The Common Man

Posted on August 3, 2015


Not too long ago we began a little series on the “way we were,” kind of an exploration of who we are as a people. I mentioned that a French traveler to the U. S. in the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville, left us an amazingly clear and pungent picture in words, Democracy in America, which still informs us.

One of his most astute observations was that “among a democratic people, where there is no hereditary wealth, every man works to earn a living….”

Indeed, “labor is held in honor; the prejudice is not against, but in its favor.”

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I received a letter from a friend of mine nominating me to be inducted into Spain’s Imperial Order of Charles V.

I told my wife and she listened dutifully, thinking for second, before adding, but “when are you going to fix the holes in my cubby at the horse barn where the mice are getting in and eating my tack.”

I was about to soar in explanation of the process we may be involved in, traveling to Spain in November for the formal induction in the grand city of Segovia, His Royal Highness himself presiding over the ceremony.

Ok, I admit, I had to Wikipedia Spain’s current king, Philip VI. Like most commoners, I don’t keep track of royalty.

But to be invited to join such a distinguished group!

“So,” my wife added, after the mouse inquiry, “are we going to Spain for this?”

“Yes, of course, knighted by the King himself, what’s his name,” I responded, thinking of nobility and knighthood in the same breath with how to keep those mice out of the tack box.

In fact, I am a commoner. The Founding Fathers got rid of nobility, titles, monarchs, and all the trappings of a society wrapped around privilege and entitlements by birth, and championed the common man.

But aren’t we also still the heirs—and admirers– of King Arthur’s Court? In our imagination we still live the stuff of legends and heroism and chivalry, lords and ladies. Did Launcelot have to deal with mice on his quest to find the Holy Grail?!

Why has the “common man” become such a fixture in our culture? Think about it. Just about every presidential candidate worth his salt aspires to have been born poor and to have risen by dint of his hard work out of the mass into the heights of politics. “Only in America” many think. Perhaps so.

The induction is set for November 14, at which time I appear before his royal highness. At some point—my etiquette is a little rusty appearing before royalty—I kneel and pledge something or another and then his royal highness will lay his sword on my head, in the name of God, and then on the left shoulder, in the name of Saint Barbara, and then on my right shoulder in the name of Charles V. At that point the Chaplain blesses me and I am handed my diploma.

This act will probably disqualify me from declaring my candidacy for president along with everyone else since I will no longer be a commoner. A friend of mine asked what they should call me after November.

I figured “Sir” would be nice, at which all my friends chuckled and we continued studying the Bible at our weekly reunion at the Chick Fil A.

Our Declaration of Independence states quite explicitly that we are all created equal. Scripture informs us that we are all brothers and sisters as Christians, regardless of birth, rank or status in the secular world. We take these principles seriously.

We rise out of our circumstances by dint of hard work and education, and the framework of liberty and freedom encourages all.

No man is better than another by virtue of birth or lineage. You want respect, power, money, authority, fame, knowledge, wisdom? Then work and study for it.

Look around you. People from all across the world come here to live out their dreams. Some succeed, some don’t, but we have a common playing field.

I am proud to be part of this country where I am measured by what I do, not by who I am. Who I am is in fact a measure of what I do.

I am part of that throng that De Tocqueville identified as the commoners, the stuff of dreams, of ambition and creativity released by this experiment in democracy.

Meeting the King in his court and getting knighted will be nice I’m sure.

Those mice invading my wife’s tack box don’t stand a chance when Sir Lawrence takes them on. My biggest decision will be choice of weapons: sword, as befits a knight, or chicken wire and spray foam as a mere commoner might think.

Published as “America, Where the Commoners are King,” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015