fbpx

The Multiple Personas of the Monarch and the President

Netflix has produced a new series, called The Crown, about the reign of Elizabeth II. It is beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. The initial series of ten episodes explores the first few years of her tenure and the broad and subtle canvas provides yet more evidence that long-form television is one of the most innovative art forms of the last two decades, generated by the greater competition for viewers from ever more stations and networks.

But what is most impressive about the series is its sustained mediation on an important social idea—that the monarch must recognize that she has two personas—the natural and the political. In the first she can be an individual, but in the second she must follow conventions that lend dignity and stability to the state.

The idea is not itself new. Ernst Kantorowicz’s Two Bodies, one of the greatest books ever about medieval political theory, shows that kingship in the Middle Ages consciously reflected this idea. Monarchy included all sorts of rituals suggesting that political body of the King or Queen was directly connected to the divine and thus provided a source of stability beyond the vicissitudes of ordinary politics. The writers of the Crown seem familiar with this book, because they underscored the transcendent rituals in the coronation of Elizabeth, such as the anointing ceremony.

But while the ideal  that body of the sovereign rises above the natural person is not new, The Crown raises the profound political question of whether it can survive in age devoted to individual authenticity and democratic equality. Moreover, the transparency of modern media lets in too much daylight on the magic, making is hard to keep the personal and political separate.    In the series Elizabeth does her best to comply with  traditional conventions that make her seem  stuffy, boring and indeed a bit empty, because emptiness allows the people to read into her what they want to see.  In contrast, her sister Princess Margaret, standing in for Elizabeth during the latter’s Commonwealth tour,  insists on her individuality and makes amusing but irreverent and politically incautious comments that the media trumpets to the world.  And in the background of the narrative lurks the Duke of Windsor who gave up his role for the woman he wanted.  Nothing can better symbolize the triumph of the personal over the political body than the abdication.

It might be thought that underlying theme of the series is anachronistic, because the monarchy is shadow of what it once was, and irrelevant to us Americans because we have no monarchy. But that would be wrong, because the President also traditionally has had different persona. He is head of state, party leader, and, of course, a natural person.

And we too have rituals too that emphasize that the President’s separate specialness as head of state transcends his partisan and natural persona.  These rituals include the famous and unique title, Mr. President, the constitutional oath that only the President takes, and  our solemn counterpart to the coronation–the inauguration.  And this separation has functioned for the good of the republic in much the same way as it does for  the good of a kingdom At least at a time of crisis, the dignity of the President’s persona as head of state is a source of stability and union beyond partisan divisions and personal frailties.

But some of the very same forces that The Crown describes makes it harder than ever to preserve this separate personas.  Even if George Washington returned, he would find it difficult to project the same dignity of office in an age that demands individual authenticity and democratic transparency.

Perhaps we no longer need this ancient bulwark for the state.  It might be argued that our stability comes from the great wealth of our society and  the high level of mass education.  But I  am hoping that Friday’s inauguration works a little of usual  own magic, causing opponents of the incoming President to recognize his legitimacy and encouraging that President to act with the dignity that is essential to his unique persona.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on January 17, 2017 at 12:35:45 pm

Perhaps we no longer need this ancient bulwark for the state. It might be argued that our stability comes from the great wealth of our society and the high level of mass education. But I am hoping that Friday’s inauguration works a little of usual own magic, causing opponents of the incoming President to recognize his legitimacy and encouraging that President to act with the dignity that is essential to his unique persona.

Ethics refers to the duty to defend the system upon which we all depend, even when you might gain some temporary advantage by shirking that duty (assuming that the system would continue to function). Alas, in the short run, everyone sees an advantage to shirking her duty—and thus do systems collapse.

The Republican Party gained tremendous partisan advantages by perpetually attacking Obama’s legitimacy—exemplified most explicitly by Trump’s attack on Obama’s citizenship. It is fortunate that the nation did not suffer a Great Depression or Pearl Harbor event during his administration (although there are still a few days left…!) But at least the kinds of attacks on Obama did not challenge his incentives to do a good job, and he generally enjoyed a middling public approval.

In contrast, the next president will arrive with low public approval, disputes about how much foreign agents influenced his ability to win office, and disputes about his loyalties to those foreign agents. And a substantial minority of Democrats want to respond to this situation with all the delicacy of a bull in a china shop. They clearly see an advantage in undermining the President’s legitimacy—and apparently feel no threat to the nation’s stability, or feel that the appeal of feeding their partisan interests trumps (ha) their duty to defend the national interest.

And they’re almost certainly right. But there’s that “almost” part.

