RUMINATIONS ABOUT GREATNESS
Kings are provided. It is not in the nature of kingdoms to have the people’s wishes play an important role. One of the ways to identify a kingdom is by whether the people get to pick their kings and queens, or if the voice of the population is evaded. But in the end the people count, one way or another.
I’ve been thinking about that this week as armies move from Winterfell to Westeros, as the Emperor of Japan relinquishes his throne to his son, as the King of Thailand gives the country a queen and is crowned, and as the US Congress mumbles about the President’s erosion of the Constitution that prevents him from being sovereign as he wants to be.
We hardly know anything important about our new kings, so it is generally just as well we have little real say in their selection. It takes an inconveniently long time for people’s attitude about their kings to congeal, no matter what the king’s title may be (and those titles tend to be creative and precise). Nor does it matter much whether the monarch or pretender arrives on a dragon, is carried on a palanquin, flies in jet #1, or walks the few steps to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the people have very little voice in the matter, even in these modern times. Inaugural ceremonies proceed with 21-gun salutes and pompous transfer of symbols made important by generations of narrative saying they are significant.
In most cases it is care given to people at the margins and in crises that win people’s admiration for their king. To do that, kings must cross the gap between palace and people. The late King Rama IX of Thailand rode trains, jeeps, and horses to get to those living beyond the range that Siamese sovereigns had ever gone. The Emperor of Japan defied his counselors to kneel with families taking refuge from the tsunami that made them homeless. It was untraditional for these kings to do that. Actually, it was in defying tradition that they were esteemed.
Some who are enthroned perceive this elusive and ironic truth about greatness and many do not, or do not care about moral greatness. Fame is fickle, but so are the famous. Retrospect is a privileged vantage point. It is often hard to tell at the beginning of a reign what a monarch will be like. Years later, long after it is too late, people’s minds will usually become clear about what was important rather than simply impressive. On the other hand, we can sometimes see early clues about our kings’ characters by how hungry they are for the title and why it matters to them.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.