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Ever since supporters pushed for George Washington to take a permanent political position in the uncertain years after the Revolution, the U.S. has had a love-hate relationship with the idea of monarchy. We love the glamour, but we hate the despotism and hereditary privilege that the same monarchy seems to symbolize. However, sometimes I wistfully wonder, what if? Would it have been better for George Washington to have taken the crown of the U.S., and would that have actually supported the U.S.'s need for a democratic government?
I have no regrets that the U.S. is not a monarchy. But I do think there are some advantages for a country to have a monarchy, for I believe that monarchs do not have to be despots or particularly privileged people.
The ideal monarchy I envision is very much a working monarchy. For instance, in the realm of the House of Washington, there would still be no titled aristocracy. There would be gender equality in the succession, and the royal family would be limited to the members of the immediate nuclear family who actually carry out state functions. The monarchy would not be rich--it would be supported from funds by Congress just like any other branch of government, based on the number of appearances and amount of social work the family carried out in the service of the country.
Most importantly, the monarchy would be a constitutional monarchy. Washington, of course, would have been only head of state. He would have had no part in actually governing the country. He would have been above politics, perhaps even a unifier of the country.
The last is probably the most important benefit of a constitutional monarchy, which separates the office of the head of state from the head executive. One can say that the office of the U.S. president, a combination of both offices, gives the president both enormous powers and enormous liabilities. It is very difficult to have a president who can play both the role of the head of state and the head executive well. Usually, the president is one or the other. And in this age of photo-ops and soundbites, the charismatic person with the witty aside comes across much better than a person slower of speech, but with a good grasp of real issues. Furthermore, there is something a bit disturbing that the definition of Americana hinges on one political figure. For instance, if you were a Democrat, would you really appreciate that a Republican serves as the symbol of your country?
If we had Royal House of Washington, we would never have to critique our president on grounds of photogenic attributes instead of his or her political agendas. Their families would not get flak for not being quite perfect, if the rather antiquated 1950s illusion of the white working father, patient housewife, and 3.4 children living in the house with white picket fence might serve as the image of the perfect family. It wouldn't really matter if the president was an adulterer. We could pick presidents solely on the basis of their political issues. Such a system would also force candidates to clarify their political positions.
Perhaps then Hillary Clinton would not have come under fire for being an intelligent lawyer as well as a wife when Bill Clinton was first running for President (this was before her health plan). Lawyer Cherie Blair did not receive such treatment from the British press when Tony Blair first became prime minister. The British press had their hands full with Princess Diana. The advantage of having a royal family is that the royal family--no matter how dysfunctional--serves to depersonalize politics by drawing all critiques of personality in the public realm to itself. If we depersonalized political systems, we would actually get a lot more legislation passed efficiently and swiftly. Party allegiance might become stronger, and politicians would not be able to utilize their personal popularity as much. So, why wouldn't such a system work in the U.S.?
Constitutional issues aside, there the seem to be two main drawbacks to having an American royal family. It is not that the existence of such a royal family conflicts with Americas mantra of freedom and equality. However, the role of a royal family is to represent its country's citizens and aspirations. But the U.S. does not have a single continuous history and culture that a royal family can claim to represent. For instance, as a nation of immigrants, most Americans today cannot trace their ancestry in the U.S. back to the colonial period. In today's U.S., the Washington royal house would probably be attacked for being too white and too eastern. The fact that the royal family could not represent the multitude of different ethnic groups living in the U.S. would be a legitimate problem.
Another question would be the rights of the various members of the royal family. The royal family that we envision is not one of privilege, but of duty, where representing the highest morals of the country is considered a mandatory job. What if the heir to the throne didn't want to be king or queen? Forcing such a person to become monarch would be a violation of his or her right of self-determination. Also, such a person, forced into office, would probably be a terrible monarch.
However, people do seem to create their own brand of celebrity gazing in the absence of a monarchy. In this country, Hollywood stars and supermodels seem to fit the role of the would-be national symbol quite well, as these celebrities increasingly turn to organizing charitable works and fundraisers. Perhaps you could say that the absence of having a monarchy results in the democratic right to create one's own idols in a monarch's stead. You can even dream of becoming a celebrity yourself. On the other hand, celebrities lack a sense of permanence--Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame is an apt description. And these celebrities have no real obligation to represent anyone except themselves.
In the end, it is a pity that George Washington did not become king, for through his military deeds he merited such an office. But then again, what would have happened to his descendants? Would we have no longer been able to distinguish between royalty and Hollywood celebrities? Maybe we should just unplug our television sets.
Nanaho Sawano is a senior living in Dunster House. This article is the third in a series about royalty.
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