The Atlantic recently published a story about Europe’s disenfranchised royalty. It included this arresting statement:
“People have a deep, almost spiritual hunger for leaders who are more than mere bureaucrats or legislators. We want symbols.”
Indeed, we do. In countries without a history of royalty, others are substituted. In America, pop stars, sports figures, and celebrities substitute for royalty. In decades past, the Kennedys were treated like a royal family. Today, some treat the Trumps this way.
The obvious problem with all such symbols is that, like much else about today’s societies, it’s hit-and-miss. Sometimes, as with Thailand’s recently deceased King Bhumibol, the person is a living saint. King IX, as he is reverently known to millions of Thais, eschewed a lavish lifestyle and spent the many decades of his reign serving the people. He endlessly looked for ways to make their lives better.
If King IX was a saint, many Thais privately think of his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn, rather differently. (In Thailand, it’s illegal to speak negatively of the royalty.)
If this need for living symbols is a part of human nature, it cannot be ignored without consequences. But how can it be met in a better fashion?
In our proposal for a Celebration Society, we advocate a new fourth branch of government in addition to the legislature, judiciary, and administration. This would be a meritocratic royalty. In no way like a monarchy, people would very selectively invited to join this royalty after demonstrating exemplary service to the society.
Importantly, such royals would receive no special privileges or benefits from induction. They would simply have the satisfaction and respect that come from contributing to society at a deeper level than most.
Lafayette was one of the few historical nobles who understood this mindset of royalty-as-service. He called it noblesse oblige — the obligations of the nobility.
Such royals would lead celebrations and, collectively, select the lead royal. The lead royal, known as the Sarvay (a Sanskrit word meaning for all), would serve a single ten-year term of service, after which she or he (we would favor alternation by sex) would guide the next Sarvay as Sarvay Emeritus. During the term of service, the Sarvay would serve as symbolic Head of State, representing the society.