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The other day I read an overview of the annoyingly smug Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein and I realized that the prosperous inhabitants of that tiny mountain nation have a problem. The Prince of Liechtenstein has the power to “irreversibly veto any law, dissolve the legislature, and appoint judges in his principality.” He is an old school absolutist with complete power over his subjects (although he doesn’t particularly exercise his authority over the rich burghers and money launderers who live there). The Prince has a problem as well though—he is missing his fancy hat. It is ironic that the one European sovereign who maintains true political authority is the one without a crown.
The ducal hat of Liechtenstein was discovered to be missing in 1781 following the death of Prince Franz Joseph I. Commissioned in 1623 by Karl von Liechtenstein the hat was modeled on the Imperial Crown of Austria and featured eight jeweled acanthus leaves surrounding a red velvet cap with a big shiny button on top. The white diamonds and red rubies/spinels of the crown were alleged to have magical properties for protecting the Duke (although they don’t seem to have staved off death for Franz Joseph I, nor did they protect the hat itself from whoever walked off with it). A single gouache painting kept in the Liechtenstein Museum portrays the original crown which has vanished completely from history—well, actually I found an online account of how Bulgarian spider worshippers smuggled it into the United States to sell to Druids (but I thought that there were some issues of historical accuracy with that website).
The citizenry of Liechtenstein chipped in together and bought a replacement hat for their anachronistically powerful liege in 1976, but undoubtedly he can sense that it is not the real thing. Fortunately the lack of his actual crown has not prevented him from writing a new book The State in the Third Millennium which summarizes his philosophy about governance. The Prince apparently dreams of “the creation of numerous small principalities throughout the world, where people can live in happiness and freedom…” Each of these microstates would be controlled by a despotic Prince with absolute power. Thanks Prince Hans-Adam, I’m sure the world would work much better if everything broke apart into feuding city-states run by evil autocrats.