“It is too much to say that the world will not see her like again; there is within all of us the potential to aim for the higher moral life that the Queen embodied, if we engage in the striving that she did that is necessary to attain this.”
announced on the BBC at 6:30 in the afternoon on Thursday, September 8th, the country has awoken to a world changed while it outwardly remains the same. The most significant part of this change is taking place within the hearts of the Queen’s, now King Charles III’s, subjects. The fallen condition of the human soul has been confronted with what it means to live a good life, one dedicated to duty and service to God and her people, each redeeming and sanctifying the other. It is too much to say that the world will not see her like again; there is within all of us the potential to aim for the higher moral life that the Queen embodied, if we engage in the striving that she did that is necessary to attain this. he Queen has died, and Britain has been lifted out of the river of time, to rest on the banks of history and to wonder at our fate. Since her death at 96,
But it is true to say that the Queen’s death signifies the passing of an age, the bells that sounded out yesterday ringing out an old world and pealing in the new. What sort of world this becomes will be shaped by the actions of the families, communities, and the nation of Britain, led by its government and ruled by the new king. The grief is all-consuming, but this is only right. The Queen, our matriarch and grandmother to the nation is now gone, and she has taken something with her that we will only now begin fully to comprehend in the passing. Tears for her are just, and they are tears for what we have lost. But these tears will dry and reveal through clearer vision the glory of life itself, the goodness of the world shining through its fallenness, illuminating our souls.
For me, so overwhelming is the Queen’s death that it is difficult for a repressed Brit such as myself to express fully the depths of emotion I am currently experiencing, coursing through me like a raging torrent. The Queen exemplified the fidelity to duty, comportment, and strength of character that seem less and less the norm in both public and private life today. The Queen leavened the gravity of her situation with a quiet good humour that cut through from the exalted to the ordinary, elevating both in the process. My feelings are still raw, but this rawness, if expressed with the restraint for which Her Majesty was so well known, helps to dignify what would otherwise be unseemly.
All of this will seem like utter madness to many Americans. After all, your country was birthed in the fires of rebellion, ushering in a nation that relies on democratic competence of the citizen, both to elect his representative in the political sphere and conduct the course of his own life as he sees fit through civic life. The idea of unearned position and privilege has long been anathema to the American national soul, endowing a kind of nobility to the ordinary. The political liberalism seen by Alexis de Tocqueville was restrained and elevated by a lived Burkeanism that still saw the good in family, community, free association, and civic culture, handed down from generation to generation, tied to the landscape of birth and extending outward in circles of relationality.
Much of this is rooted in the English heritage and traditions carried to America’s wide shores under wide skies by the Pilgrims. Even so, these links often conceal more than they reveal; Americans and Britons are separated by a common language, a cliché that is true and which for all its apparent shallowness hides a deeper reality. The fact that Britain still has a monarch, even if one who now occupies a purely ceremonial role, is exactly why the United States and Britain are different.
Britain has existed since the Act of Union with Scotland in 1707. England has existed as a unified nation and state since the Saxon king Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, acceded to the throne in 932 A.D. The monarchy as it is currently constituted can indeed trace its roots back a thousand years or more. The Queen reigned for 30% of the United States’ existence, seeing in and seeing out 14 presidents. Our monarchy is the heart and soul of the kingdom of Britain, both factually and symbolically. The continuity of England, and then Britain, is bound up in the figure of the king or queen and what the crown represents. Thomas Aquinas wrote that “old custom and long-established law have a special dignity. Their very age suggests their being sanctioned by the needs of human nature itself. Traditional patterns of life and thought would not have evolved, acquired authority, and become deeply entrenched in the first place, had they not been found by generations to answer reasonably well to the requirements of a good life.”
Edmund Burke echoed this moral fact of longevity, warning that “When ancient opinions of life are taken away, the loss cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no compass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port we steer.” Man in his flawed nature cannot gain the rationality and knowledge to foresee all results of his abstract designs, and we, in Britain, “are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason, because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.”
