Just when we thought Meghan and Harry had left the public spotlight and were ready to raise their family in privacy, they’ve thrust themselves into the headlines again.
Last Monday, CBS announced the former royals will hold a 90-minute primetime “intimate conversation” with talk show host Oprah Winfrey next month.
The saga of Meghan and Harry isn’t just a case of two elites wanting to have their cake and eat it. It also reflects a modern misunderstanding of what the purpose of elites in society is — or whether they have any purpose at all.
Pleading For Privacy Then Seeking The Spotlight
Harry and Meghan have a long and awkward relationship with publicity. In October 2019, during a $340,000 tour of Africa, Meghan told ITV News that “Not many people have asked if I’m ok,” implying that she wasn’t getting enough support from the royal family.
“Would it be fair to say, [you’re] not really ok? It’s really been a struggle?” ITV’s Tom Bradby asked, and Meghan nodded yes.
I’m sure adjusting to married life and motherhood was at times challenging for Meghan, like it is for every wife and mother. But when you married a prince, basically live in a castle, and have every material amenity at your fingertips, the commoners don’t want to hear you complain.
Then came Megxit in January 2020. Rather than making a joint decision with the queen, Harry and Meghan announced through an Instagram post that they planned to “step back” as senior royals. Under a glossy photo of the smiling couple, they expressed plans to “carve out a progressive new role” for themselves and to split their time between the United Kingdom and the United States.
Ever since their abdication of royal responsibilities, Harry and Meghan have been popping back into our lives to sign deals with big Hollywood companies and lecture us while claiming they want to be left in privacy.
In July, Harry was caught on a hot mic asking Disney executive Bog Iger about potential career opportunities for Meghan. Months later, Meghan signed a voiceover deal with Disney. They’ve also signed deals with Netflix and Spotify.
In September, they broke protocol that prohibits royals from involving themselves in politics. Two months before the American presidential election, they urged Americans to “reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity” in “the most important election of our life.” A month later, they met with California Gov. Gavin Newsom for an hour-long “introductory meeting.”
They’ve touted the evils of climate change, while also using private jets to travel around the world. Harry has lectured online audiences about unconscious racial bias, from the couple’s $14 million mansion in California.
Most recently, after the queen confirmed the permanence of Harry and Meghan’s departure from royal service, Harry and Meghan issued a statement insisting “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.” The statement appeared to be a pointed and defensive reaction to the queen’s decision to allow them to step down from public duties, as they wished.
A Misunderstanding of Noble Responsibility
As modern Americans steeped in a culture of individualism and liberal thought, we see little use for any concept of aristocracy or nobility. Our aversion to elites is well-founded; Western history is fraught with examples of abused power.
But in rejecting the concept of nobility, we’ve also lost our ability to understand it. In its best form, aristocracy isn’t simply the tyrannical rule of the many by the powerful few. An ideal aristocracy, however rarely it is actually achieved, is based on the principle that those who have power or advantage in society have an obligation to steward it well and invest back into the community.
This concept is defined as noblesse oblige, a French phrase meaning “nobility obligates.” Oxford defines it as “the inferred responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged.”
Of course, human nature is self-serving, so this concept of aristocratic service is usually perverted by the desire for power. As a result, we usually view aristocracy as a dangerous and undesirable form of government. But even in a democratic society, the principle that people with advantages should steward those privileges well and use them to serve others is applicable.
As part of one of the last remaining vestiges of nobility in the West, Harry and Meghan should have used their position to serve the people around them. The British royal family has a long history of doing so. Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837-1901, greatly increased the royal family’s charitable patronages, and called for royals to be “benefactors of mankind.”
During World War II, a young Elizabeth joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territory Service, working as an auto mechanic. Today, under her leadership as queen, the royal family is involved in almost 3,000 charities.
By seeking to keep the positive publicity and public platform of royal celebrities while rejecting the responsibilities of monarchy, Harry and Meghan are missing the point of their station. Royals earn their keep by investing back into their country; otherwise they’re simply reality TV stars.
The concept of noblesse oblige doesn’t imply that the masses are too simple to take care of themselves and therefore must be ruled by self-appointed elites. Rather, it requires each of us to use whatever gifts and station we have in life to serve others.
Anyone with life advantages should employ the practice, pouring back into their communities. These advantages don’t have to be socio-economic; they can also be talents, educational opportunities, interests, and areas of influence.
This is nothing less than the biblical command that “to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” As citizens in America, where we reject the social strata of aristocracy, we can still use our talents and advantages to serve those around us.
Indeed, that community investment is what keeps an individualistic and democratic society from becoming a ruthless free-for-all. The responsibilities that tie us to other members of our community are the foundation for society. Without them, we’re all self-serving wannabe reality stars fighting for the limelight.