When I was growing up in Portugal, the very first story I heard was of King Sebastian, who was said to have disappeared at the Battle of Alcazar Quibir. He would come again, the story continues, on a foggy morning, when the country was in mortal danger.
The truth of course was something quite different. The young king — a much longed-for heir who ascended the throne in his teen years — was a fool with dreams of glory. He went off to fight an unnecessary war and died ingloriously, taking with him most of the young nobility of the country. After a straggle of unlikely heirs, Spain took over Portugal and dealt with it as with the vanquished. It was sixty years before Portugal recovered independence.
It is understandable that while Portugal was in durance vile, the legend of the young lost king would grow. It is understandable that it would attain mythic proportions, that he would become the once and future king, the one who will come to save his people from all trouble.
It’s not unusual. Europe is littered with vanished kings and sleeping kings and kings who will return, truly, as soon as things get bad enough.
This makes perfect sense in Europe, of course, where land and race and country are one, and where the king was for centuries — if not millennia — believed to be anointed by G-d or the gods and therefore to rule by divine right as a more-than-human being.
Perhaps it is an ancestral failing of mankind, this wishing to endow the king with divine powers and abilities. The Egyptians of course took this to an extreme, and even the Romans fell from republic into the idea of divine emperors.
And we — you won’t be mad if I tell you, right? — are at risk of doing the same. Oh, I’m not blaming you. Or me. None of us was born when this nonsense started. In a way it is a twentieth century brand of nonsense, at least for the United States, the idea that a superior man will be found who will embody the virtues of the republic and flawlessly lead the people. Let’s face it, until World War Two showed us the horrors behind the curtain, Western Civ had got all jiggy with genetic superiority and the idea of the great man. And even World War Two didn’t wipe it out completely. FDR was to an extent our Caesar, the man who was perfect to take the ship of state and sail it to a “progressive” future where only the enlightened would make decisions and all would be as it should be.