At what point should ethics cause people to conclude—even when confronted with a strong desire for payback—that partisan interests must be subordinate to national interests?

read full comment
Image of nobody.really
nobody.really
on January 17, 2017 at 16:07:16 pm

Nobody:

Pretty fair assessment - BUT surely you would concede that it is *just* possible that Obama's legitimacy was damaged more by his policies and his highly partisan behavior. Heck, he could not even get along with his own party.

You are correct: When the h*ll will our political masters recognize that there is an overriding interest - something, perhaps, a tad bit more important than their own electoral chances and opportunities to pander to the voters.

As an example, the actions of the outgoing Obama group in the areas of foreign relations would appear to be calculated to complicate the incoming administrations ability to conduct a somewhat more traditional foreign policy and / or to repair some of the significant damage done to US interests and standing in the world.
All the better to gain partisan advantage - this is sickening! and I don;t recall the Bush-leaguers engaging in similar efforts.

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on January 17, 2017 at 17:54:33 pm

Pretty fair assessment – BUT surely you would concede that it is *just* possible that Obama’s legitimacy was damaged more by his policies and his highly partisan behavior. Heck, he could not even get along with his own party.

You are correct: When the h*ll will our political masters recognize that there is an overriding interest – something, perhaps, a tad bit more important than their own electoral chances and opportunities to pander to the voters.

Thanks for illustrating the problem.

Yes, politicians absolutely should put aside the pursuit of partisan advantage in support of national unity--unless the other party's politician is engaged in "highly partisan behavior"--in which case, it's no hold barred. They deserve they get, because they had it coming.

Do I agree that Obama's partisanship justified the accusation that he was not born in the US, that he lacked citizenship, or that he was a Muslim? Do I agree that it justified a massive effort at obstruction, agreed to before Obama ever took the oath of office, resulting in an unprecedented abuse of the filibuster rules?

No. Doubtless you think Obama did some inexcusable things while in office. But I don't see how those things could possibly justify other people's behavior retroactively--unless you want to suggest that the Republicans have a time machine.

Yet this is the problem: I surmise you find these behaviors justified--and vote accordingly. So why should we expect politicians to behave ethically when voters reward them for acting tribally? The problems lies not in our stars, dear voter, but in ourselves.

As an example, the actions of the outgoing Obama group in the areas of foreign relations would appear to be calculated to complicate the incoming administrations ability to conduct a somewhat more traditional foreign policy and / or to repair some of the significant damage done to US interests and standing in the world. All the better to gain partisan advantage – this is sickening! and I don;t recall the Bush-leaguers engaging in similar efforts.

Not entirely sure what this refers. to. True, Obama has engaged in all manner of behavior that Trump finds reprehensible--affirming ties to NATO, the United Nations, international trade deals, the One China policy, etc. But it's not clear to me that he did any of these things for the purpose of spiting Trump. There's just a possibility that he sincerely regards these things as sound foreign policy.

Likewise, Bush engaged in a variety of public policies such as starting an endless war in the Mideast, engaging in torture, incarcerating US and foreign nationals in the legal no-man's land called Guantanamo Bay, and passing the Patriot Act. Obama has had to conduct his entire administration burdened with the overhang of these policies. But nothing but the most petty partisanship would lead me to conclude that Bush engaged in these policies out of spite. I expect he regarded each of these acts as appropriate to its circumstances. More's the pity....

read full comment
Image of nobody.really
nobody.really
on January 17, 2017 at 18:20:22 pm

Here's the thing:

No, I do not believe that the whole birther thing was justified; nor do I believe that Obama's horrible policy prescriptions, both foreign and domestic, justify those same silly birther slanders. For the record: His mother was an American citizen - thus, HE IS a citizen of the USA.

I also think the birther issue diminished those who alleged them; HOWEVER, no amount of deflection / misdirection, etc can dismiss the fact that it was both Obama's policies (and how they were implemented) and his excessively partisan disposition that tended to "illegitimatize" (what is wrong with the spell checker here, yikes!) the Obama Administration.

And yes, I do believe that the Big O is being spiteful with respect to certain foreign policy actions, i.e., Israel / UN Resolution / Paris *Peace* Summit, albeit the spite is more than likely directed at Benjamin Netanyahu.

Then again, why would Obama give credence to the claims of illegitimacy, although somewhat muted but still evident, surrounding the election of The Trumpster.

Nobody.really believes that the Big O is pure as driven snow!

