Monday, December 10, 2012

Why it's okay to talk about Kate Middleton's pregnancy (or anything else about her)

The fashionable thing to say about the interest in Kate Middleton's pregnancy is that it is some kind of unhealthy obsession. Well, okay, too much of it would be an obsession. But the thinking seems to be that any interest in Kate Middleton's pregnancy or Kate Middleton or the royals at all is somehow misdirected.

The reason, apparently, is that the royals don't deserve the attention. Okay. Fine. So all the other people with whom the public is obsessed are?

Why are so many people interested in the doings of the royals? My own theory is that people have a deep-seated need to believe in a class system. They really want to believe that some people (societally speaking) are better than others: that there should be stations in life.

That's why we Americans—who pride ourselves on our egalitarianism—keep coming up with surrogate royalty. Instead of placing a class of nobility in a higher social station (the old European system), we substitute the rich, Hollywood celebrities, or the powerful. Rather than ancestry, we substitute wealth, fame, or power as the criteria for our own form of aristocracy.

Just listen to people talk about the Koch brothers or Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. Or Jennifer Lopez or Oprah Winfrey or Lady Gaga. And just listen to liberals talk (in reverent tones) about John F. Kennedy.

We clearly have a need for some kind of aristocratic class to look up to, and when I hear people criticize the royals (for anything other than their misbehavior--a criticism that assumes what it is trying to disprove: namely that royals are supposed to be better than that), I always wonder why wealth and fame and power have anything more to commend themselves in terms of status than who your daddy was--or your granddaddy or your great granddaddy.

The hierarchical metaphysics of classical ages lent authority to the idea of aristocracy. There was a natural place for everything--from physical objects that sought their natural place (a phenomenon now explained by gravity, an explanation no less occult than Aristotle's), to people who, however equal in the sight of God, had a natural place in society.

We could say that modern people whose metaphysic is thoroughly nominalistic are perfectly consistent in their rejection of aristocracy if it weren't for their de facto acknowledgement of it when they substitute for it the higher caste of money, celebrity and political position. But there are also those who hold to a more classical ontology who (as T. S. Eliot did) should accept a class system de jure and yet reject it. Their position seems to me even more problematic. How do you accept the existence of hierarchy in everything but human society?

In fact, why shouldn't ancestry be more deserving of reverence than these other things? Who your family is tells us much more about your character than how much money you have, or how many people know who you are, or how many other people will do what you tell them to do. I'd have far more regard for someone who had "come from a good family" than for someone who had a large bank account or who had a popular TV show or who held a high political position.

I haven't been paying much attention to Kate Middleton so far. But I think I just convinced myself I ought to.

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