Skip to content

God Save the Queen and the Baby-Making Machine

July 19, 2013

by PJK

buckingham_palace

Why Do Americans Care About Royal Births?

Mr. and Mrs. Windsor are expecting a baby, due to be born at any moment. In that, they join myriad other couples and single mothers. I have never met either of them- I am sure that William and Catherine (Kate to her friends) are nice enough. They seem earnest and likeable- just an ordinary young couple starting their family and whatever it is they for a career. Nothing special here- though you would be forgiven for believing otherwise based upon the reportage from most media outlets.

Barely had sperm met egg before the enthused coverage began. The United States, in particular, seemed to be a heavy producer and consumer of this sort of “slow news day” stuff.

As Catherine’s belly and ankles swelled, the hypothesizing increased: boy? Girl? Twins!? What would the baby be named? Breast or bottle? Disposable or cloth? How will the Kate manage the demands of career and motherhood?

Mr. and Mrs. Windsor, like other expectant parents, endured the unwelcome attention and well-meant but unwelcome advice. Their mailbox is no doubt filling up with offers for diapers, formula, shoe bronzing, and college saving plans.

The parents-to-be are coy as to the sex of the pending bundle of joy. The claim is that they do not know- perhaps a bit disingenuous in this age of high definition ultra sound imaging (picture and video! Can sound be far behind?), when even the most commoner of obstetric offices is well equipped for a pre-birth snapshot. Mr. and Mrs. Windsor have not wanted for the best and most up-to-date of prenatal medical care (they live in Britain of socialized medicine, after all); their protestations of not knowing or caring to know are perhaps to be greeted with a smile. Still, there is a family failing (on the father’s side, wouldn’t you know…) in going in for the all sorts of medical quackery such as homeopathy, so perhaps they have eschewed modern methods is favor of more rustic prognostications. In any event, respecting the young couple’s privacy would only be the right and proper thing to do.

The news media will have none of it. To look at the attentions lavished upon Mr. and Mrs. Windsor, one might suppose that the impending birth was of some importance. The media in the United States seems particularly besotted with this notion. The plan fact of the matter is that one more infant will be pushed out of a birth canal in quiet the usual way. That is all. There will be one more monarchist added to the rolls (like we need another), but that is about the extent of it.

So what accounts for the American obsession with the British monarchy? It often far exceeds the celebrity status we afford to others: Hollywood actors. Apple. Off-shoring “greed is good” CEOs. TED talkers. It borders on the craven and obsequious. And this in a republic, born of rebellion against the very Hanoverian interlopers to the British throne that now so enthrall popular attention.

Why? And why the British monarchy? There is far less interest in any of the other remaining monarchies. The king of Sweden gets far less scrutiny. The recent abdication of the King of Belgium created barely a ripple in the zeitgeist.

This question of “why” has been posed before. Some have suggested that we need royals, that we need to have an elite over us, the be the noblesse while we oblige.

Evidence of our need to have a “royalty” is how it keeps getting inserted into American popular culture. The Disney Studios have done very well peddling a series of “princess” stories (and related paraphernalia); popular actors and musicians are often spoken of in terms of being royalty (as long as they making money for their investors, at any rate). Part of the veneer painted on the Kennedy Administration (and indeed, the whole Kennedy family) is that of a native royalty- they even purloined the term Arthurian “Camelot” to add luster to the claim. While America prices itself on being the land of equal opportunity, what we are seeing a today is a concentration of wealth and opportunity, a sort of “economic enclosure” that would have made the Tudors proud.

The “need” argument is unconvincing. It ignores the fact that adulation of monarchy (and the British one in particular) is by no means universal. It not possible to put a third of the world under the heel and not make a few enemies. Not all subjects received the full measure of the benefit of empire.  It also ignores the fact that aping the European aristocracy was a middle class phenomena in the United States. As soon as they has larded away a sufficiency, the American middle class copied the manners and mores of European and British aristocrats.

Last year the New York Times posed the question Why Do Americans Love Royalty? Maya Jasanoff, offered that what was at play was “an insecurity over what we lost”, meaning those hallowed traditions and customs (like doffing hats to social betters, presumably) “Well into the 19th century,” Jasanoff notes, “Americans were haunted by a sense of cultural, political and economic inferiority to Britain”.

Jasanoff’s loss theory may be on to something, but she does not take it far enough. For one thing, the early republic was inferior to Britain by most key “big power” measures. While it was generally recognized that the US would grow into a world power someday, in the early 19th century that was far from being the case. Further, it is not surprising that Europe and Britain would be looked to as a source of culture- the United States was still importing much of its science and technology from European sources in what would today be regarded as piracy of intellectual property.

