by Mark+ Walz
Several weeks ago, Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of the United Kingdom, passed away. And while there was much sadness and particularly much ceremony, many Americans and others were confused and even put off by the grandiosity of it all. What was the big deal? And why would any country go to these lengths for a single person?
I think the confusion is in part due to the type of nation we have in America, and the type of person we shape here. There is a stark difference in the views of the people if you have a monarch or do not have one. For example, we have been taught that any person of public office, including the highest ones in the land, work for the people. And they can be impeached and removed if necessary with nothing approaching a coup or violence. They are temporary and somewhat equal in station. But a monarchy is much different. When you have a king or queen you have here something much more settled and permanent, something much more transcendent. The notion of equality among all is diminished, and what replaces it in part is a new separation among people; royalty and common folk. And we know this difference somewhat by the ceremony or lack of ceremony attached to the offices. A king coming into power looks much different than a president.
Monarchs are crowned with elaborate ceremony: (comparatively) prime ministers and presidents are installed with next to none... Monarchs are supposed to enjoy the allegiance of their whole people and to personify the values of the nation. —Gordon J. Wenham
I love this quote from Wenham, partly because of the second part. He said, “the allegiance of the whole people.” This gets into a bit of the why. The president never has the allegiance of the whole people. And it is never necessary to swear to that. But a king?
I am reminded of Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail.” There is a scene where King Arthur has a conversation with a commoner who refuses to be subservient to Arthur and recognize his claim. The commoner’s response is essentially that Arthur is not her king, for she did not vote for him. How did he even become king?
King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. THAT is why I am your king.
Dennis: [interrupting] Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
This is fantastic insight into how we Americans typically view democracy and how a mandate of the masses is better than a monarchy. But is it?
I am not going to argue for monarchy or democracy here, but I do wonder what we miss as a result. In other words, what do we miss in our culture by not having a monarch — even a constitutional one? Maybe you are not into elaborate ceremony and solemn ritual when it comes to political offices, but I bet you are into ceremony somewhere in your life! Do you believe in ceremony when it comes to weddings? Baptisms? Graduation? Memorial Day services at a national cemetery? My point being, all of us find reason to have ceremony somewhere in our lives because ceremony itself separates the sacred event from the common one. We still believe some things are more sacred than other things, some things royal and some things common. Are they equal? No! We know they are not, and they do not need to be.
As an outsider looking in, I sense in our quest for a super representative world and an equality at all costs that we have overlooked the value of sacred things. There are, in fact, sacred things, sacred places, sacred times, sacred events, even sacred people. And it may be as Americans we have to work a bit harder to remind ourselves of their existence, and it is good to recognize them for what they are.