Those who lament the decline of republican values—and by that I mean the devotion to the principle of republican government, not the triumph of the Republican Party—may be dismayed by the attention paid to the wedding of the grandson of the British queen.
The celebration of monarchy in our own day has more to do with our celebrity-oriented culture than a belief in the divine right of kings. I don’t begrudge the Brits their devotion to the monarchy and acknowledge that the pomp and ceremony of the affair makes for good television. Such weddings are excellent marketing for tourism to the United Kingdom and we need to understand that when seen in that light the marriage of Will and Kate is little different than the Disney Corporation’s highlighting of the romance of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
In royalist fantasies, a girl only becomes a princess by attracting the romantic interest of a prince as the middle-class Kate has done—a very different scenario than the notion that any hard-working and intelligent child can grow up to be president of the United States. One needn’t be an incorrigible curmudgeon to see the devotion of so many citizens of our republic to the former rather than the latter as lamentable. After all, the election of Barack Obama, as well as that of other men who were born to humble or unlikely circumstances such as Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Abraham Lincoln, proves that the promise of republican social mobility is more reality than myth.
Still, we shouldn’t entirely despair at the foolishness of our fellow citizens. According to the Nielson Company, nearly 23 million Americans watched the wedding on Friday. That’s a pretty good rating but it is actually far less than the number of those who watched Barack Obama’s inauguration, a ceremony that was long on republican symbolism and short on fashion and fairy tale-style carriage rides. Indeed, the number of Americans who watched Ronald Reagan’s first swearing-in in 1981 exceeded the total of viewers for the wedding of Will’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
So while the number of Americans who are royalist saps is not inconsiderable, we can take comfort in the fact that there are still more of us who are more impressed by the less gaudy solemnities of our 235-year-old republic than monarchist flummery.