The (il)Legitimacy of Constitutional Monarchy: a philosophical paper on a strange form of governance

Matt Munnelly

1 – Introduction

This paper will discuss a form of monarchy that is also, supposedly, a democracy. The problem outlined here is an epistemic one: a constitutional monarchy imposes restrictions on the deliberative process necessary for a legitimate democracy. Following introductions to key terms in Part 1, Part 2 provides a sketch of the essential characteristic of a constitutional monarchy. Part 3 outlines the conception of democratic legitimacy to be used in the analysis in Part 4. Part 4’s argument has three sections: the first emphasises the monarchy’s restriction on democratic deliberation, the second discusses a trilemma for explaining a monarch’s enhanced ability to contribute to deliberation, the third focuses on the lack of scrutiny that the monarch’s deliberation receives. I conclude that constitutional monarchy places an insurmountable epistemic constraint on deliberation, preventing the achievement of democratic legitimacy.

In this paper, the analysis of constitutional monarchy will be focused on a particular form where it is limited by a democratic constitution rather than a monarchy merely limited by a constitution (2). Constitutional monarchy will here mean: a system that blends monarchical and democratic government by transferring powers usually held by a monarch to an elected politician but reserving certain powers and symbolism to the monarch. These powers are limited by a democratic constitution. The monarch, from here on referred to as a Head of State (HoS) ‘shares’ responsibility for running the state with a Head of Government (HoG) (3).

The view that this kind of system can be democratically legitimate can be called ‘compatibilism’. Compatibilism claims that there is a way of coherently having this mixed government without difficulty or contradiction. It claims that democracy’s goods, both theoretical (legitimacy, equality) and practical (open elections, free press) are not forfeited in this blend of monarchy with democracy. Given the little attention constitutional monarchy receives in democratic theory, there are few accounts of this view. Compatibilist arguments can, however, be found in various other mediums: political theory constitutional law, journalism.

In short, legitimacy is the justification of political decisions and authority based on normative criteria. It “qualifies the right of the democratic institution to impose laws and regulations on itself” (Peter 2008 A, 57). A full account of legitimacy will be given in Part 3.

2 – Constitutional Monarchy

This section will provide a minimal sketch of the kind of constitutional monarchy this paper addresses. Discussing a specific monarchy could confuse Constitutional Monarchy as a form of governance with that specific instantiation of it. The argument made here should absolutely not be understood as a critique of a particular monarchy. No, not at all. Instead, it should be understood to be demonstrating how this form of governance is democratically illegitimate. To avoid this pitfall, it is necessary to abstract away from a specific monarchy and focus on the features of it that makes it a constitutional one. The UK’s constitutional monarchy is praised as the perfect paradigm of a constitutional monarchy that allows democracy to thrive, so will be abstracted here (Barker 1943, Hazell & Morris 2020). (4).

1: This is a condensed version of a paper written funded by the Warwick URSS bursary, supervised by Dr Kirk Surgener. Thanks to him for his guidance, as well as to Jeshurun Ratnasamy, Fabienne Peter, Harland Cossons and Ciara Munnelly for helpful comments on earlier versions.

2: A helpful discussion of kinds of constitutional/ limited government is in from Bogdanor 1997, chapter 1.

3: If this HoS/ HoG business gets confusing, remember that a previous HoG in this country is David Cameron. As for the connection between Cameron and hogs, I leave up to the reader.

The abstraction will be completed by using what compatibilist texts take to be the essential constitutional rights of a monarch. (5). This method has the benefit of proving that there is no possibility for reform. That is, since I below argue against what is essential to this system of governance according to compatibilists, to counter my argument with claims for reform would be to reform it into something other than the system of governance at play.

The essential constitutional rights of the HoS are the Personal Prerogative Powers, the Bagehot Rights, and the Opinion-Gathering Function.

The Personal Prerogative Powers are (1) to appoint and dismiss ministers, particularly the HoG, (2) to summon, prorogue and dissolve the legislature, and (3) to give Royal Assent to Bills passed by the legislature (Hazell & Morris, 21-26). The exercise of these is only a formality – the HoS does so when they are instructed to (ibid, 22). The HoS has neither choice nor responsibility for when they are exercised (Barker 1943, 8). When they are exercised, it is the fact than the HoS did so that makes someone HoG, summons the legislature, or makes a Bill an Act.