Of course, the loyalty and reverence for the Queen (and now the new King) is irrational. Or maybe sub-rational might be a more appropriate way of expressing it. But rationality is overrated as the instrument to employ to attain the good life in common with others. Instead, we must consider our inherently historical circumstances preserving our inheritance from the past, mediating in our own lives to fit new circumstances in the present, thus passing on to the future a lasting legacy. This great chain of existence constitutes the generational belonging of membership. Roger Scruton, in England, An Elegy, writes that the English (and then British) monarchy represents and embodies the precious act of settlement that has evolved in these lands. We in England, and still to an extent, Britain, see ourselves as bound together because we come from a particular place, the place that is ours individually and together, our home in this world that we made together through the acts necessary to live with each other as families and communities.
This sense of home bound to a place means that the question of “who are we?” has not had to be seriously thought about until the last several decades; the answer was always “we are who we are because we come from here.” This felt connection to a home rooted in place rather than rootless race has led to the creation of an evolved system of law to which even the monarch is subservient, for the monarch is also from this piece of earth and, therefore, subject to the laws that grew out of the landscape. He or she is appointed by the law rather than the creator of the law. Our law is, therefore, a truly common law, held in common and applied to all, the “law of the land.”
Out of this evolving and cultivated act of settlement, both in the political and social sense, has grown the structure of our government and the monarchy that sanctifies it, itself consecrated by the land over which it rules, but in which it cannot declare itself above. The monarchy sits atop a plethora of customs and daily observances that serves to enchant and re-enchant our shared home, expressing the almost-mystical givenness of our circumstances here in this place. The institutions and offices that define our civic and political life express in outward form the substance of membership, one that transcends any particular time and person. It is only made real by the particulars of time, place, and the people who inhabit them. Monarchy was and is, for us, “not a form of political power, but a work of the imagination, an attempt to represent in the here and now all those mysterious ties of authority and historical right without which no place on earth can be settled as a home.”
These continued acts of settlement that make a home in a place have led to an attitude still existing of “consultation, negotiation and compromise with those who seem to disagree with [us] but who might nevertheless be right.” The empirical disposition of British culture that Yoram Hazony extolls and takes as the foundation for his worldview grew out of the sense that “tradition and argument are far more reliable than abstract argument; rituals and ceremonies, because they exist without an explanation, are far more likely to contain the truth of things than any intellectual doctrine. This attitude led to a spontaneous preference for monarchical over republican government, and aristocratic titles over professional degrees.”
The conflict between the need for public pomp and circumstance and a deeply-held private sensibility reminds us of the human invention of these outward forms of sacredness. As Scruton writes, “This conflict [is] particularly vivid in [our] attitude to monarchy: for [us] the monarchy [is] sacred and mysterious; but the sanctity and mystery were attached to a mask, behind which another Englishman had retired. The queen was revered as an ordinary person, whose ordinariness was only increased by the gorgeous splendour of the Crown.” This will all sound like complete nonsense to most American ears, but as Scruton goes on to say, “the English recognised that by describing their country in nonsensical ways they also enchanted it.” This acceptance lies under our British self-deprecation and irony, neither of these taken to too great an extent for fear of destroying the very things that enable them in the first place.
For Scruton, the Crown enables this separation between office and person by its corporate existence, as “when a corporation speaks in the first person it is with the first-person plural—the royal ‘we’ of the English sovereign. This ‘we’ distinguishes the Queen [now King]…from the Crown, which in itself is selfless. The consciousness of a corporation is not a consciousness of self, but a collective consciousness, shared among its members, and embodied in the traditions and culture that unite them.” The persons themselves are still centrally important; however, as “although the corporate person has no self of its own, it may actively penetrate the self-identity of its members, so linking their consciousness to a larger tradition of thought and feeling, amplifying their projects and telling them who they are. In a sense it has a real mental history and a mind of its own.”
