Politics in Minutes (2016)

The divine right to rule

In almost every culture, it has been believed at some time that a leader is given authority by God to rule over his or her people. In Ancient China, this was described as the ‘mandate of heaven’, which was bestowed upon a just emperor – if his rule was unjust this was withdrawn and his legitimacy removed. Because of this widely held belief in a divine right of kings, the authority of absolute monarchs, given by God, trumps the authority of political leaders, whose authority is merely earthly.

This gave considerable power to monarchs – and the Pope, who not only has divine authority, but is also considered infallible – placing them effectively above the law. From the late medieval period, in Europe at least, that power was challenged. Only a handful of absolute monarchs supported by the claim of a divine right to rule remain in power today. There are still many royal families whose privileged position is justified by ‘the grace of God’, and a lingering tradition even in some democracies that political leaders should have some form of divine approval.