The People's Professor

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Our Un-American 'Addiction' to Royalty

Is there an unfinished American revolution in our obsession for the Royals?

Everywhere one turns in this oldest of democracies one sees the media slavering over the "Royals," mostly the British Royals. These Royals, whose family was booted out of the country 229 years ago at enormous cost of American lives, have power, hereditary power, as shown in our strong interest, mental time spent, and reaction to everything they do. They seem to be quite nice people, but the media time and money spent covering their lives could surely be better spent on stories covering people who have arisen from nothing and become something, perhaps overcoming great odds and doing good—you remember, the American Ideal!

But it is not to be. The au courant Daily Beast/Newsweek even has a column, updated every day, "The Royalist", that reports "on all aspects of the British Royal Family." Almost all American media have succumbed to Royal addiction, and if these people of hereditary lifetime unearned privilege ever grace our shores, we are ecstatic! The White House doors are thrown wide open for these purveyors of privilege, demotivating those common Americans who work hard and sacrifice mightily but will never receive that personal invitation into America's home.

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A contemporary revolutionary act, worthy in its results of a seat at the Treaty of Paris, by a man whose life and death received less detailed coverage in American media than Kate Middleton's wedding dress, took place in Tunisia, on January 4, 2011. Mohamed Bouazizi, an obscure fruit cart vendor, father, and family breadwinner about the same age as Prince William, working for $10 a day, set himself on fire to protest the Tunisian dictatorship. He was a hero who made the greatest sacrifice one can make for a great cause, and helped start the Arab world's magnificent 21st century struggle for freedom from dictators and monarchies, a struggle to realize a dream of democracy, as America did so many years ago in the American Revolution.

Monarchies and many dictatorships are based on hereditary privilege, where leaders are chosen by the chance of birth and not by their efforts, skills, abilities or accomplishments—that is, their psychology. This is the old, medieval order. Monarchies are a symbol set against democratic and egalitarian principles, a sort of antithesis of the 21st century's great central struggle.

Even if a contemporary monarchy has seemingly little power, it may in fact have significant power, pychological suasion, and a grip on people's attention to and perception of what constitutes a free and egalitarian society, obscuring the so-important principle of equal opportunity for all, the value of individual initiative, hard work and motivation in creating a good life. All these values can get distorted when we genuflect to royalty and inherited privilege.

The mere presence of any monarchies in the 21st century, with or without power, is the wrong symbol for the increasingly sophisticated, enlighted, educated, cognitive cultures that give hope for the global expansion of democracy. The story of democracy will not be complete until such forms of hereditary leadership have passed into the history books.

Our British friends can of course do whatever they want, even holding on to the last vestiges of medieval pomp and privilege. But America has stood for many as a beacon of freedom, opportunity for all, and equality. I hope our relentless obsession with the lives of Royals will end sooner than later, and that in the best of endings some reflection will be achieved concerning the continuing importance of the American dream, the meaning of history, and the promise of this new century.

Frank Farley, Ph.D., is a L.H. Carnell Professor, Temple University, and former President of the American Psychological Association.

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