Is royalty the most absurd thing?
By Alberto Mingardi
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?