The Bagehot Rights are: (1) to be consulted, (2) to encourage and (3) to warn (Bagehot 2001 [1867], 60, Hazell & Morris 2020, 80). How these might be practiced is abstracted away, but to explain, consider how they are exercised in the UK. The HoS is informed of all government business through meeting minutes and communication with the HoG (fulfilling the first right) (Hazell & Morris 2020, 80). Weekly meetings then allow the HoG to exercise the second and third rights (ibid).

The purpose of the Opinion-Gathering Function is to acquaint the HoS with the ‘current thinking’ among their subjects; the HoS must be familiar with opinions of all peoples in the state (Barker 1943, 6). Opinion-Gathering is done by making regular public appearances, meeting people from all over the state and from all walks of life (Hazell & Morris 2020, 80). The end of opinion-gathering is taken to be the HoS understanding what government action people wish for – allowing the HoS to “join together with their subjects” to bring about change (Barker 1943, 6). The gathering of this information allows the HoS to be epistemically justified (i.e., qualified) in exercising the two rights explained above.

The Opinion-Gathering Function has no full epistemological explanation. It does seem difficult to accept that the HoS can be in touch with the thinking and sentiment, let alone reasons, of all subjects. (6) The claim is that the HoS gathers opinion that reflects the state’s political landscape that can then inform and legitimise the exercise of the other two rights discussed here.

3 – Legitimacy

In this part, the conception of democratic legitimacy at play will be introduced. However, I will be careful to demonstrate how my conclusions do not only apply to this particular conception.

4: This paper does not deny the morally abhorrent actions of the UK’s monarchy throughout history right up to and including the present. Instead, it says that even if the members of any royal family were morally exemplary, a constitutional monarchy of this kind would still be democratically illegitimate – the necessary features of constitutional monarchy make it so, regardless of the individuals involved.

5: Compatibilist texts considered are Bagehot 2001 [1867], Barker 1942, Hazell & Morris 2020.

6: The absurdity of this delusional compatibilist claim could be developed into a reductio ad absurdum very simply and easily, so I will not argue for this here. The lack of epistemological analysis is representative of a larger gap in democratic theory’s analysis of Monarchy, but also of an absence of critical thinking on the part of Monarchists.

According to Pure Epistemic Proceduralism (PEP), a political action is legitimate if its deliberation procedure meets certain political and epistemic fairness requirements (Peter 2008 A). Epistemic democrats, like Fabienne Peter, are concerned with the knowledge involved is democracy, as opposed to democracy’s outcomes. Similarly, for a proceduralist, the value of democracy is within the democratic process itself. Pure proceduralism refrains from appealing to any procedure-independent standards (Peter 2008 A, 130); all the value of democracy comes from the procedure itself. PEP is this paper’ s selected conception of legitimacy because of its broad-church approach in democratic theory. That is, it involves developments of various popular views; deliberative democracy (ibid, 31-55); Rawlsian proceduralism (ibid, 93-99); Dewey’s and Estlund’s focus on epistemology and Anderson’s intrinsic/ instrumentalist development in that vein (ibid, 110-129).

PEP considers decisions being the outcome of democratic procedure exactly what makes them ‘correct’, instead of believing in some procedure-independent ideal outcomes of decision-making that democracy merely tracks (ibid, 123). There is “an ongoing process of critical engagement and learning with conflicting representations of what the problems are, what it takes to solve them, and the reasons people have for valuing alternative options thus construed” (Peter, 2008 B, 50). This is the constructive function of democracy (Sen 1999, cf Peter 2008 A, 3, 64). So long as certain requirements are met to ensure the decision-making procedure is politically and epistemically fair, any output of that procedure can be legitimate. This function emphasises the importance of deliberation in PEP, despite being an epistemic, rather than deliberative account.

Peter’s account has two kinds of fairness requirements: epistemic and political. For brevity, I will here dedicate most of the exposition to the epistemic requirements. This enables the paper to later criticise monarchy not for restricting political fairness but proving illegitimacy on epistemic grounds in Part 4.

