There’s been a lot of media attention given to titles of late. Mostly it has been the titles of the British royal family re the need to economize as well as the offended Duchess of Sussex believing her son should have received recognition as a prince of the realm. But even the Saudis are having title problems and have had to stem the spread of the prince and princess titles that were overrunning the country since every prince begat princes and princesses and there was no cutoff point. Throughout history that which has separated the aristocracy from the hoi polloi was the possession of a title. This was also true in religious groups where certain people were separated out and given dominion over others by virtue of their titles. Then with the burgeoning growth of the commercial classes we formed guilds and ranks and titles were dispensed so that some were greater than others. Even with the advent of democratic republics we thought titles necessary to separate those with the power to act on behalf of the people from those on whose behalf the actions were taken.
Prior to World War I military ranks in the United Kingdom were used as honorary titles and thus there were lots of former colonels, majors and captains running around. That became somewhat watered down after the war when there were too many non upper class officers left over because most of the upper class officers had died in the war. Thus, today you won’t find many military titles following people around the UK except, of course, those ubiquitous generals who seem to keep their titles regardless of nation.
Have you ever watched the credits for a television show? There will be producers, staff producers and senior producers. In the news business they have contributors, correspondents, anchors, hosts and so forth. Prior to the Watergate affair newspapers seldom attributed news articles but today every article, no matter how small, bears a by-line and at the end of the article will be the names and titles of those who contributed to it. We have become a country that equates job titles with status in the world. We are identified by our titles and thus have status among the ever increasing population. Have you ever heard the line, “there’s no more money but I can give you a better job title.” When is a sanitation engineer a garbage person? When is a pilot an aerospace platform engineer? No kidding, that was proposed in 1969 in the very first push to make titles “more appropriate” for the Air Force.
This would be humorous if, during all this title grasping, we hadn’t allowed the development of a separate political class in the country wherein former members of the government insist upon being referred to by their previous positions. For example, why do we still refer to people as” Ambassador,” “Secretary,” or “Senator” when they haven’t been in the position for years. Why do they expect and why do we accord them special privileges? More importantly, why do we allow them to retain security clearances and access to members of government when they are supposed to return to the general public when they leave office. Why do we think retired generals know more than any one else when they’ve been out of office for five or more years? If we call former generals by title why not former colonels, captains and such?
The point of this essay is simple: we have created a separate class of citizen above that of ordinary citizen which is not supposed to happen in a democratic republic. We refer to public service but the perks we grant to the elected and appointed in the government are such that they become an entitled class and expect to remain so after their tenure ends. If, indeed, they are public servants then should they not return to from whence they came, with no honorifics or expectations of special treatment? Isn’t this what the founding fathers intended when they prohibited titles of nobility?