What do Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI have in common? They are both in their mid-80s, and they are two of Europe’s 12 reigning monarchs. In the United States, we really don’t think about monarchs very much because we came into existence as a republic.
When George Washington was selected to lead the country, Benjamin Franklin shook his hand and said, “Congratulations, your majesty.” It is reported that Washington replied with words that approximated the following: “Please refer to me as Mr. Washington or Mr. President. We will have no royalty in this country.”
However, in Europe, monarchs are still revered. During the past week, it was nearly impossible to turn on CNN without seeing something about the “Diamond Jubilee” of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. On Saturday, a 1,000-ship flotilla accompanied her gilt-covered royal barge down the Thames River. The Royal Philharmonic played, a choir sang “Hail to the Queen,” and tens of thousands of subjects lined the waterway, applauding and carrying on as if Elvis had just entered the room.
I suppose that the elaborate pageantry did something to boost national spirit, but the whole thing seemed kind of anachronistic to me. This is the 21st century, and we don’t worship human beings unless they are women with very large breasts. And even then, only half of us may be affected by their divinity. Of course, this brings up the issue of the “divine right” that makes certain people monarchs to begin with...