Following Helen Longino’s social epistemology in the philosophy of science, there are four requirements that the knowledge-producing procedure ought to offer in order to be legitimate (Peter 2008 A, 123-4, Peter 2008 B, 47-9). (7) The first is a publicly recognised forum for criticism of knowledge. That is, space for critical discourse. Citizens’ claims are scrutinised and tested against others’. Second is the uptake of criticism: all groups should be responsive to each other’s criticism. If group A outlines a problem with group B’s proposal, group B then responds to that problem: either outlining how it is not actually a problem, or accounting for the problem in an updated proposal. The third requirement is for publicly recognised standards of evaluation, which can themselves be scrutinised. That is, a process or structure for how deliberation is carried out to enable “orderly and constructive” critical discourse (Peter 2008 A, 123). This would be a public forum with a clear debating structure, though that structure itself can be changed. The final requirement is equality of intellectual authority: “a criterion that warns of illegitimate associations between social, political and/ or economic privilege and power with epistemic privilege and power” (ibid, 124). There must be insurance that privilege in social, political, or economic spheres do not enable individuals to make a disproportionate contribution to public discourse.

These requirements provide answers to the ‘where, why, how and who’ questions about the constructive function of democracy, respectively (ibid). All citizens are involved in public deliberation in a way that is responsive to others, with clear (adaptable) discourse methods and with equal capability for making contributions. From here, it is possible to see how PEP can then arrive at typical democratic goods (open elections, equality and so on).

7: From Longino’s The Fate of Knowledge (2002)

It is important to bear in mind the ways that epistemic and political fairness requirements can impact each other. It would be wrong to think that they are completely distinct from each other. I will just note two implications of the epistemic on the political.

First, the requirement for uptake of criticism impacts how one treats their political opponents. When individuals reflect on and react to their opponent’s criticisms, they will have to closely interact with their opponent and their claims. It is insufficient to merely ‘acknowledge each other as equal’.8 The construction of knowledge that a state legitimately acts on means citizens must give strong consideration to their opponents, seeing one’s political opponents as individuals who one must respond to and, in an indirect way, can learn from.

A second notable implication on political fairness is from the fourth requirement: equality of intellectual authority. This would mean that no viewpoint in public discourse should be afforded more importance, credibility or indeed consultation from law makers. Once public discourse has taken place and found its decision, a viewpoint cannot be reintroduced and allowed to contribute further to the deliberation once a law has been created. In order for further deliberation to take place, it must be made accessible to all citizens. Equally, one cannot pay private fees for their input to be granted more consideration by representatives than others.

It may be questioned whether the arguments of Part 4 can only apply to this specific conception of legitimacy. In other words, the conclusions made here might be held hostage to pure epistemic proceduralism. Before moving on, I must clarify why this is not true.

Equality is essential to democracy; specifically who is equal and how it works is indeed debated, but to discuss democracy without equality would be to discuss some other concept.9 Indeed, Peter herself calls equality “the most important intrinsic value of democracy”, despite her account being procedurally focused (Peter 2008 A, 38). It is not true that legitimacy here relies merely on epistemology or the pureness of procedure. PEP uses a common thread through democratic theory – equality.

To expand this point further, consider that accounts of democratic legitimacy appeal to equality on either instrumental or non-instrumental grounds. (10) That is, democracy is either taken to be instrumentally valuable for reaching ideal outcomes, or non-instrumentally valuable for instantiating goods in itself: but to claim both is also possible (Anderson 2009) (11). PEP is an ideal way of accounting for this dual value: some non-instrumentalists appeal to political equality or fairness, but sometimes others make epistemic equality or fairness. So here, by using a conception that does BOTH (political and epistemic), the PEP conclusion represents a deeper, more broad possibility in democratic theory. Thus, it can be said that the epistemic arguments in what follows do not apply only to PEP, but to the ‘equality’ that is fundamental to democracy.

4 – Constitutional Monarchy’s (il)Legitimacy

The argument made in this part shows the epistemic restriction that the essential constitutional rights of a constitutional monarchy impose on the attainment of democratic legitimacy. Whether used or not, the ability to inform the deliberation process more than other people undermines democracy because it means that certain people can make a greater contribution to democracy than others. That is, an undemocratically selected individual can make a larger or more advanced political contribution than others. Part 4.1 shows that the Opinion-Gathering function is an attempt to aggregate opinion, which undermines the deliberation necessary for the constructive function of, democracy. Second, 4.2 introduces a trilemma that proves that the lack of scrutiny that the HoS’ opinion receives undermines the epistemic fairness requirement for the uptake of criticism. Finally, 4.3 discusses how the HoS’ deliberation receives insufficient scrutiny. 4.3 will also make the links between each part of the argument clear. Each of these sections handle illegitimacy stemming from the Bagehot Rights. In 4.2 and 4.3 these rights prevent the ‘democratic’ constitutional monarchy from meeting the epistemic fairness requirements. In 4.1, their conjunction with other essential features of constitutional monarchy show illegitimacy.

8: As deliberative democrats have it, for instance, Thomas Christiano (2008, 15-16)

9: I am thinking here of epistocracy, or some other elitist system with democratic features like voting, but that is not actually Democratic.

10: For an instrumentalist account, see Wall 2007. For a non-instrumentalist, Christiano 2008

11: I have elsewhere shown Anderson’s ‘Dualist Democratic Equality’ approach to also show incompatibility between democracy and equality (Munnelly 2022).

4.1 – Aggregating

The intention of the Opinion-Gathering function is to legitimise the HoS’ role in deliberation (Barker 1943, 6). By gathering opinion, the HoS can collect the public’s criticisms and feed them back to the HoG. This would mean that in exercising the Bagehot Rights, the HoS can make an epistemic contribution by way of aggregating some common or general will for their encouragement or warning. The compatibilist claim here is that the HoS contributes the opinion of the whole state in exercising the Bagehot Rights, not merely their own. (12)

The Opinion-Gathering Function cannot be considered a supplement for democratic decision-making for two related reasons. They both turn on the assumption of some kind of aggregation – this aggregation is completed via the Opinion-Gathering Function and is taken to legitimise the HoS’ encouragements and warnings.

The first point is a rudimentary one; aggregation is epistemologically inconceivable. That is, no epistemological framework, whether Helen Longino’s or another, would concede that an individual would be able to aggregate and adequately scrutinise all citizens’ (subjects’) opinions, let alone reasons. (13). The compatibilist’s proposal here does not put the HoS’ views up to adequate scrutiny because of the HoS’ own bias. That is, it only allows the HoS (an individual) to scrutinise the reasons of others, not all citizens (subjects) being able to scrutinise the reasons of others.

But even entertaining the possibility of the compatibilist’s claim here, there is the second, far more important, problem. The use of aggregative functions is insufficient for the conception of democratic legitimacy at play: what identifies a decision as legitimate is that it is the outcome of a democratic procedure that satisfies certain political and epistemic fairness requirements. To meet these conditions, the process must scrutinise different arguments and put them against each other to decide what a state is to do. The assumption that it is possible to use the opinion-gathering function of the HoS as a supplement to guarantee that their encouragements and warnings are legitimate also commits a further assumption: that it is possible to achieve the same outcome as democratic procedure, just through the opinion of one person. In other words, the compatibilist is assuming that the procedure could come to the same conclusion as an individual, and that both can be legitimate.

Both assumptions are mistaken. To simplify the issue, we will use a thought experiment that concedes the first assumption. Take two scenarios: one where the democratic process decides ‘Yes’ in a referendum, and the second where a monarch HoS decides ‘Yes’ to the question that the referendum posed, but only based of the Opinion-Gathering Function.

12: “Sir” Ernest Barker writes that “the powers of the King shall be used in accordance with the will of the nation” and that previous monarchs in the UK “joined with their subjects in brining about change when the will of the nation was set for change” (Barker 1943, 6). His evidence is spotty and would be better interpreted as monarchs conceding small defeats in order to stay in power in their tax-funded ivory towers.

13: For context, consider the kind of system this abstraction comes from. A serious, respected political theorist really claimed that by occasionally having conversations with members of the British public, George VI was qualified to be involved in political decision making. Apparently, saying “and what do you do” a couple of times delivers as much of a mandate as popular vote.

Here, even though both democratic process and the HoS were to reach the outcome, only the former would be legitimate. In the former case, adequate democratic deliberation has taken place. In the latter, subjects’ different reasons have not been scrutinised (except by the individual HoG), criticisms of views have not been accommodated to form new reasons.

This case is also evidence of how the democratic illegitimacy charges against constitutional monarchy do not only stand in the context of pure epistemic proceduralism. It would be quite absurd for a democratic theorist to claim that the result of a referendum is less desirable than a monarch making some decision themselves based on communication with subjects. If a democratic theorist did make such a claim, serious study of their work probably would not be necessary: cancelling their Daily Mail subscription, however, might be.

It should be noted that it may be asked why I take the Opinion-Gathering function to be essential to constitutional monarchy. First, because of the absurd claims made by the likes of Barker (1943) that I already referenced. Second, I have been charitable here by conceding to the compatibilist a way of qualifying the HoS’ contribution. Otherwise, the compatibilist might as well go out into the street, find the most insufferably stuck-up, unqualified and privileged person around, and invite them to private (behind-closed-doors) meetings with the HoG.

Therefore, there is no way of legitimising the HoS via the Opinion-Gathering Function, as well as the aggregation process being impossible. All laws do not need to be subject to an individual’s will to be illegitimate: not meeting the epistemic fairness requirements is sufficient for illegitimacy. I have just shown that appealing to the Opinion-Gathering Function to justify the second and third Bagehot Rights as legitimate elements of a democratic procedure does not meet the epistemic fairness requirements. In the following section I will turn from the Opinion-Gathering Function to focus more on the Bagehot Rights themselves.

4.2 – Contributing

This subsection shows that a compatibilist attempts to give democratically legitimate justification of the Bagehot Rights, comparative to the contribution of subjects, raises a trilemma. All three horns of this trilemma lead to illegitimacy. Thus, all possible justifications of Bagehot Rights fail, exposing their democratic illegitimacy.

4.2.1 – the Bagehot Trilemma Let me set the scene for the trilemma.

The HoS’ consultation (first Bagehot Right) comes at a comparatively late stage in democratic procedure. The public have debated an issue, perhaps there has been a petition, or a pressure group has held demonstrations. Opinions here are scrutinised by opposing views and are partly formed by party policy. So far, contribution to the procedure has been open to all subjects, including to respond to opposing views. (14) All this deliberation has been fed into legislature representatives, who are now making and debating a Bill. Yet, at this (late) stage, the HoS is consulted. The HoS can encourage or warn at a stage much later than most subjects. Certainly, they can input at a stage at which there is no longer opportunity for further debate from individual subjects. The issue is that the Bagehot Rights, as the arbitrary privilege of an individual’s democratic contribution, seems to be a contradiction of democratic legitimacy. The impetus is on the compatibilist to state how this contribution can be democratically legitimate.

14: I do concede that in order to inform the party policy aspect of deliberation is only open to all subjects insofar as they are able to become members of any political party. As far as I am aware, party membership does not follow an ancestral line, however.

Either the contribution the HoS makes when exercising their Bagehot Rights can be considered their only opportunity to take part in the deliberation process, or it can be said that the HoS contributes both along with subjects and when exercising the Bagehot Rights. The third option open to the compatibilist is that the HoS never contributes to deliberation at all. The first horn is problematic because it overlooks the unique opportunities that the HoS gets; the second is problematic because it would be to arbitrarily award disproportionate ability to contribute to democratic process; the third is problematic because it would be to inadequately scrutinise the HoS’ contribution to democratic procedure.

4.2.2 – First Horn

The first possible democratic justification of the Bagehot Rights is that the HoS did not have an opportunity to contribute earlier, along with ‘their subjects’. Instead, encouraging and warning is their opportunity to contribute. This attempt at justification prevents fulfilment of the second epistemic fairness requirement, uptake of criticism. There is no way for subjects to respond to the HoS’ contribution, so it can make a disproportionate amount of impact compared to subjects’. The contribution is expressed only to the HoG but makes a lasting impact, on the so-far socially constructed solution to the issue being debated.

