Those of you who are regulars here will doubtless know that I live in the UK, a nation which still has some quaint vestiges of monarchism embedded in its constitutional machinery.
As happens from time to time in a monarchy, the heir to the throne is getting married — at the end of this month, in fact. As I predicted last year the media has now worked itself up ("25 days to go!" says the BBC headline; "Kate Middleton's engagement blouse is back in stock at Whistles!" announces the Daily Telegraph) into a self-amplifying frenzy capable of temporarily drowning out multiple simultaneous nuclear meltdowns, a series of civil wars and revolutions in the Middle East, and the most savage spending cuts since the early 1920s.
... Meanwhile, due to unforseen family circumstances I find myself unable to flee overseas to a suitably non-anglophone anti-monarchist haven of beer and sanity for the duration. The horror! The horror!
But I digress.
Making lemonade with the proverbial, I am led to ask: what are the psychological underpinnings of the cult of personality? Why are we — as a species — so prone to empathizing with remote figureheads? It doesn't have to be a handsome prince and his simpering bride: it could equally be Vladimir Lenin or Barack Obama. Indeed, the trappings of pomp surrounding any head of state seem to tend towards those of royalty. Look at Colonel Qaddafi's uniforms, for example, and compare them to those of Kaiser Wilhelm II. (Barack Obama's uniform is, of course, the lounge suit, because the USA's chief executive is very emphatically defined as a civilian office by the constitution, despite being head of the armed forces.) Or look at their bijou apartments.
Is this necessary? Is it even useful? While the existence of a high executive office implies a need for an office building, and presumably some sort of apartment for the occupant of the office to live in, why do we always seem to end up with bad parodies of 17th century imperial palaces? Which in turn were attempts to one-up the palaces of earlier dynasties? And why is it that even when we separate decision-making from
monarchy hereditary dictatorship by the short, sharp expedient of a revolution, the trappings and traditions of royalty keep sneaking in through the back door?