Joseph Cotto, 8/5/2014 [Archive]

Americans Love Downton Abbey but Not Real Monarchy

By Joseph Cotto

It is said that Americans don't like titles.

Of course, I'm not referring to all titles. What mother hasn't dreamed of her son becoming a doctor? The specific type of doctor usually isn't considered, just so long as sonny can be called "Dr." over a loudspeaker. For others, fewer things could be better than a daughter who grows up to be an attorney. Whether or not she practices criminal or civil law really doesn't matter. What's at stake is that "P.A." or "Esq." can be placed after her surname.

The top-of-the-line manned by medical practitioners and personal advocates has quite a descending order. For some, it's all about which college you went to. "So-and-so, [insert Ivy League school here] '76" sure sounds nice. For a different crowd, what you did at college is paramount. "Such-and-such, star [insert state university football team here] quarterback" makes the difference.

What about academic degrees that have nothing to do with law or medicine? How many people can't stop talking about their MBA, MFA, PhD, DBA, etc.? By now there might even be an "ETC" degree so folks can have something new to discuss.

A far more honorable take on the American title system can be found among military personnel and law enforcement officers. It's fair to say that most known as "Capt.", "Sgt.", "Gen.", or "Lt." have earned their distinction.

Otherwise, our nation's title scheme is a let down. We treat hedge fund investors like kings, CEOs like dukes, movie celebrities like marquesses, and pop-culture icons like barons. Not much valor in any case, and these constitute only the tip of an iceberg.

So, how do real monarchs, nobles, and knights fit into the picture? Most Americans probably wouldn't want them within ten feet of the frame. With our populistic cultural ethos, who cares about the institutions which formalized honor and built civilized society? When you have reality television and text messaging, isn't that all which truly matters?

If the answer is "yes", that says something not fit to print.

One man who has been at a particular loss over this madness is H.M. Kigeli V, Rwanda's long-displaced king. Overthrown in 1961, he has been trying to get back ever since. These days, Kigeli lives modestly, never having raided his nation's treasury or sold its natural resources to money-lusting foreigners.

Instead, he promoted constitutional monarchy while in office, surrendered vital political power had by his predecessors, and advocated strict nonviolence. In exile, he has expressed support for intermarriage between warring tribes and refuses to engage in ethnocentrism.

Kigeli is the sort of man who should be a world leader. As it is, he sits in his less-than-opulent Northern Virginia home waiting for a better tomorrow.

Earlier this year, I wrote a lengthy profile of him for Communities Digital News, which had just seceded from The Washington Times. It was a turbulent period and writing about his infinitely more turbulent life helped put things in perspective. In late May, Kigeli's secretary general

informed me that I was to receive an honor. Quite surprised, I figured this would be an order of merit.

It turned out to be a hereditary grand cross knighthood. In England, this would be called a baronetcy, with the title of "Sir". For Rwanda's system, "Sir" is alternated by "His Excellency".

After the initial shock wore off, I found myself thinking long and hard about the nature of personal honor, what it means in

relationships, and how that impacts our society. Eventually, it seemed obvious how instant gratification has renders valor anachronistic. Couple this with an anti-aristocratic bent going back to our nation's founding days, and it is clear why so many cringe at the sight of royals, but vote for a politician based on physical appearance.

That leaves us, first and foremost, with a situation where politicians don't care about their constituents. It also provides for an environment hostile toward recognizing a chivalric award granted by an eminently honorable man. Idolizing vulgarian rappers and steroid-addled athletes is perfectly acceptable, however.

Can it be any wonder that America is in decline?


Copyright 2014 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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