The reason for preferring the Britain’s aristocracy and its monarchy would seem to be two-fold:

First- the American Revolution produced a republic. Much nattering is spent on “what the Found Fathers intended”, but one thing is certain. They did not intend a revolutionary republic. That comes later. The initial goal was to achieve home rule, to get out from under the rule of the king- this has a long history in Britain, so no new ground was being broken. The notion was that once independence is won, things would pretty much be as before, with the best families (the American nobility) still in charge. But as so often happens in war and revolution, all sorts of social forces got unleashed. The United States of America which starts to emerge in the early 19th century is a very different from the one the 18th century revolutionaries had envisioned.

It is not surprising, then, that the erstwhile North American aristocrats would look to Europe not entirely without envy. At least there (until the French, and subsequent, revolutions) commoners knew their place. In Britain, the gentry avoided the threats that decimated some of their continental brethren. Britain’s landed gentry, with the royal family at their head, represented stability.

After the Civil War, the United States underwent profound economic change and explosive growth. Some the richest and most powerful people in the world were soon to be Americans. The new plutocrats and a growing middle class still looked to Europe and Britain as the arbiter of thing cultural. The nouveau riche of would often look to buy up or marry into titles that a democratic republic did not allow.

Writers like Henry James and Edith Wharton described these antics in some of their better known works. It was a common trope used in novels and plays. This attitude was not without its critics. Mark Twain tweaked his countrymen’s predilection for elevating the European and British over the American in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in the characters of the duke and the king. The former is allegedly an English duke, the latter the long lost rightful king of France. The con men use these guises and the locals’ gullibility and susceptibility to try and defraud them.

The second element, which accounts for the peculiar preference for the British royals, is that Britain was the preeminent power of the day. The 18th century was the British century- by the end of the century, the sun never set on its empire.

Early in the history of the republic, John Bull was the tough guy that the Uncle Sam decided to pal around with. When the Uncle Sam adopted its own tough guy stance, such as it did, for example, with the Monroe Doctrine, it did so with John Bull looking on favorably. The Monroe Doctrine was essentially an American restatement of what was already British policy. The difference was that the British had the power (chiefly, its navy) to back it up. When President Monroe made his proclamation, the US had no navy worth speaking of. It had no ability to enforce the doctrine. For much of the century, the United States rode on British coattails.

With such a relationship, it is hardly surprising that British institutions, with its monarchy at the top, would be help in high regard and copied. Fast forward to the mid-20th century, and consider the place of American military and economic power in the world. Now consider the influence of its culture for the same period.

That British institutions are still are held in such high esteem so many decades after the end of British power can probably be ascribed to something akin to inertia, to a persistence of the ancien regime. That too is fading- the accolades for William and Catherine pale when compared to the disgusting and nauseating cult of Diana.

Soon the news will come from Buckingham Palace that someone has been born. The newest royal will the fussed over by the (mostly American) media, but it will probably not be the event it would been a decade or two earlier. After all, we have the Kardashians now.

Advertisements
3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 19, 2013 3:01 pm

    A thoughtful reflection on the celebrity status of British royalty in American media and popular culture –maybe almost too thoughtful for the subject at hand. By this I mean that royalty news really is just another form of celebrity-worship, “slow news day” stuff as you put it. Harmless as far as it goes.

    The problem with it has been discussed previously here at FTSOA, namely the squandering of media bandwidth and public attention on matters irrelevant to the kind of public discussion necessary for proper functioning of a democratic republic. In other words, celebrity-worship crowds out more important issues, such as those bearing on the immediate and long-term prosperity of the American people, on the Constitutional limits to government power necessary to liberty and freedom, and on the dominance of political process by moneyed interests and imperial pursuits.

    The inertia described in the article, whereby British institutions are still held in high esteem, and the longer-term inertia of royalty and princess stories even in children’s literature and movies, fits the larger pattern of cultural inertia generally, and even necessary to the long-term continuity that makes for cultural identity and tradition, which are in themselves comforting in a world also churning with change and disruptions of our way of life. Religion and ritual are the most ancient form of this cultural continuity, while language and historical memory carry much of the water for the national identities that have become more functional than religious identities as society became more secularized.