But what about other people, for instance legislature representatives and lobbyists who influence government disproportionately? How is that any different? In the case of these examples, the former would be deemed legitimate, the latter illegitimate. A representative’s contribution is legitimate because it is enhanced by democratic mandate (election). Concerning lobbying, the only response that can be made is that, yes, certain lobbying practices do exist in political systems that PEP would deem as democratically illegitimate. That is not, however, a loss. The interests of corporations being considered far more than individual subjects is, surely, an affront to equality of intellectual authority.

4.2.3 – Second Horn

The second horn would have the compatibilist claiming that the HoS has already had the opportunity to contribute along with subjects. Indeed, owing to some constitutional monarchies insistence that their state is one of equality, this is likely to be claimed by compatibilists.

If it is the case that the HoS participates in the early stages, then this fails to justify their additional contribution from their Bagehot Rights. It suggests the HoS contributes twice, i.e., double the contribution of subjects. Their second contribution then falls into the same lack of justification as in the first horn: it receives little to no scrutiny from subjects. In this way, it is in tension with the fourth epistemic fairness requirement for equality of intellectual authority. The HoS’ reasons are privileged against all other individuals’ by being entered twice. Further, by not being met with criticism the second time, this contribution fails to meet the second epistemic fairness requirement: there is a lack of criticism from other subjects (see 4.3).

It may be asked why there isn’t a fourth option available to compatibilists: that the HoS only contributes at the earlier stage of deliberation with subjects. Someone pressing this argument must then explain what the purpose of the Bagehot Rights are in the first place. It seems quite impossible that they only deliberate with subjects at the start of the process, but then also are informed by the HoG business, and can encourage and warn based on that. (15)

4.2.4 – Third Horn

The third horn of the trilemma is to claim that the HoS never contributes to deliberation. I will not emphasise that this ignores exactly what the Bagehot Rights are, as noted just above. Instead, I will discuss an important oversight in pursuing this horn.

This horn, in truth, abandons compatibilism. Here, the claim is that all democratic subjects are entitled to contribution to the deliberation process, but the HoS is not. Thus, an undemocratic relation to others is imposed on a specific individual (the HoS), for no reason other than their ancestral lineage. This is, surely, a forfeit of democratic goods – which compatibilism claims does not happen. This forfeit of democratic goods is also an admission of illegitimacy: one person being treated without political fairness shows a vulnerability to meet political fairness requirements, though this aspect does not fall- under my argument.

This trilemma shows that regardless of whether and how the HoS uses the Bagehot Rights, their having such rights undermines the fourth epistemic fairness requirement (equality of intellectual authority), preventing legitimacy along with the first two horns. To deny that the HoS contributes at all to the deliberation process is not an adequate attempt at justification for the Bagehot rights either, because this is to completely abandon compatibilism and admit some democratic good is not achieved in constitutional monarchy, namely equality. Thus, the trilemma of this section has given a second aspect of the illegitimacy of constitutional monarchy, through pure epistemic proceduralism’s epistemic fairness requirements.

4.3 – Criticism of Reasons

The Bagehot Right to consultation is incompatible with the epistemic fairness requirement for a publicly recognised forum of knowledge. By granting the HoS special access to government information, the public’s ability to scrutinise all relevant knowledge and arguments is undermined.

Subjects contribute at an early stage of deliberation and feed into their representative’s actions and reasons. It is only at this stage that an individual subject can make major impact on the construction of the knowledge that impacts state action. However, the HoS has access to government business, unlike other individuals – they are epistemically privileged in being able to respond to government action as an individual, an ability which none of their subjects has. This initial problem is then exacerbated by the second and third Bagehot Rights because the HoS’ contribution to this stage can feed directly into the government’s approach, unlike subjects, who have nowhere near this much influence.

