Highness has also been a popular politician backed by a democratic mandate. Citizens of Liechtenstein overwhelmingly voted to strengthen the authority of the reigning prince in a 2003 constitutional referendum, and again overwhelmingly struck down a proposed limit on these powers in a 2012 constitutional referendum. Thus, while The State in the Third Millennium does not offer any striking theoretical novelty, it is valuable as the reflections of one whose life testifies that checks on state power are not necessarily, nor perhaps even most successfully, majoritarian. II.

  2. Setting the Stage: Humanity's Political History

    The first five chapters are a whirlwind tour through human political history, which His Highness uses to develop the concepts he will later employ to analyze the efficacy of various forms of government. Of particular importance are the analyses of state claims to legitimacy and the forces that determine the size of the territory over which states exercise their authority. Altering slightly the standard definition, His Highness defines a state as "a geographical area that is more or less defined, with a population that in the majority has accepted a central authority or has been forced to accept such an authority over a long period of time" (Hans-Adam II 2009, p. 17). The chief source from which states historically claimed authority is religion, but this claim does not necessarily imply a harmony of interests between king and clergy. For example, despite the monopoly status of Roman Catholicism in medieval Europe, temporal and spiritual authorities frequently had to compete for power and influence. His Highness pays close attention to this division of power, asserting that it led "for many parts of the population to freedoms that did not exist in the other part of the world" (Hans-Adam II 2009, p. 28). The importance of divided power, which historically resulted in a sphere of autonomy for the individual, is a theme that receives much attention throughout.

    The first five chapters are also where His Highness develops the political taxonomy employed in later chapters. Borrowing the classical Greek concepts of monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy, His Highness asserts that all states throughout history exhibited features of each, and that success in statecraft is primarily about finding the right balance. The monarch is likened with the executive or head of state; the oligarchy consists of bureaucrats and, often, legislators as well; and democracy obviously refers to the mass of people outside the machinery of the state, whose tacit consent is required at a minimum for the state to exercise its authority (see, e.g., de la Boetie 2008).

  3. America, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein: Case Studies in Constitutional Democracy

    In the next four chapters, His Highness considers America's, Switzerland's, and Liechtenstein's experiences with constitutional democracy, arguing that the Liechtenstein model exhibits the most promising balance of power between monarchic, oligarchic, and...

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