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on January 17, 2017 at 18:31:33 pm

And I guess this is not spiteful:

http://townhall.com/tipsheet/cortneyobrien/2017/01/17/white-house-suggests-trump-team-sent-putin-talking-points-n2272847

Another indication of the current Admin doing whatever it can to further convince it's deluded followers that The Trumpster, and his ilk, are illegitimate and are in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. funny, isn;t it how just a few scant months ago. the Democrats were criticizing the Right for its' outdated Cold War attitudes towards the Russians - and Presto, now the Dems claim that the Right is in bed with them.

Well, I guess it is a fast moving world - apparently the Dems have not noticed that the world may very well have passed them by.

Goodbye!

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on January 17, 2017 at 20:23:25 pm

no amount of deflection / misdirection, etc can dismiss the fact that it was both Obama’s policies (and how they were implemented) and his excessively partisan disposition that tended to “illegitimatize” (what is wrong with the spell checker here, yikes!) the Obama Administration.

Oh, very well.

Give me an example of when Obama began engaging in "excessive partisanship," and I'll give you examples of when Republicans began doing so, and we'll see who started it. And then, based on evidence, we can finally agree who started this pattern.

Please provide citations supporting your claims. Thanks.

read full comment
Image of nobody.really
nobody.really
on January 18, 2017 at 10:46:51 am

nobody:

Already did!

Just look at how O-care was passed. Partisan.

Look to the IRS and how conservative organizations were treated. Partisan.

Look to the constant verbal assault on conservative media. Partisan.

We could go on and list many many more - but as I said, it would make no difference to one who is a believer in the Light Bearer.

Now as for spite - just look to today's news on the pardons the Great and Merciful One is handing out. What other than spite (against his own country and its national security) can the Omniscient One be displaying.

Oh, if only I too could be a believer; but nobody really is a believer (anymore?).

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on January 18, 2017 at 18:40:46 pm

Actually, what may be a far more fertile field of inquiry re: partisanship is the actions of the various Federal Administrative Agencies and Cabinet level Departments during the Obama years.

Try FCC, SEC, DOJ, etc etc, even the DOD; in each instance and numerous others actions / policies / rulings, etc were issued either w/o consultation with, or over the objections of the opposition.

Also think the prosecution of Ramesh Ponnuru (not one of my favorites, BTW) on charges not at all dissimilar from various Democrat operatives actions; or perhaps, Thomas Perez's actions, more specifically *inactions* regarding the prosecution of Black Pantehrs in Philadelphia for voter intimidation. It was clear from the outset that the Big 0 was intent on acting in a partisan manner and rewarding those who also acted in a partisan manner.

One could go on forever with examples. Give the Big 0 credit though, he hid his partisanship behind the mechanisms of the FAS and or his Cabinet underlings.

All the better to fool all the little piggies!

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on January 18, 2017 at 18:50:09 pm

And then there is this:

The Big 0 pardons Chelsea (formerly known as Bradley) Manning (or would that now be "womanning"?) but keeps a sailor, Kristian Saucier in prison.
Let us see: Manning disclosed military / defense secrets: gets pardoned
Saucier took photos of the submarine he served on and rots in prison.

Hmmmm!

Is this evidence of a partisan currying favor with a partisan voting bloc. LGBT?

OR

Is this evidence of a visceral dislike of one's own country and disdain for its security.

YOU decide; nobody.really thinks it is not partisan - so what MUST it be?

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe
on January 18, 2017 at 20:08:53 pm

Great Now please
read this--all the text, and everything that follows. The link contains LENGTHY, VOLUMINOUS evidence that 100% of the House Republicans and 100% of the Senate Republicans conspired -- BEFORE OBAMA EVER TOOK OFFICE -- to vote in block against virtually everything the Obama Administration would do.

So even if I were to acknowledge every example you've cited of "extreme partisanship" by the Obama Administration, the examples you cite pale in comparison to the extravagant partisanship exhibited by the Republicans. Indeed, you can't get more partisan that 100% partisan.

And not only did Republicans engaged in insuperable partisanship, but they did so before Obama ever had a chance to do ANYTHING, partisan or not.

So spare me your ravings about Obama's partisanship. If you really believed "extreme partisanship" was such a crime, you'd have abandoned the Republicans. But you haven't, because you don't. You just object to Obama's partisanship because it doesn't conform to YOUR partisanship. You have no principles; you just have preferences. That's your right. But don't expect me to join you in your delusions.

read full comment
Image of nobody.really
nobody.really
on January 19, 2017 at 11:10:53 am

"You have no principles; ..."

No; it is just that my *principles* can countenance neither your "preferences" nor your "principals" (The Big 0 foremost among them.)

read full comment
Image of gabe
gabe

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

Related