As a result, “the term ‘person’ comes to us from Roman law; it’s original meaning in Latin is mask—the persona worn by the actor in the theatre. And the monarch was the mask of England—the representation of something which lived longer and meant more than any individual. That was why the English regarded the monarch simultaneously as an ordinary human being, and as a manifestation of their own identity, the consecrated symbol of the land itself. The Queen could be both these things only because her office was inherited, and because she was moulded from childhood to its shape. When the English toasted ‘Queen and Country,’ therefore, they were not two things but one. And that thing was England—the land construed as a person.”
The fact that the Queen inherited her office and was moulded to its shape meant that she demonstrated the utmost fidelity to what Gladden Pappin calls “duty of state.” For the Queen, “a different nature of rule occasioned a different sort of virtue. The queen’s virtues were not simply extraordinary forms of ordinary virtues. Rather, they were excellent forms of virtues proper to her office—virtues she was specifically taught and had the opportunity to practice.” Aristotle defined the principal virtue of duty of state as prudence, a discriminating and cautious judgment cultivated through long education and character formation.
As Pappin writes, “Prudence is proper to political rulers because it is their office or duty to have care of the whole community. Officeholders have specific cares as well as a perspective and responsibility distinct from ordinary citizens; it is for this reason that, under the classical understanding, they are owed deference in their prudential decisions.” As a result, “the education of a prince or ruler in their specific virtues was considered essential to good government. Indeed, for much of Western history attention to the ruler’s virtues was the primary concern of and locus of ‘political theory.’”
The Queen articulated this approach to rule in her 1947 radio broadcast from Cape Town, saying: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” One can see the moral formation that produced this disposition worthy of leadership in another speech the Queen gave, aged just 21, where she expressed the conservatism and maintenance of tradition through change of Lampedusa’s The Leopard. For the Queen: “It is not the new inventions that are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people, who carelessly throw away ageless ideals, as if they were old and outworn machinery. They would have religion thrown aside. Morality in personal and public life was made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness, and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint. At this critical moment in our history, we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world, if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth. Today, we need a special kind of courage. Not the kind needed in battle, but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics, so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future. It has always been easy to hate and to destroy; to build and to cherish is much more difficult.”
The monarchy as described above, and the communication of its fundamental place in the world, is an embodiment of the fact that hierarchy and elites are an inevitable and necessary fact of social life. As Claes G. Ryn argues, “Civilization lives by its…rankings. It penalizes some human inclinations and rewards others. Gatekeepers of many kinds and at many levels push some individuals forward and hold others back. Civilization favors the wise and virtuous, not the superficial and dissolute, honors responsible statesmen, courageous soldiers, good students, excellent artists, honest businessmen and careful craftsmen, not opportunists, cowards, slackers, pornographers, shysters, and fakers, however able.”
The education and cultivation of character described above was undertaken because “members of influential elites had to be first of all civilized, broad-minded human beings, whatever their special functions in society. In combination with good social background and experience, sound education was thought to produce…the person qualified for gatekeeping.” The Queen and the hierarchy she sat atop was an exemplar of the fact that “Sound elites will exhibit flexibility and tolerance in granting admission to their circle, but, to ensure the tethering of expertise and ability to the humane purposes of life, they will look for more than utilitarian ‘skill’ and sheer energy in those whom they promote.”
For Ryn, the moral universality that is only articulated and expressed in concrete, historical circumstances by individuals through their familial and communal membership makes inevitable the fact that “elites both define and embody a society’s deepest longings and fears. By definition, they have the more or less grudging acceptance of a people, however much particular groups may resent their power. Western society could begin to change for the better only if budding new elites, imbued with the spirit of genuine civilization, were to convey a different sense of what is desirable and undesirable to the larger society.”
