Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Too Much Love for Royalty

Tibor R. Machan

Every time I encounter admiring references to royalty in America I cringe. Like when recently The New York Times Magazine ran a special advertising section for Dubai in which “the ruler of Dubai” was displayed in all his royal splendor. But that’s just the beginning.

What about all those hotels and other establishments that have names such as “crown,” “royal,” “queen,” “duke,” and the like? What is it with all of this apparent lingering adoration for monarchical titles in a country that lost thousands of lives in its fight to rid itself of the sham of the entrenched class system of feudal times?

Well, as I see it, too many people are still subconsciously attached to eras when the bulk of the people were being ruled by kings, queens, tsars, Caesars, pharaohs, sheiks, khans, dukes, and barons. They still appear to have some yearning for societies with a hierarchical structure where individuals are deemed to be in need of strong governmental leadership instead of mere skilled administrators. Even in the current election campaign there is a lot of talk about who will be the best leader, as if the country were populated with sheep in need of constant direction and supervision.

But the United States of America has citizens, not subjects, and the difference is considerable. Subjects are, strictly speaking, subservient to the will of some allegedly naturally higher authority than they are. Citizens recognize no such divisions in the population. Yes, there are people who have earned authority in, say, medicine, engineering, education, and so forth but the operative term is “earned.” Unlike in feudal systems where one’s title comes with the accidental good fortune of being born to parents who are members of an elite--ones who had no need to achieve anything other than to remain in power mainly through sheer force of arms--in a country where people are citizens no one is taken to be innately better than anyone else. Yes, some may be more fortunate than others but no official benefits are supposed to come with this.

The government in a country with citizens is also made up of citizens, not rulers. This helps to remind everyone that these people are not better born than others, have no special authority over others apart form what they are freely granted by other citizens (with appropriate limits attached even then), and that governments are by their nature no magical institution to be entrusted with superhuman wisdom and virtue.

When this is lost sight of, as it seems to be by altogether too many people in America, there would likely be an embrace of statism, the idea that government officials possess innate superiority over the rest and are thus destined to run things. And that is surely the very opposite idea to one so brilliantly laid out in the Declaration of Independence, the brief but very true philosophical summary of the American political system.

My inclination is to stand up and protest whenever I detect signs of lingering adoration for royalty, even while others chide me for being paranoid, for making a mountain out of a molehill. A recent book, Liberal Fascism, by Johan Goldberg (Doubleday, 2008), shares my concerns by showing that nearly all of what liberal democrats are supporting--including or especially in the current election campaign--turns out to be a step in the direction of a reactionary policy of micromanaging society, just as this was deemed proper under absolute monarchies in which king or queen had the duty to be keepers of the realm and under 20th century fascist regimes. Just what subjects can expect and citizens would reject. Reaction to this book--for example in The New York Times Book Review (December 30, 2007) by David Oshinsky--has been to chide it for paranoia, for worrying too much about the expansion of government power in America.

Unfortunately there is no paranoia--which is to say, exaggerated and irrational fear--involved in concerns about liberal fascism, no more so than there was about all the fiercely authoritarian and totalitarian regimes of the last century. They were all developed by calls for what their intellectual supporters deemed to be needed and moderate discipline and top down regimentation, only to graduate in time to Draconian dictatorships.

Americans should become more self conscious about elements in their culture that amount to nothing less than a reactionary nostalgia for statism. That is not what made the country special in the world, the beacon of human liberty.

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