American citizen Meghan Markle, upon marrying a prince, has entered the fairy-tale world of British royalty. She and her family now have their own Coat Of Arms, and a new title has been conferred upon her by the crown: she is to be known as Meghan, Her Royal Highness Duchess of Sussex.
One of my initial thoughts on this had to do with the ideological differences between our Republican system of government and the British constitutional monarchy. I remember reading in the U.S Constitution a law that forbade royal titles, and I wondered if Meghan is liable to maybe even lose her American citizenship, or some other privilege or right that comes with it, by becoming a member of a royal house of another country. This is the wording of the Title of Nobility Clause:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
So it turns out that the only thing Meghan and her future descendants will lose is the ability to be hired for any “office of profit or trust” of the U.S. government, unless they can convince the majority of the members of Congress to hire them. Also, the law does not restrict the recognition of titles granted by other countries, so that for protocol and diplomacy reasons, the US government will recognize Meghan as a Duchess.
I think we have every reason to dislike and distrust the idea of titles of nobility, and the perpetuation of undeserved privilege that they represent. Nobility should be a reflection of character and of what we produce, not of ancestry, and many wars have been fought to do away with the excesses of monarchies and nobilities. But it’s possible that America has lost its way and created dynasties and royalties of its own through decades of neoliberal policies that increase the gap between the rich and the poor –which produced both benevolent job-creators, as well as wolves of Wall Street–and through various instances of politically active families–the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons.
Matt Taibbi, in his outstanding piece written years ago for Rolling Stone titled Too Crooked to Fail, argues convincingly that the members of the contemporary banking class are just as expensive as royalty to maintain. Some inheritors of wealth–like our current President–will never be obligated to have a conventional job in their lives; and many of the so-called job creators employ business models that are based on the outsourcing of American jobs and–as in the case of the Waltons, the family that gave us Walmart–on the proliferation of poverty and the systematic and oppressive denial of a living wage and basic employee benefits to thousands of Americans. Walmart has even been involved in the practice of slavery in the states of Texas and Colorado: it had to settle multi-million dollar lawsuits in those states for unpaid wages after it intimidated thousands of workers into working unpaid extra hours. The Waltons, by contrast, are so wealthy that their empire is larger than some countries … and their political loyalties (judging from their greedy, rabid union-busting politics) are with their own empire, not with the majority of Americans. A strong case can be made that they are–in all but name–members of the type of nobility that our Constitution warns us to distrust.
I’m not suggesting that the Title of Nobility clause is obsolete, but Republican values are no better than monarchies–constitutional or not–if those who profit from the opportunities we flaunt use their power to keep others from profiting likewise. Perhaps we should revisit the foundational values and arguments that inspired the Title of Nobility clause. The idea, it seems to me, was to ensure our government officials’ loyalty to America by requiring that they not be entangled in the nobility of other lands, as well as to facilitate the kind of culture where anyone–with enough effort and hard work–could end up living the fairy tale. You’ll find some of my other thoughts on this in my critique of Nietzsche’s aristocratic ideal.