Saturday, December 25, 2004
The English word "king" is derived from the Old English cyning, which in turn is derived from the Germanic stem cyn, meaning "kind" or "people", and cognate with the word "kin", the German könig, and the Latin gens (this last is related to "generate" and "gentile"). The suffix ‑ing means "representative or exemplar of". Thus the original sense of the word would have been "he who represents the people". The king stood as an exemplar of his kind, the leading avatar of his kindred.
The first king of England is considered to be Alfred the Great, during whose ninth-century reign the Anglo-Saxon regions of England united for the first time, in defense against the Danes. One of the characteristic strengths of the English was their unusual ability to unite against a common threat, something which their Celtic neighbors in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland found hard to do.
But if the English found unity against their enemies, they remained an individualistic people with a suspicion of central authority. From the time of the Magna Carta, through the early parliaments and the height of the British Empire, England was a constitutional monarchy in which restraints were placed on the power of the king by both law and custom. It is through this tradition, with its emphasis on the freeborn yeoman and the common law, that parliamentary democracy came into the world, the great gift of the English to Western civilization.
The English carried the tradition of their "ancient liberties" to the New World, and in the United States, with the monarchy removed, the first constitutional republic was formed. However, in America, the culture of the English was mixed and merged with another one, that of the Celts.
In his book Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America , James Webb describes the effect on America of the great Celtic migrations. After the initial English settlements, waves of Scots and Irish came to the English colonies in North America, possibly comprising more than half of the influx of new arrivals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Irish were fleeing oppression, the Scots were fleeing marginalization, and all were fleeing poverty. They brought with them a fierce individualism, a warrior spirit, and a deep-seated distrust of all authority. They spread through the Appalachians and later moved west, bearing a strong religious sense and an ethic of hardy self-reliance that has become a major thread in the American cultural fabric.
The marriage of the English system of law and government with the temperament of the Celts has produced the modern American character. It gives us on the one hand a genius for organization and an impetus to unity against outside threats, while on the other hand we are fractious, doubtful of authority, and ready to fight when confronted.
So, if it were possible to have a king of this hybrid race, who would it be? He would have to represent us, to be one of our kind. He must be an individualist, with a fighting spirit and a fierce loyalty to his own people. He would have a rock-solid religious faith, one that can withstand the challenges and pitfalls that life places before him. He would believe in the rights inherent in a free citizen, as opposed to the dictates of the state. And he would stand as a pillar of strength against all threats to his kin.
Thus, if America could have a king, it would be George W. Bush, for surely he represents us. People who hate him do so for that reason: he holds up a mirror to reveal the American character, and they do not like what they see. Perhaps they want an America that is more nuanced, more sophisticated, more erudite and European. But that is not who we are; we are simple folk with an ingenuous open-handedness, a nation of hayseeds and rubes who stormed the beaches of Normandy, raised the flag at Iwo Jima, and made the march up to Baghdad, a fierce, indomitable, and untiring folk. President Bush is the exemplar of our kind, the one who best represents the qualities which make us what we are.
Posted by Baron Bodissey at 12/25/2004 09:30:00 PM