As Americans, we have a very odd relationship with the United Kingdom and its monarchy. We seem to love the celebrity and gossip about the royals but, well, we just don’t get “it.”
And we should never get it.
Many Americans watch the pomp and ceremony of the ascension of a new king the same way they used to watch the Academy Awards, for the pageantry, a kind of “ew, look what she’s wearing” event.
But some watch with an odd sense of awe — amazed that the soul of a nation is wrapped up in just one super-virtuous person. It seems so, well, gallant. If only American political leaders could be more like that.
For all the nearly around-the-clock coverage in the U.S. of the passing of the scepter of royal power, we seem to be missing the real message of the moment: To be American is to have no king.
The passing of this extraordinary queen should give most Americans pause to think about our strange relationship of respect and rejection of England.
Those who wallow in the historic wrongs of America might be well served to contrast it with the wrongs of our mother country.
At the height of the British Empire its monarch ruled over 57 nations, facilitated the slave trade, appropriated treasure and natural resources, arguably enslaved entire peoples, and exported their system of bigoted classism.
But not all of what the British empire left behind in its long, slow retreat was tragic.
Because of the empire, the English language is spoken all over the earth, fueling the global exchange of commerce and culture today (but for the blame-America-first crowd, don’t worry. Mandarin will supplant English as the global language).
Oddly the true gift of the Brits’ tyrannical reign was the liberalization of political thought, enlightened philosophies and common law worked out over centuries. From this grew the seeds of the American founding.
One can draw a straight line from Magna Carta and the British tradition of natural law given to us by England to our Constitutional Republic and our civil liberties.
Without the intellectual grounding of our mother country, our founders would not have been able to build upon those moral philosophies to its logical conclusion — individuals are sovereign unto themselves.
The late Queen was a forceful, stabilizing, uniting symbol for the liberal west during some of the most dangerous decades of human history. And for that I am grateful. Even as Americans, we feel a genuine loss, and we should.
But her death should only strengthen our belief in an eternal truth: You, individually, are sovereign. No one has a right to rule you, not even just a “symbolic” ruler.
No individual and no group of people have rights that supersede yours.
As a sovereign you have the right to express yourself, own property, defend yourself, worship as you choose and dictate the course of your own future.
As a sovereign you recognize the sovereignty of others and may, or may not, choose to partner with others in voluntary relationships.
As we witness the spectacle of a new king’s ascension, we should remember that its pageantry is necessary to keep up the facade of legitimacy. It is made to dazzle subjects into not questioning from where the divine right of their monarch comes.
As Thomas Paine wrote in his 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, “to the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession.”
He goes on to explain that if a man is a king because his father was a king, and his father before him was a king, when you go back far enough you will find a thug who declared himself king. You won’t find a sword stuck in a rock put there by God.
But the British monarch is purely ceremonial today, you might say, a walking symbol of a collective people with little legal real power, just hereditary celebrities to be worshipped by the masses. We have the Kardashians. At least they’re not on the public dole.
Now is a moment to celebrate our founders’ decision to reject titles of nobility, which was hotly debated at the time. George Washington could have declared himself king. Many wanted him to.
Now is a moment to remind ourselves why the “celebrity” of the elite is a danger to our freedom.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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