America loves heroes, and the Arthurian heroism that reverberates through our culture is eternally pure, without stain. It’s a true thing, however fantastic in its origins, made of our real desire for a world better than the one we have.
English friends have often asked me about this, as one did recently: ‘Why don’t Americans despise the very idea of monarchy? I thought that was the point of America!’ This strikes me as a wonderful mirror of our feelings about England. Just as our English friends very reasonably hope for more from us with respect to the ideal of democracy (and how good it would be, if we would comply!) so do we hope for more from them, perhaps, than ever can be instantiated in the real world, with respect to the ideal of kings and queens, princes and princesses. As if we were calling to one another across the sea: O distant cousins whose music and stories I vastly admire! For god’s sake, be better than us! We can’t be blamed for wishing, just a little, that the real royalty could bear at least a trace of Gawain or Aragorn, just as our English friends might wish that we Yanks could contain at least a small tincture of James Madison or Thomas Paine.
We live through poor kings and presidents, I guess, and preserve our institutions as best we can, in hopes that our descendants will be better and wiser than we, and in hopes of better tenants of those institutions in times to come. So I might not be too willing to hoist the sherry myself, but I shan’t complain if anyone else wants to.