Compared with the HoS, a subject cannot make as much impact at the stages in construction of knowledge open to them, nor can they influence on a similar scale. That is, they can only contribute at an early stage (so their access to relevant knowledge is limited by virtue of the time at which they are bound to contribute) and can contribute only on behalf of themselves as an individual (i.e. sign a petition once, attend a demonstration). However, the HoS’ contribution, via the Bagehot Rights is at a much later stage (once the ‘knowledge that impacts state action’ involved has been further informed, consolidated, or changed whilst being debated by elected representatives). Worse still, they may also contribute their own private reasons, when all other people involved at this stage have constituent’s interests also to consider. Following Part 4.1, and the HoS’ lack of election, the Opinion-Gathering function cannot be used here to claim all subjects are the HoS’ constituents. Finally, this contribution receives very little scrutiny, perhaps only from the HoG (or perhaps even not, depending on the status that being the HoS ascribes a person in context). Thus, the HoS’ contribution, which the ability to make is already proved to be illegitimate, is also illegitimate because it does not meet scrutiny from subjects, as stipulated by the fourth epistemic fairness requirement.

15: Indeed, even Robert Hazell admits that knowing how the HoS deliberates is mere guesswork (Hazell & Morris 2020, 80)

So far, we see that the HoS can contribute to the deliberation process at a later stage than subjects. The issue still not quite answered is why this illegitimacy of the HoS’ contribution is bad. Answering this question allows me to tie the parts of this argument together.

Without denying that ‘democracy is good’, one must give a reason why one person’s input can be prioritised. To elucidate how important a mistake this is, I will take stock of what has been achieved in preceding subsections. We have seen that the justification of the Bagehot Rights on democratic terms fails. This was show in Part 4.2. Thus, the arbitrary privileging of one individual’s contribution is indefensible. This part’s argument furthers this by saying that, taken with the information the HoS receives from the Bagehot Right to be informed, their already illegitimate contribution can in fact be made on epistemologically certain grounds. The preceding arguments tie together in this way: the HoS’ illegitimate contribution is based off inadequately scrutinised information and will not be scrutinised again. This illegitimacy symbolises one person’s ability being enhanced over all others. This is to contradict a core democratic principle: equality.

5 – Conclusion

I began by introducing compatibilism; the view that monarchy and democracy can be blended in a way that does not forfeit democratic goods. I then introduced legitimacy, i.e., what is required for a political action to be justified. I then outlined an abstracted constitutional monarchy, arrived at through assessment of what compatibilist texts claim to be essential to democracy, escaping the response of reform. These features were the Opinion-Gathering Function, the Bagehot Rights and Personal Prerogative Powers. Pure epistemic proceduralism and its four epistemic fairness requirements was introduced as an account of democratic legitimacy with which to evaluate this abstracted form of constitutional monarchy.

Section 4 presented an argument of three parts for the illegitimacy of constitutional monarchy, each focussing on the Bagehot Rights and how they interact with the other two features. First, it was shown that an aggregative conception of democratic activity, as is implied in the use of the Opinion-Gathering Function of democracy, does not allow for sufficient deliberation for the form of governance to be deemed legitimate. Second, a trilemma revealed that the compatibilist has no way of justifying the contribution the monarch makes through their Bagehot Rights. Without this justification, the possession of such rights makes the HoS illegitimate. Finally, it was shown that the essential features of a monarch’s rights mean that their opinions do not meet the requirement for scrutiny that the reasons members of a democracy should receive. Taken together, the implication of these is grave: the constitutional monarch’s essential Bagehot Rights are an affront to the very essence of democracy itself. Not only is the HoS illegitimate, but the means taken to prove as much also demonstrates the restriction imposed on equality.

I have, therefore, shown that the form of constitutional monarchy discussed cannot attain democratic legitimacy. The rights that are essential to constitutional monarchy, according to compatibilists, make it such that the state cannot attain legitimacy as it has been understood here, and I have discussed how other conceptions of democratic legitimacy would struggle to reach any other conclusion.

The implications of what has been said here should be two-fold. First, an expansion of democratic theory’s interests to assess real-world systems of governance. Said assessment should then be used to compliment the strong arguments against monarchical rule from other areas of philosophy and history.


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  6. Longino, H.E. (2002), The Fate of Knowledge, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  7. Munnelly, M.J. (2022), The Incompatibility of Constitutional Monarchy and Democracy. Available at: and_Democracy_An_Introduction_of_Monarchy_to_Democratic_Theory?source=swp_sh are
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