During the last days of the Ancien Régime, French Queen Marie Antoinette frolicked in a fake rural village not far from the Versailles Palace—the Hameau de la Reine (“the Queen’s hamlet”). “Peasant” farmers and herdsmen were imported to interact, albeit carefully, with the royal retinue in an idyllic amusement park. The Queen would sometimes dress up as a milkmaid and with her royal train do a few chores on the “farm” to emulate the romanticized masses, but in safe, apartheid seclusion from them.
The French Revolution was already on the horizon and true peasants were shortly to march on Versailles, but the Queen had no desire to visit the real French countryside to learn of the crushing poverty of those who actually milked cows and herded sheep for a living. It is hard to know what motivated the queen to visit the Hameau—was it simply to relax in her own convenient and sanitized Arcadia, or was it some sort of pathetic attempt to better understand the daily lives of the increasing restive French masses?
The American coastal royalty does not build fake farms outside of its estates. But these elites, too, can grow just as bored with their privileged lives as Marie Antoinette did. Instead of hanging out with milk maids in ornamental villages, our progressive elites, at the same safe distance from the peasantry, prefer to show their solidarity with the dispossessed through angry rhetoric.
Take the case of Colin Kaepernick, the back-up quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who makes $19 million a year (or about $20,000 per minute of regular season play). He has been cited by National Football League officials in the past for his use of the N-word, yet he refuses to stand for the pregame singing of the national anthem because he believes that his country is racist and does not warrant his respect. His stunt gained a lot of publicity and he now sees himself as a man of the revolutionary barricades. A number of other NFL athletes, as well as those in other sports, have likewise refused to stand for the national anthem to express solidarity with what they see as modern versions of the oppressed peasantry. But Kaepernick and his peers make more in one month than many Americans make in an entire lifetime. Still, for these members of the twenty-first-century Versailles crowd, the easiest way of understanding the lives of the underclass is expressing empathy for them for no more than a minute or two. Read more →