My most-cited publication is my 2005 Pacific Review article ‘Network Monarchy and Crises of Legitimacy in Thailand’, which argues that the Thai monarchy was about much more than the king himself. Rather, an extensive network of allies and supporters acted on behalf of the palace, making agency difficult to pin down:
The Thai King has typically worked through proxies, seeking toexpand his political influence, yet ultimately unable to achieve domination. After May 1992, the pattern of royal interventions changed. As he grew older, the King appeared less inclined to make direct personal interventions. Legitimacy crises were addressed primarily through interventions by Prem and other members of the Privy Council (McCargo 2005: 516).
I elaborated on this idea in a review essay on Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles (Yale 2006), for New Left Review.
Handley arguably focuses too much on the person of Bhumibol, underestimating the extent to which—certainly by the 1990s—the interests of the monarchy worked largely on auto-pilot, managed by a loose network of figures such as Privy Council President Prem, dubbed the King’s ‘surrogate strongman’ by one Thai scholar (McCargo 2007: 141).
Most recently, I published ‘Network Monarchy As Heroic Couplet’ (Pacific Affairs, September 2021), in which I reflected on how my original argument has been used – and arguably confused – by other scholars.
Even though some aspects of its modus operandi have changed with the advent of the new reign, network monarchy persists. The web of royal connections is intact, and most royalists have quietly, if grudgingly, transferred their loyalty from the relatively benevolent Bhumibol ancien régime to Vajiralongkorn’s brash new era. Monarchists simply have no place else to go (McCargo 2021).