The bizarre symbolism of the queen and the monarchy

posted by Jeff | Friday, September 9, 2022, 9:21 PM | comments: 0

The death of Queen Elizabeth is no doubt a difficult time for her family, and probably a great many Britons, most of whom don't know citizenship without the queen. But in observing the responses to her death, there's a very wide spectrum of opinions and feelings about the queen specifically and the monarchy in general.

The individual woman was clearly loved by a great many, if only because she was such a symbol of stability. To reign for 70 years, she appeared as a figurehead after the second world war, through the entirety of the cold war, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the constant Middle East conflict, terrorist attacks throughout the world and including England, the impact of civil rights and pacifism movements as they spread in the 60's and 70's, and perhaps most importantly, the decline and end of British colonialism. Through it all, there was only one queen.

While she inherited her position, she was also symbolic in terms of female empowerment. At the time of her coronation, women were second-class citizens in most of the world, and it's only better today in some parts of the world. You have to wonder if having a queen had anything to do with the fact that they had three female prime ministers in her time. There are a lot of gender stereotypes at play, but certainly a queen was something for girls to look up to. And from most accounts, she was kind and had a sense of humor, all the while taking the formality of the position seriously.

Regardless of the character of the woman, the monarchy itself is certainly problematic. The monarchy is very much tied to the long history of British colonialism. If the United States' original sin is racism, England is haunted by racism and colonialism throughout the empire that reached every corner of the globe. The empire was cruel and oppressive, and led to historic nightmares as it receded. The British withdrawal from India is among the worst examples of this.

You also have the weirdness that the royal family is born into insane privilege. They didn't earn their place, they just got lucky. The aristocracy, while not as powerful as they were, retained their position in part by being cozy with the royals. There are castles and celebrations and crowns that are all the domain of the monarchy. And worse yet, as England has become more and more diverse, in part because of its history of colonialism, every royal will be white for our lifetime.

Why is the monarchy accountable to the problems of colonialism and inherited wealth? Mostly because the transition to a representative democracy was insanely slow, and ironically, women in parts of the United Kingdom still weren't able to vote until early in the queen's reign. Worse yet, the tax payers are still paying for the lifestyle of the royal family, which is likely absurd to younger people in particular. When the economy is suboptimal, or we're working through a global pandemic, it's not a good look.

I get the affection for the queen, but I also get the disdain for the monarchy.


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