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The University of Southampton
HistoryPart of Humanities

Dr Alastair Paynter 

Visiting academic

Dr Alastair Paynter's photo

I am interested in nineteenth-century British history, the history of politics and political culture and the role of monarchy in the modern world. I completed my BA and MA in History at the University of Southampton. This led to a PhD on the emergence of libertarian conservatism in Britain from the Second Reform Act in 1867 to the outbreak of the First World War. My thesis involved an examination of the nature of liberalism and conservatism, and of the interplay between political thought and practical politics in an era of great transformation. I used the settler colonies of Australia as a case study to examine the way political ideas were exchanged and adapted across the Anglosphere.

After receiving my PhD in 2018 I embarked on a project, funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, looking at the reception of Ancient Greece in Victorian political culture. At the heart of this project was the lifelong relationship between four-time Prime Minister William Gladstone and Homer. As with other contemporary commentators on Antiquity, Gladstone brought his own political leanings to bear upon the way the Homeric world was interpreted, as ancient history was mediated through present political debates. One of the points of contention in nineteenth-century Homeric political debate was the nature of kingship and its relation to the other two constituent parts of the Homeric polity: the council and the assembly. These particular questions relate to broader, more perennial themes of political thought, such as the relationship between monarchy, aristocracy and democracy.

Presently, I am especially interested in the relationship between these themes in the modern world and how the history of monarchy informs its continuing role today, with a special focus on the Principality of Liechtenstein.

In 2020 I was awarded a grant by the Fürst Franz Josef von Liechtenstein Stiftung for a project seeking to analyse the role of the monarchy in the Liechtenstein constitution. Although one of the smallest states in the world, Liechtenstein is also one of the most stable and prosperous. It is also unique among both historical and existing states in that its constitution (written in 1921 and updated in 2003) balances an active monarchy, parliament and direct democracy.

In Liechtenstein sovereignty is vested in both the monarch and the people. Unlike most modern Western monarchies, the monarchy of Liechtenstein possesses and exercises considerable power. In 2003, in response to a proposed update to the constitution presented by Prince Hans-Adam II, the people voted via a referendum to extend the powers of the monarch.

The Prince is able to veto legislation, dismiss any government or minister at will and appoint judges. However, the people possess significant democratic power through frequent referendums and the popular initiative and are now able to vote for the abolition of the monarchy, if they so choose. Liechtenstein sheds important light on the relationship between monarchy and democracy, a matter of enduring and global importance. This project overlaps a number of fields and disciplines, including history, politics, philosophy and law, and is conducted in collaboration with Dr Craig Prescott of the University of Bangor.

Dr Alastair Paynter
Student Office, Building 65, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Southampton, Avenue Campus, Southampton. SO17 1BF United Kingdom

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