    And here is where I think we underestimate the value of the American Revolution and its ultimate product, the Constitution, at our own peril. The British royalty had already lost much of its power in the 17th century through the secularization that replaced the Divine Right of kings with the supremacy of Parliament. There was no rush to democracy but nonetheless very essential steps were thus taken, and this became a basis for American claims to the right of political representation. Some historians have made much of the conservative elements of the American Revolution –especially the absence of abolition of slavery– but real world politics and social change cannot come all at once, as any age takes the next steps possible with the balance of force of the interests and social forces at hand. And in the late 18th century, the political base, not just at the elite levels but popular as well, was not ready for adding abolition to independence. Practically every previous republic from Athens and Rome through the French Revolution itself still recognized slavery as a legitimate institution, however reprehensible to our sensibilities now.

    And thus I think we must also weigh the progressive and even radical elements that were also realized in the American Revolution and resulting Constitution. Most relevant to the article above, Article 1 Section 9 declares that “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” (One wonders how NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani felt it appropriate to accept an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2002!) Consider also Article 4 Section 4 declaring “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…” This was radical enough for the age, as the leaders of the American Revolution risked their lives to found a democratic republic in a rebellion of uncertain outcome that left them liable to charges of treason against the King of England.

    I say we devalue that Revolution and Constitution to our own peril because many of the ills we face as a nation strike me as consequences of allowing the Constitution to become an irrelevant artifact no longer constraining the federal government. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the rising unemployment and deterioration of wages and economic opportunity for ordinary Americans is more than anything else due to the so-called “free trade” policies that have off shored and outsourced ⅓ of our manufacturing jobs –through unconstitutional “free trade” treaties. I wrote, in that article found here:

    http://oxford-ct.patch.com/groups/will-wilkins-blog/p/america-needs-a-new-trade-policy

    EXCERPT:

    “Congress has mostly abdicated its constitutional responsibility for trade by delegating this power to the Executive, through so-called “Fast Track Authority” that grants to the President authority to negotiate international agreements that the Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster. Treaties negotiated under this Fast Track Authority are then supposedly ratified by a simple majority vote (51% or more) of both houses of Congress, in contradiction to the Constitution Article 2 Section 2, which states that the President has power to make treaties “PROVIDED TWO THIRDS OF THE SENATE CONCUR.” (my emphasis)

    END EXCERPT

    Another example of increasing disregard for Constitutional government is the seemingly permanent multiple undeclared wars entered into by the Executive with no Declaration of War from Congress, and often without even a discussion of it in Congress. Article 1 Section 8 lays the power and responsibility on Congress to declare war, but Congress has also abdicated that power through the War Powers Act and through general supine posture as the Presidents make over a dozen wars in the last 65 years without any Congressional Declaration of War, a process much accelerated under the so-called “War on Terror.”

    Similarly, the Constitution has been systematically violated by massive unwarranted surveillance and data-gathering of the communications of American citizens, also under the guise of the so-called “War on Terror.” The 4th Amendment declares that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” But we now have moved into a post-Constitutional order whereby the National Security Administration does whatever it wants, to the point where a whistle-blower like Eric Snowden is treated as a traitor rather than a hero for exposing this systematic violation of the Constitution supposedly warranted by the “War on Terror.”

    Even the Constitutional republican idea of a Congress elected by the people to make laws on our behalf has been made obsolete by the vast sums of money in political campaigns, in the coffers of the 2 major political parties, and in the revolving door of influence-pedalling between corporate BOD and consultancies and Congressional and Executive offices. Meanwhile we are fed stories about a pregnant princess.

    In sum, the problem with media and public focus on the celebrity of royalty is not anything inherent to royalty or celebrity but rather the much larger pattern of a disastrous derailment of the public discussion, from matters essential to preserving a Constitutional Democratic Republic instead towards trivial and meaningless infotainment distractions. The Constitution has become as archaic to American government as the Magna Carta is to British government. Not through any single counter-revolution but rather through atrophy, through accumulated violations by an increasingly lawless and imperial Executive branch and by seeming acquiescence by neglect from a coin-operated Congress and a spoon-fed media and a distracted public.

  2. January 9, 2014 8:14 pm

    Maybe now you’ll read one of mine?http://stamford.patch.com/groups/will-wilkins-blog/p/why-and-how-to-stop-the-fast-track-to-free-trade-ruin-of-america_c8f24b5f Will WilkinCo-Owner-Operator Made In USA Solar, LLC346 Oxford RoadOxford, CT 06478203.893.7306www.madeinusasolar.usELC.0200104-E1HIC.0632964 This message contains information which is privileged and confidential. Unless you are an addressee named above (or specifically authorized to receive messages for an addressee named above), you may not use, copy or disclose the message or any information contained in the message. If you have received the message in error, please advise the sender by reply E-mail and delete the message. Thank you.

Trackbacks

  1. You and Your Crew: Why Party Allegiance is Becoming Meaningless | FTSA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: