Seth wrote a very interesting blog this week on Monarchists.
“As Sahlins and Graeber outline in their extraordinary (and dense) book on Kings, there’s often a pattern in the nature of monarchs. Royalty doesn’t have to play by the same cultural rules, and often ‘comes from away.’ Having someone from a different place and background allows the population to let themselves off the hook when it comes to creating the future.”
I agree, but I think the whole thing is more subtle and interesting than that.
Kings ‘from away’ could act in ways that were totally unacceptable to the native population – in order to create change. Sometimes, they were even asked in.
Beyond that though, those same Kings were contained and constrained into a purely formal role. They became figureheads, cherished, personally pampered but essentially powerless over the society they ‘ruled’. They didn’t administer the results of their change and they certainly didn’t take over resources. The original population carried on as custodians of the land, society and cuture, as before.
That was the point.
A stranger king enabled a system based on shared authority and collective, consensual decision making to radically change without breaking itself apart. You could almost call them a scapegoat rather than a king. Nowadays we’d call them a consultant.
The challenge then, is not merely to be prepared to ‘put yourself on the hook’ to lead change that will make the community uncomfortable, but also to forgive those of your peers who do it for you.