Of course, we now live in a time when this conception of civilization is seen as outdated or outright immoral, either an affront to notions of equality, or a remnant of a bigoted past that we must not only move beyond but scour from our historical memory with the cleansing fire of redistributive justice. Witness the repeated examples of vile inhumanity from those who most readily proclaim their sentimental concern for those in need, far from their own sphere of moral action. These saviors of the oppressed have been proclaiming that the legacy of colonialism for non-white people means the Queen’s passing must not be a moment for respectful reflection but an occasion to act out the American racial psychodrama that continues to inflict itself on the rest of the Anglosphere and post-empire world where it is neither relevant nor wanted.
This moral vacuum engenders a culture of repudiation that leads its adherents to declare that “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.” There is no more perfect testament to the fact that achievement of socio-economic rank through merely utilitarian “merit” without the attendant moral development produces an ethically deformed elite cultural class. This cultural elite wallows in Nietzsche’s ressentiment, desperate to lay the burden of their own grudges rooted in their inadequacy on the corpse of a Queen whom they despise because her goodness throws their manifest deficiencies into such sharp relief.
Meanwhile, the colonized that these self-declared tolerant internationalists claim to speak for are either indifferent or often in deep mourning for the passing of a Queen associated with good and humane as well as bad aspects of their national pasts. But I suppose that to these new Jacobins this would just constitute a form of colonial false consciousness that needs their “wisdom” to decolonize the minds of these poor, tired, and huddled masses. Never mind that those who argue this are in reality the ones with their minds colonized by a distorted memory inflected with American Clerical provincialism.
This is only the more extreme manifestation of a sentiment that sees any hierarchy and structure of rule not undergirded and maintained by utilitarian meritocracy as ethically illegitimate. This, of course, ignores the fact that everything the liberal American Clerisy desires has been achieved in Britain, not in spite of but because of the hereditary monarchy. But that is irrelevant to the American overclass, which congratulates itself on its privilege achieved through merit that is fast becoming as much of an iron cage of heredity as the Hapsburg dynasty. Elites are inevitable, but what kind of “moral fibre, public ethic and aesthetic outlook” elites form around matters. The United States’ current elite has neither the noblesse nor the oblige of the old ideal articulated by the Queen. The current extractive elite of the American overclass epitomizes Burke’s condemnation of its French Jacobin forebears: “The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded.”
By contrast, the stability and peace that stem from monarchy enabled the British (and Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian) social democratic state of the 20th century to emerge. This point was made by none other than Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee. Prime Minister Attlee wrote that the British socialist tradition has barely been republican, and the strongest support for the monarchy has traditionally come from the working class, unafflicted by a bourgeois (and dare I say intelligentsia) inferiority complex. The monarchy stands above and beyond the political fray, a symbol to which people affix their hopes and loyalty that belongs to no political faction, thereby grounding politics with a moral center above politics. In the United States, as Attlee wrote, “in effect, what they do is elect a king for a period of four years.” As a result, “there is a serious disadvantage of combining in one person the symbol of the nation and the party leader.” The upshot of this is that “A British King making himself a dictator is unthinkable, but many thoughtful Americans would not deny that a President might do so.”
This is not to say that we in Britain do not have many deep and serious problems facing our country. We do, as I have written before. But we are not seeing talk of civil war and violent state collapse as a topic of conversation among the middle class and Clerisy. This is the result of the unity, continuity through change, stability through settlement, and the sense of being bound together through the place that we make and call our home. And all of this is encapsulated in the institution of the Crown, as well as the person of the monarch. The United States will have to find its own way, and I wish her people the best of fortune. But I feel immense gratitude for the continued existence of the monarchy as the link between the dead, the living, and those to be born, especially when our new King follows his mother in appreciating the importance of our shared home and the traditions that sustain it at a time when our Prime Minister adheres to the worst kind of philistine, utilitarian Manchester liberalism. God Save the King. Long Live the King.
Henry George is a writer from the United Kingdom, focusing on politics, political philosophy, and culture. He has also written at Quillette, UnHerd, Arc Digital, The University Bookman, and Intercollegiate Review.