A Royal Pain

The big story Monday was the birth of a boy somewhere in Great Britain, although it’s not quite clear to us why anyone outside the immediate family should consider it such a momentous event. The immediate family is the Royal Family, which apparently explains the widespread media attention, but it’s still not clear why so many people are still so fascinated with royalty.
Here in the good ol’ United States of America we supposedly dispensed with such antiquated nonsense way back in 1776, at least as a legal matter, but the seemingly innate human yearning for a ruling class has never been vanquished. This peculiar tendency is by no means an exclusively Anglo-American phenomenon, but seems to persist in every corner of the world. As recently as 1945 the Japanese people were willing to endure further atomic bombings rather than relinquish their Emperor, whose heir still sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne, and kings and queens still hold court in various other Asian lands. Several Middle Eastern countries are absolute monarchies, and in other countries where the governments seem up for grabs there is always talk of hunting down some surviving heir to the last king and restoring him to a throne. Whenever Afro-centric scholars extol the glories of pre-colonial Africa they invariably boast of the kings and queens that ruled there. Europe, despite its reputation as the cutting-edge of modernity, remains rotten with kings and queens.
This longing for royalty is at least as old as the Old Testament, where the First Book of Samuel tells how the people of ancient Israel clamored for God to “make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Samuel discussed the matter with God, who discouraged the idea. According to the scripture, God warned that “This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties, and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, and even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.”
Such a prescient description of the subsequent several millennia of human governance gives an eerie verisimilitude to the whole Bible, as far as we’re concerned, and serves as a reminder of how much trouble people are willing to put up with in order to have a king. Mindful of Samuel’s cautionary history, the great theologian C.S. Lewis made the strongest argument for retaining Britain’s monarchy by noting that people are going to have a king no matter what and that it might as well be someone who symbolically embodies a national identity rather than the movie actors and pop music performers and unabashed hucksters that the public will elevate to royalty. The point is well proved by the tawdry cast of empty-headed celebrities that contemporary American culture regards as royalty, and is even more depressingly illustrated by the deference so many have to intellectual-political class.
To say that President Barack Obama lives like a king understates the matter by many millions of dollars, given the difference in the government’s funding for his lavish lifestyle compared to what the British and other European people are willing to shell out for their royalty, and still too many of his supporters regard his every pronouncement with the same awe-struck reverence as the most simple commoner of the pre-Magna Carta era. There isn’t so much of the Obama-as-Messiah talk that was common before he took office, but there’s enough of it left that much of the country seems willing to accept whatever devilry he might do without question.
Better, then, to fawn over the bundle of joy that was born in Great Britain on Monday. We wish the little fellow much happiness and prosperity, although our wishes are hardly needed, and hope that his parents choose to name him something other Trayvon. Still, we defer again to the words of Samuel, who recalled God’s lament that “They have rejected Me, that I might not reign over them.”

— Bud Norman