Alberto Mingardi  

Is royalty the most absurd thing?

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Art Carden uses a brilliant tweet by Neil deGrasse Tyson to point out the absurdity of royalty: "A curious tradition -- to look at a newborn baby and say to yourself, 'Because of your DNA, one day you will rule over me."

However, the alternatives are not much more attractive. If you think of democratically elected leaders, you may look at them and describe them as follows: "Because of your ability to get votes from millions of people besides me, you will rule over me". Most of our fellow men may disagree with us, but I fear that the very fact somebody is "ruling" over somebody else is far more problematic than whatever the criteria why she is in such a position: DNA, superior skills in winning consensus, or even competence, for that matter.

Concerning the absurdity of monarchy, I think perhaps all this royal baby fuzz teaches us that a very important part of politics is entertainment. I was in the US at the time of the "Royal Wedding", and judging by the general excitement I remember, I thought that if Americans had TV in 1776, they would have never declared independence. Don't get me wrong: I do not think Americans are affected by a well thought out nostalgia for monarchy, I simply believe they like a good show. And the beautiful William and Kate are a nice show, as in many different ways Barack and Michelle Obama are (or, just to make the most obvious example, JFK and Jackie were). People do not identify with them: they're too beautiful, too smart, too powerful. But people like them, with the very same attitude they could display over soccer players or movie stars.

And if you think about it, with the exception of a few policy wonks and the readers of this blog, most people go vote and some even engage at a higher level in democratic politics, exactly like they do in a sport match. People like to part, to divide in groups, to feel a sense of belonging, to admire the famous and the beautiful, to despise an enemy of sort.
If this is true, the fact that monarchy bases its legitimacy on DNA doesn't make it particularly absurd. It's a way to make sure this fiction everybody watches keeps on its "continuity". What is really absurd is that we put so much at stake, in the grand show of politics - either monarchical, democratic or whatever. We are just humans insofar we need people to admire, idolize, or hate. We are just humans insofar as we like to take part in teams opposing one another. But wouldn't it be even more fun, if the percentage of national income that this entertaining fiction disposes of were smaller?


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
DougT writes:

Monarchy is *so* absurd. I much prefer the rule of the Bush's, Clinton's, Kennedy's, Cheney's, Rockefeller's, DuPont's, Daley's, etc.

We have royalty. We just pretend we don't.

MingoV writes:

Monarchy is a risky system because the quality of the government depends upon the quality of a monarch who cannot be removed from office without an assassination or a revolution.

Democracy is a worse system because the quality of government depends upon the quality of the politicians who get elected by bribing various subpopulations.

Committee-based totalitarianism usually is associated with socialism and communism. That government survives only as long as the population can endure deprivation and subjugation.

Dictatorship is a riskier system than monarchy because the quality of the government depends upon the quality of the dictator. Also, there usually is no defined way to transfer the leader position. However, if the dictator is skilled, this is the most efficient form of government.

What's left? I favor a variant of dictatorship. A dictator is elected by a subset of citizens who demonstrate knowledge of the candidates and a solid grasp of government, its purposes, and its limitations. The dictator serves a specified term, such as ten years, and then a new dictator is elected. If, during a ten-year term, the populace is dissatisfied with the dictator, a super-majority (65-80%) of voters will remove the dictator.

Douglass Holmes writes:

We didn't just rebel against a king in 1776. We were also rebelling against the parliament.
And right now, here in the USA, we re-elected a popular president without giving him the majority in Congress that he had at the beginning of his term.

Methinks writes:

What are you people complaining about?

I'm just grateful that Royal Baby Watch knocked Al Sharpton out of the headlines.

Tracy W writes:

Trouble with this argument is that he's not going to rule over the Commonwealth, in any practical way. It took the British a few tries, but they eventually established the principle of Parliamentary rule, several centuries ago, after having found out all the short-comings of monarchical rule several times over. (After the Interregnum, when they invited Charles II to rule, they put no limits on his power, based apparently on how well that had worked out with Charles I).

Delphin writes:

The premise is what's wrong. Royalty relies on divine approbation not DNA. It is Caplan's elitism that relies on DNA.

Delphin writes:

DougT, Every presidential election from 1980 to 2004 had a Bush or a Clinton on the ticket, and we might not be shed of them yet.

Leclerc writes:

Constitutional monarchy is the most secure form of government. The King does not rule anyone, and is free to act non-politically.

Unfortunately democracy does not bring freedom, but a non-political King can oust government whenever they start acting up and loose legitimacy. The Spanish and Thai kings have done this with great succes recently.

If Egypt had such a King, there would be no trouble ousting Morsi as that would be according to such a constitution.

If the US president starts acting up and assassinates his own citizens, doing unconstitutional wiretapping and detaining peope indefinitely outside the court of laws, then you do not have anyone to stop him witout suing the second ammendment - wondering how long you will have that to fall back on.

Implying that a British King or Queen rules in any way similar to a dictator is just a sign of ignorance.

TheDjinni writes:

@MingoV

"I favor a variant of dictatorship."

Why not "rule by consent". You pick the person who tells you what to do, and if it happens to be the same person as someone else, well ain't that just gravy. You two can have a party or something to celebrate, and he can figure out the policies that benefit both of you.

You can also overthrow this person at any time simply by ignoring their recommendations, or rule yourself if you want to.

Nevermind, we've already tried that, it's called freedom of association and principal-agent relationships. Obviously an organization can't be run by the consent of the governed, right? They're too stupid to know what's good for them, we should force them to do what we want them to.

And no, a skilled dictator isn't the most efficient way of running an economy thanks to the problem of economic calculation.

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