Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Diamond Jubilee

I read with interest this op-ed about the Diamond Jubilee, particularly this bit:

"Consider the lot of a heredity monarch. You aren’t elected or appointed or selected in any way. Indeed, you did nothing to earn it. But neither did you seek it. You just are. It is not a job or a position or even a calling. It is you: from the day you are born until the day you die. You may think the Queen’s life a privileged one, but I can’t imagine most of us would trade places with her. It is a life sentence, and yet one she accepts uncomplainingly."

Andrew Coyne, who wrote the op-ed, also says a few other things, like how purely because she is not selected through any means other than heredity, the Queen represents loyalty rather than popularity, and in that way she somehow represents all her subjects.

I find myself fundamentally at odds with this point of view as I have always wondered how ordinary people can feel that the Queen represents them. She knows nothing of our lives, while we likewise know nothing of hers. Regardless of whether we are raised rich or poor, at a certain point, we are generally expected to support ourselves and our families through some sort of income-producing effort, while she is considered to be earning the keep she really doesn't have to earn when she so much as waves her hand. Ordinary people pay taxes off of which she not only lives but flies around the world. You hear every so often that she's so wonderfully humble because she lives a lean life with few luxuries, but compared with what/whom? She lives in a palace - more than one palace, actually. She has all her meals prepared for her. She has a staff of people at her disposal whom she does not have to personally pay. And as royal life is deeply mysterious to any outsider (necessarily, perhaps, to preserve the impression that it may be more important than it is), she surely spends on many more things of which the public has no knowledge.

I agree with Mr. Coyne on one point - I would not trade places with the Queen. She must be very austere all the time, and must have no real friends, and must always remain detached from any issue, never expressing what she may really think about it.

And yet, is she not the ultimate symbol of a class system we all wish to put behind us, as well as the ultimate symbol of an institution that, in an increasingly mixed society, does not belong to everyone? Why should the longevity or continuity of an institution like that make anyone proud?


  1. I agree with your criticism of Mr. Coyne. It sounds to me that he is attempting to make an archaic status symbol relevant again.
    This morning, as I was watching the news, I saw the crowds who turned-out to view the Queen on her last day of celebrations and wondered, why did the crowds turn-out?
    The way I see it, you're heading into downtown to stand in a moshpit of people, wave a flag, and probably not be tall enough to see anything worthwhile anyways. There have been great, deserving, people throughout british history who could easily represent loyalty, relevance, and british culture. I wonder if they could conjure the same fervor and crowds...

  2. I like the monarchy. It links us with the past and provides a non-partisan symbol of the state. Further, the historical tradition that the monarchy represents gives that symbol an enduring power that no ceremonial president could ever match. Compare British royal celebrations to public events featuring Shimon Peres or Adrienne Clarkson, and you'll understand what I mean. It's what Bagehot called the "magic of monarchy."

  3. Well, I think that's largely because the royals are celebrities - more like movie stars than like representatives of any kind, and because of the way the British royals in particular are covered in the magazines and so on. I doubt anyone would go this nuts for the royal family of Spain or Monaco, although I bet they would for Queen Rania because she also gets a lot of coverage.

    And the fact that they are fully supported by the state just seems unfair. I know life's not fair, but this is one unfair thing that could be theoretically changed. Fortunately for the British royals, it seems most Brits feel as you do.