‘The ugly premise that one group of humans had the absolute right to rule over another group of humans’

In a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times, Gary Vogt notes that

While the surviving monarchies are primarily ceremonial, no one can deny that, similar to slavery, most such institutions were originally established and existed for centuries based on the ugly premise that one group of humans had the absolute right to rule over another group of humans. Like slavery, royal dominance was historically maintained by force as every king and queen had their own army.[1]

I’m always rather perplexed to see arguments like this.

Certainly, indeed the “premise that one group of humans had the absolute right to rule over another group of humans” is “ugly.”[2] But Vogt continues,

Given the historical origins of most absolute monarchies and the fact that we fought two wars to get out from under the British throne, it is difficult to understand America’s continuing fascination and adulation for everything royal. Isn’t that a bit like celebrating the descendants of slave owners?[3]

In short, British royalty is UN-AMERIKKKAN!!!!

I’m perplexed because I’m not really seeing the distinction between royalty and the political system in the U.S. John Asimakopoulos argues at great (and tedious) length that the U.S. social, economic, and political system is a caste system allowing almost no social mobility between rulers and ruled.[4] While I hadn’t previously seen a post-modernist approach to this topic, he finds considerable support from modernists, even if the latter have not embraced the word ‘caste’ as they describe the formidable barriers to achieving the Amerikkkan Dream.[5]

As I’ve previously noted, in arguing for adoption of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison sought to protect the minority rights not of any subaltern group, but rather, the property rights of wealthy white male slaveholders against a populist mob that might confiscate their property. And his means for doing so was to ensure that these wealthy white male slaveholders remained in power.[6] Certainly, I’m no counterexample myself, having attained a Ph.D. but still being stuck driving for Uber and Lyft.[7]

At least the British know that unless they’re members of the royal family, they’d need to marry into it to even get close and that the barriers to doing so are formidable. In U.S. neo-Calvinism, we lie or at least mislead, telling people to work hard and have a good attitude (smile!) to have a chance.

So how, exactly are we not just as in thrall to our own royalty as Vogt complains we are to the British? Is this not part of the fantasy that keeps us striving, giving the capitalists much more than they pay for?

Out in California, a number of Blacks told me that at least in the South, they knew who their enemies were. In the northeast, they said, they don’t, that the bigotry here is insidious. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, I’ve been finding to my horror just how right they were. Here it is very obvious, very much more so to me than ever in California,[8] that Blacks still suffer a legacy of slavery and discrimination that made some white people very rich and very powerful.[9] So please do tell me, how exactly are we not still “celebrating the descendants of slave owners?”[10]

In the British system, people are well aware of the divisions that separate them from royalty. In the U.S., we do not know who our enemies are, but rather, we imagine we, ourselves, can join them:[11]

A core element of the American credo is that talent, skill, hard work, and achievement largely determine life chances. We believe that everyone has a fair shot at whatever is valued or prized and that no individual or group is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.[12]

George Carlin famously said of this, “That’s why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”[13]

Like a lot of people, Vogt dreams that he is awake.

  1. [1]Gary Vogt, “Letters to the Editor: Royals everywhere should follow Meghan and Harry into obscurity,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-01-12/meghan-markle-prince-harry-quit
  2. [2]Gary Vogt, “Letters to the Editor: Royals everywhere should follow Meghan and Harry into obscurity,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-01-12/meghan-markle-prince-harry-quit
  3. [3]Gary Vogt, “Letters to the Editor: Royals everywhere should follow Meghan and Harry into obscurity,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-01-12/meghan-markle-prince-harry-quit
  4. [4]John Asimakopoulos, The Political Economy of the Spectacle and Postmodern Caste (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2020).
  5. [5]C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite (New York: Oxford University, 2000); Scott Sernau, Worlds Apart, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA, Pine Forge, 2006); Thomas M. Shapiro, ed., Great Divides, 3rd ed. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005).
  6. [6]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (New York: Bantam, 2003), 50-58.
  7. [7]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  8. [8]David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, October 12, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/09/20/the-banners-and-the-guns-flagrant-racism-in-pittsburgh/; David Benfell, “Militia territory,” Not Housebroken, November 22, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/11/22/militia-territory/; David Benfell, “The place where I live,” Not Housebroken, December 26, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/26/the-place-where-i-live/; David Benfell, “How am I to respond?” Not Housebroken, December 31, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/12/30/how-am-i-to-respond/
  9. [9]Colin P. Clarke, “One Year After Tree of Life, We Still Aren’t Talking Enough About Violent White Supremacy,” Rand, October 27, 2019, https://www.rand.org/blog/2019/10/one-year-after-tree-of-life-we-still-arent-talking.html; Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” Atlantic, June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/; Eric Heyl, “Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, Islamic Hate Groups Active In Pittsburgh,” Patch, August 16, 2017, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/pittsburgh/neo-nazi-white-supremacist-islamic-hate-groups-active-pittsburgh; Moriah Ella Mason, “Pittsburgh Doesn’t Need More Guns — We Need Less White Supremacy,” Forward, October 29, 2018, https://forward.com/scribe/413104/pittsburgh-doesnt-need-more-guns-we-need-less-white-supremacy/; Charles Thompson, “Pennsylvania housed 36 active hate groups last year, ranking 8th in the country: report,” Penn Live, February 21, 2019, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2019/02/southern-poverty-law-center-counts-36-active-hate-groups-in-pennsylvania-in-2018.html
  10. [10]Gary Vogt, “Letters to the Editor: Royals everywhere should follow Meghan and Harry into obscurity,” Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-01-12/meghan-markle-prince-harry-quit
  11. [11]Annalisa Merelli, “New study finds most Americans don’t really care about inequality,” Quartz, January 9, 2020, https://qz.com/1780450/new-study-finds-most-americans-dont-really-care-about-inequality/
  12. [12]Thomas M. Shapiro, “Introduction,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 3.
  13. [13]George Carlin, quoted in Good Reads, n.d., https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/17908-that-s-why-they-call-it-the-american-dream-because-you

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