The sadness that I naturally feel at the death of someone important and who, in a way, accompanied me throughout childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age, Queen Elizabeth II, is accompanied by a hint of fear of what may be for coming. This can be an opportunity for misguided politicians to make mistakes, not in the name of human happiness, but in the name of evil deeds.
In a way, it would be easy to take advantage of the occasion precisely because of the way in which the monarch fulfilled his duties. At 21 years old, she swore to dedicate her life to fulfilling her duty, a duty imposed on her from birth, and 70 years later no one can say she didn’t keep her promise. She was still doing her duty a few days before she died, at 96 years old. In contemporary history, there are few examples of this. That’s why she maintained her popularity from the moment she took the throne until her death. His demeanor was restrained and his posture exalted. She never made the mistake of finding herself an interesting or remarkable person, and that’s how she became admirable.
Of course her working conditions were great, but that alone doesn’t make it the virtuous person. Maintaining a sense of boundaries after spending a lifetime receiving curtsy and praise was a great moral feat. No doubt her experience during the war, when she shared some of the same deprivations of the population, helped her in this.
The virtues of Queen Elizabeth II, however, created a problem for her successor. He won’t be as good as she is. Accustomed to a kind of perfection in the role of head of state, the British population, unable to remember another scenario (the Queen’s father, King George VI, whom she succeeded in
, was equally popular), believes this perfection is normal. The new monarch, therefore, will be under constant scrutiny and will probably be harmed in a comparison.
Paradoxically, the responsibility with which Queen Elizabeth II exercised her role has negatively influenced the way the population understands the monarchy. constitutional. Just as many Americans do not understand or ignore the role of the Constitution in political life, many Britons can no longer look up to the monarch as a moral example to be referenced as such. Charles III now becomes king not because of his virtuous character, but simply because he is the eldest son of the previous monarch, and he would be king even if he were a worse person than he is. The king would only be deposed if he was at odds with the Constitution; his peccadilloes mean nothing.
Without understanding this, many people think that Charles’ eldest son should be king, as they see him as a better person than his father. These people do not understand that the monarchy is neither an electoral process nor a beauty contest. The monarch is a symbol, not an exemplary figure. However, many people think that the queen was queen for so long because she was good.
There are also republicans who want to nudge the jaguar with a short stick. They mention the shortcomings of the monarchy, starting with its irrationality when starting from abstract principles, although it is difficult to apply this to the case of Queen Elizabeth II. So in practice they forget that people are more at risk of being oppressed by elected officials. Like many intellectuals, they prefer to fight the shadows rather than face real monsters: it’s easier and more rewarding.
The queen is dead. Long live the king.
Theodore Dalrymple is a contributor to the City Journal, a Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, and the author of several books.