The just deceased King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, at age 88, after 70 years of rule was the world’s longest head of state, a status now belonging to Queen Elizabeth II. By most accounts he was beloved and respected, living as ascetically as a wealthy king can live, devoted to his countrymen, a philanthropist who dealt comfortably with common people, yet retaining his royal mystique.

Most importantly, the King helped give his country relative political stability and prosperity, Thailand during his reign rose from abject poverty to near first world economic standards. Across decades, he helped suppress military coups, once offering his palace grounds as refuge from the army. Other times, he reluctantly acquiesced to coups, when civilian politicians seemed destructively deadlocked. He strove to not align with any faction so as to be ruler and potential fair arbiter for all.

Born in the United States, the king was long an ally to the land of his birth, redeeming his country’s WWII collaboration with Japan and protecting it from communist threats during the Cold War, especially when neighboring Indochina fell in the mid 1970s. Thailand arose from that troubled decade as one of the almost “Asian Tigers” that showcased how free markets could summon wealth from poverty, in contrast with Marxist economies. 

The king modeled how monarchy can offer national cohesion when other systems often cannot. His success, which his less respected bon vivant son may not replicate, contrasts with so many other nations that struggle with stability and constitutional legitimacy against ethnic and religious divisions. I’ve often wondered why restoration of monarchy was never considered for Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya after the overthrow of their brutal, blood soaked dictatorships. Possibly kings could have facilitated more political collaboration across sectarian boundaries than did failed presidents and parliaments. One Afghan royal exile has shared that a U.S. congressman had told him that America, which once rebelled against a king, does not install kings.

Sharing the obituary page with the Thai King was Stylianos Pattakos, age 103, the last principal of the Greek Colonels Coup that overthrew their constitutional monarchy in 1967 and ruled until 1974. Unlike the upper tier Greek generals, the lower officers peremptorily squelched democracy for fear of a leftist accession to power. Greece’s young king initially acquiesced before attempting a failed counter coup, after which he went into exile.

The Greek military junta presided over both prosperity and human rights abuses, finally falling during the 1974 Cyprus crisis that almost led to war with Turkey. Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected a return to monarchy, recalling their king’s earlier seeming ambivalence about democracy. Pattakos and his coup cohorts were sentenced to death by a civilian court, latter commuted to life sentences, then eventual release. He never offered any regrets and remains celebrated by Greece’s far right Golden Dawn party. The Greek Colonels Coup failed to create stability or national consensus, instead destroying the monarchy.

American Founding Father Fisher Ames once observed: “A monarchy is a merchantman, which sails well, but will sometimes strike on a rock and go to the bottom, whilst a republic is a raft which will never sink, but then your feet are always in water.”

But republics often sink, failing to sustain the national loyalties and shared affection required for successful countries. America’s republic is the world’s oldest, its success rooted in centuries of lawful liberty guarded by a Constitution sanctified by blood and sacrifice. It is today sorely tested, its feet soaked in foul water, as often in the past, yet we pray she does not sink, God willing.

Thailand’s late revered king and the deceased Greek coup instigator illustrate that alternatives to republics offer no sure pathway to political stability and justice. Government is divinely ordained to provide both, and yet fallen humanity continues its ceaseless quest to abide.