2007-02-22

An American Royalty

Reader DD chimes in via comments concerning the Anna Nicole Smith story:
Its long been pointed out that in America, celebrities have culturally filled the role of royalty.
This reminded me of an idea some friends and I were tossing around one night, years ago. DD is correct in saying that celebrity fills an analogous role to royalty in our society. Some people have a deep need for a source of authority they can idolize and fixate upon. Idolizing authority, weak-sauced as it is, is completely predictable - an inescapable part of the human condition.

My concern, of course, is politics, and it is therefore these idolaters' electoral influence that I am interested in examining. Idolatry is poisonous to democracy, for voters need to make choices based on fact and principle rather than on a cult of personality. Unfortunately, without a national royalty these authoritarians idolize political leaders, which helps lead to the vicious invective in our politics. The Idols grow isomorphic to the nation itself, so criticizing that leader becomes tantamount to treason. Sound familiar?

So, why not have an elected Prince? Not only would we diminish the influence of irrational idolatry in our elections, but we'd kill two birds with one stone by removing much of the ceremonial component from the President's shoulders. It could be a good idea.

Glenn Greenwald touched upon this with his essays on the lack of political ideology in the Bush movement:

It used to be the case that in order to be considered a "liberal" or someone "of the Left," one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day - social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, "judicial activism," hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies, etc. etc. These days, to be a "liberal," such views are no longer necessary.

Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required - a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more "liberal" one is. Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one's actual political views, but is a function purely of one's personal loyalty to George Bush.

...

If it now places one "on the Left" to oppose unrestrained power and invasiveness asserted by the Federal Government along with lawlessness on the part of our highest government officials, so be it. The rage-based reverence for The President as Commander-in-Chief -- and the creepy, blind faith vested in his goodness -- is not a movement I recognize as being political, conservative or even American.

A movement which has as its shining lights a woman who advocates the death of her political opponents, another woman who is a proponent of concentration camps, a magazine which advocates the imprisonment of journalists who expose government actions of dubious legality, all topped off by a President who believes he has the power to secretly engage in activities which the American people, through their Congress, have made it a crime to engage in, is a movement motivated by lots of different things. Political ideology isn't one of them.
Greenwald calls this a cult-like mentality, but I'll continue referring to them as idolaters. If we had royalty, it would sink some of these idolaters out of the political process since they would have a more appropriate target for their fixation. The intense personal identification and nationalistic pride that is a pox on electoral democracy is a boon to monarchy.

3 comments:

Diamond Dog said...

Seriously, there is so much spin here that I'm dizzy. I also noticed a ton of so-called facts that we are accept as fait de complis' (my appologises to my french teacher).

However, I will respond to one part:

"voters need to make choices based on fact and principle rather than on a cult of personality"

This is easy to disprove. Think about the great presidents. Was it specific policies we remember? Can't be, because the great presidents would seldom agree on much. Could you see Lincoln agreeing with much or Roosevelts agenda. I think not. No, it was exactly because of who they were as people, their strengths, weaknesses, goals and hopes that made them what they were. Of course we don't really need a 'cult of personality', though we came close with FDR and Washington. But, it was their personality, that part of 'them' that they brought to the job that made them great, along with thier decisions. Character DOES matter, no matter what a Clinton supporter tells you.

Diamond Dog said...

Ok, couldn't help myself. I'm going for the double dip.

Philisophically, Socrates pointed out society is always right. How can this be?

Basically, society is analogous to a living organism of sorts. It will, in its perfection, take on the role of perpetutity as any organism does. This is a natural process, not based on abstracts such as right or wrong, but on absolutes such, as the bard put it, weather to be or not be. Our societal organism with respond to defend itself with no regard to love, fairness, justice, ect... Its a perfect system, as beautiful in its simplicity as it is deadly in its purpose.

So, whenever something pops up like the Nicole story and it seems as if no sense is there, remember that that in this perfect system everything MUST serve an importance or its existance wouldn't, in fact, couldn't be allowed. This explains why all change is often so violent. Other view points are often more judgements, than understanding.

Ok, I'm done now. My head hurts.

Kepler said...

Society is analogous to a perfect entity existing in perpetuity? My ass, it is! If organisms, "in [their] perfection, take on the role of perpetuity as any organism does," there would never be extinction!

In fact, evolutionary pressures (which are isomorphic to what you're citing here) can lead evolving organisms down blind alleys. Evolution cannot anticipate, but only react to the environment it currently inhabits. Since we as humans can see a little ways into the future, there may be cases where conscious intervention to skew the evolutionary progression down a preferred viable path is beneficial or even necessary. Without that intervention, the organism would perish. Death of the species is hardly a perfect outcome, and cannot be denied.

Now that you agree with me on that, it's just a matter of deciding where the pushes need to come - what's appropriate to attempt to modify? That's a difficult question that we will occassionally disagree on. But to say that Society is always right - especially from a conservative - strikes me kinda weird. Well written, but still weird. :)

As for your points about my fait accompli approach to the values voters should have... you don't think it's important to make decisions on public policy based on facts and inspection rather than on religious grounds? Because given the way the Bush loyalists (some of the remaining 29% [fox poll] that think he's doing a good job) have defended some of Bush's incredibly radical and decidedly nonconservative policies (like the President being able to break criminal law for no good reason), there's a strong case to be made that rationality and thought plays no part at all in their support for the President. Those blind supporters are not even really personality cultists - they aren't in love with his personality, they just need authority they can idolize. They need a captain of a team. There are some of these people on either side of the aisle, and they detract from the health of our democracy.