Royalty will save democracy

In the wake of the British royal wedding, perhaps the most successful PR achieved by a monarchy in two decades, essayist Ian Buruma argues that monarchies keep countries together, put a lid on ethnic conflicts and dampen down populism.

Published on 6 May 2011 at 14:02
 | Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander, Queen Beatrix, Princess Margriet and her husband greet the crowd in The Hague on Prince's Day 2010 (September 21).

Does monarchy — constitutional monarchy, that is, not the despotic kind — have any redeeming features left? The arguments against maintaining kings and queens are mostly quite rational. It is unreasonable in this democratic age to pay special deference to people solely on the basis of their birth. Are we really supposed to admire and love modern monarchies, such as the British House of Windsor, even more so today, just because some new princess has been plucked from the middle class?

Monarchy has an infantilizing effect. Witness how otherwise sensible adults are reduced to nervously grinning sycophants when they are granted the privilege of touching an extended royal hand. At great monarchical displays, such as the royal wedding in London, millions become enthralled by child-like dreams of a “fairy-tale” marriage. The mystique of immense wealth, noble birth, and great exclusivity is further sustained by the global mass media that promote these rituals.

Now, one might argue that the dignified pomp of Queen Elizabeth II is preferable to the tawdry grandiosity of Silvio Berlusconi, Madonna, or Cristiano Ronaldo. In fact, the British monarchy, especially, has been reinventing itself by adopting many of the most vulgar features of modern showbiz or sports celebrity. And the worlds of royalty and popular fame often overlap.

For example, David Beckham and his ex-pop-star wife Victoria, live out their own dream of royalty, aping some of its gaudiest aspects. They also happened to be among the favored guests at the latest royal wedding. Similarly, while Britain has many outstanding musicians, the favorite of the royal court is Elton John […]Read the full article at Project Syndicate. (**Twitter: @**ProSyn)

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