Art Carden  

The Absurdity of Royalty

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The world is aflutter with news of the Royal Baby. In a tweet, Neil deGrasse Tyson points out the absurdity of royalty:

"@neiltyson: A curious tradition -- to look at a newborn baby and say to yourself, 'Because of your DNA, one day you will rule over me.'"

As a social scientist, I think I understand hierarchy on some margins. As a citizen (and a father), I work for the day when respect and honor are earned by production rather than by blood and privilege. Until that day arrives, we'll just have to study the ways we can contain and reduce the violence inherent in the system.


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COMMENTS (17 to date)
Bostonian writes:

The British royal family does not rule over anyone. Tyson's comment would be more relevant to the dictatorship in North Korea.

eric falkenstein writes:

People like having such figureheads. I think people get a kick out of the fact that there's someone who is famous for being in a certain dynasty, it gives them some comfort.

Personally, I'd rather grow up middle class than in royalty. You have a lot more options, a lot more potential for personal growth. Ever notice Prince Charles is a really uninteresting person?

BLM4L writes:

That's a little dramatic. The UK is ruled by the Queen in the same sense that Disneyland is ruled by Minnie Mouse.

Michael writes:

"Until that day arrives, we'll just have to study the ways we can contain and reduce the violence inherent in the system."

Have you ever considered that having everyone agree on said DNA as ruler is a time tested schelling point to minimize conflict over power? I think the usual American assumption that elections are so superior to "archaic" monarchy is very naive indeed.

Looking at the past 10 prime ministers in the UK, I for one would have rather been ruled the entire time by Elizabeth II, whatever her flaws, than any of those prime ministers with the possible exception of Thatcher.

B.B. writes:

I am a true-blue American who is glad that my country got rid of being ruled by a monarch.

But these days, the idea that living in republic makes us more free than living in a monarchy is absurd.

The Third Reich was a republic. And the Union of the Soviet Socialist REPUBLICS. China got rid of its emperor and got a republic...didn't turn out so well. Argentina and Mexico are republics.

But then Denmark, Sweden, UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands have monarchies. Terrible and unfree places, eh? And the nominal head of state in Canada and Australia is the British monarch.

These days, there is no evidence that monarchies are less free or less peaceful, or have less social mobility, than republics.

Try overcoming some bias.

Delphin writes:

BB is right. Libertartians consistently underestimate culture and undervalue what works. Of course roayalty is absurd, but monarchies compare pretty favorably to most of the world as far as freedom and decency of their governments.

Jeffrey Rae writes:

B.B. is quite correct. In fact Australia has been described as being a Crowned Republic. I consider that we have the best of both types of system: the democratic egalitarianism of a republic and the political neutrality of a constitutional monarchy.

Under our Constitution, the (British) Monarch is the de jure Head of State of Australia but the Monarch appoints an Australian citizen to be our Govenor-General on the advice of the Australian Prime Minister. That person performs the role of the Head of State whenever the Monarch is out of the country (which is about 99.9 per cent of the time!) and does so without reference to the Monarch. This includes calling and dismissing Parliament and giving the Royal Assent to legislation proposed by both Houses.

The Monarch/Govenor-General is mostly a figurehead with little power to act unilaterally. The important exception is the Reserve Power to submit a government to the judgement of the voters in certain rare circumstances; it is much easier for the (Australian) Govenor-General to invoke these to protect the Constitution than is the case for the (British) Monarch.

Accordingly, Down Under there is very little 'ruling', the Brits pay for all the costs of maintaining the Royal Family (including the new Prince of Cambridge), and democratic egalitarianism does not seem to suffer in the slightest.

Given the considerable deference that is paid to the First Family and Executive Privilege the US, perhaps Australia knows something that the US does not!

Tom West writes:

I work for the day when respect and honor are earned by production

I await that day, but I'm not holding my breath :-).

Having spent more or less an entire lifetime being chastised by my various bosses for relying on my production when I need to be "building my brand", "advertising my competence" or simply "selling yourself", I am well aware that production is about third on the list of how humans evaluate each other.

(Which makes sense. As I grow older, I realize that production is only about a third of one's contribution to the happiness of one's fellow humans.)

August writes:

Absurdity is saying because some idiot happened to be born near me, he gets to vote on stuff that is important to me.
Absurdity is education majors who go on to rule over children, even though it is distressingly apparent they know less than the average home-schooled five year old.

There are plenty of bad things about monarchies, but in practice, they tend to be bad things done by individuals who take advantage of their position. Our 'democracies' and 'republics' create a system of disorder, where the parasites can hide and institutionalize their position.

Even the evil old monarchies of old were orders of magnitude less big than the modern state.

I also think there is a sociological benefit we are missing. A royal family functions as a unifying force- because people generally want to marry into it. I don't think it really works for an empire, but for a city, this could lead to unity. If I ever got to implement monarchy 2.0, I'd try to figure this out. When faced with either overthrowing government, or working hard to get your children or grandchildren into a position to marry up, I think the second option is more likely to be beneficial- to the whole region, not just the royal family. Destruction versus production as it were. Much better than giving everyone a 'voice', and having result be the have-nots consistently voting to take whatever the haves have and redistribute it.

Scott Scheule writes:

Family, a curious tradition -- to look at a newborn baby and say to yourself, 'Because of your DNA, I'm going to love you more than any other child.'

Marc F Cheney writes:

Whenever Neil deGrasse Tyson says something, my first instinct is to take the opposing side, even if I technically agree with him.

Why is he commenting on this at all, except to pander to his peanut gallery? I don't remember Carl Sagan spouting stuff like this.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Art,
I love your link to Monty Python. It's one of my favorite scenes and, more important, is a beautiful example of speaking truth to power. I wish people would do it more to Obama and whoever his successor is and I wish that people had done it to Bush and all the rest.

Max writes:

Was going to comment unfavorably on this post, but I see that others have already said most of what I would've. Still, I think it's worthwhile to add my voice to the chorus:

This post was poorly thought out, and it should not have been made. All rulers (even democratic ones) are indeed determined to a large extent by their DNA, and there is nothing absurd about this at all. The only question is to what extent other factors ought to play a role.

Foobarista writes:

Tyson, like other celebs, attracts attention in lots of areas outside his field.. He obviously has the right to speak his mind, but on matters outside astronomy, his opinions gain "status" because of his celebrity as a TV scientist, not any profound insight. And things like Twitter give celebs even more outlets for their miscellaneous musings.

That said, in the modern world, royal families provide an instant reality show of the sort that republics end up manufacturing. The good thing about royals is their reality show goes back hundreds if not thousands of years. Humans will be focusing on the foibles of kings and crown princes in the UK long after the Kardasians are dust.

Mark Bahner writes:

To me, it's much more disturbing how many TV shows and movies deal with the White House and the President as though they are of some tremendous importance:

The West Wing, White House Down, Olympus Has Fallen, etc.

And then there's the line from the movie Lincoln, "I am the President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those votes.”

I wanted Glinda (the Good Witch) to appear, laugh, and say, "Oh, rubbish! You have no power here. Begone, before somebody drops a house on you, too!"

loveactuary writes:

You ask for " the day when respect and honor are earned by production rather than by blood and privilege", but blood and privilege (say, of nurturing parents) may be proximate causes of your lifetime of production. So what are you actually asking for?

7x7 writes:

Put me on record as thinking that the French had the right idea in 1793.

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