Putting Aside Power


King Juan Carlos I of Spain has announced he’s going to step down from the throne. Arguably, he should have done this some time ago as a symbolic “clearing of the path” for reforms that Spain, and the Spanish economy, desperately need. He’s to be succeeded by his son, who will reign as Felipe VI, and will probably take the throne later this month. This abdication follows other recent high-profile abdications, such as that of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, King Albert II of Belgium, and of course, Pope Benedict XVI.

Now it’s important to note that all of these people are up in years. None of them are below 70, and all of them are probably enjoying, or in the case of Juan Carlos, looking forward to, a great and glorious retirement. But I still find it endlessly interesting when people who have power are able to set that power aside and go off to do whatever.

In the United States we have the great example of George Washington, who famously refused to seek a third term in office. That became the standard for almost every president after him, until Franklin Roosevelt ran for, and managed to win, a third and fourth term. Our country owes a great debt to Washington for several reasons, but the fact that he set aside power when he could have wielded it for as long as he liked, is something I find endlessly impressive.

Now admittedly, he had fewer terms in office than most of the monarchs I have mentioned had years on the throne. Many of them also lacked a lot of actual power, and simply had, and probably continue to have, an impressive amount of influence. Still, I do think it’s neat when people do this sort of thing.

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