Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee
and the Relevance of the British Monarchy
in the 21st Century
Her reign has been an eventful one to say the least. Her ascension to the throne in the aftermath of the Second World War was not only a dramatic transition for the new queen but for the British nation as well. Having already experienced the downfall of its once dominant world presence, Great Britain found itself playing a different role in the 20th century. As the United States and the Soviet Union jockeyed with one another for ultimate power, Great Britain adapted from being an empire to a commonwealth, and Elizabeth was the key to making it a smooth transition. And though she has only been a nominal head of state for most of the nations of the commonwealth, Elizabeth has become an icon of stability, grace and royalty in a modern world than now largely laughs at the idea of a monarchy.
In addition, Elizabeth has seen the role of the Monarchy change in a number of dramatic ways in order to meet the needs and expectations of the people. Instead of remaining as a stoic, uber-formal institution, the Monarchy has been forced into modernity. There is probably no better example of this fact than the life and death of Princess Diana and her surviving sons William and Harry. The days of formal, traditional reverence for the Monarchy have been replaced with "The People's Princess" and the Royal Family being on Facebook
And though it is obvious that the British monarchy is only a shell of its once great self, Elizabeth has given the throne new purpose. She reigns without ruling. She inspires without commanding. She motivates without demanding. In short, Elizabeth has helped to change the British crown from an institution of political power and divine entitlement to that of cultural custodian and solemn duty. She is head of state instead of head of the government.
But the nobility remains every bit as strong.
For Americans, the continued existence of the British monarchy probably seems strange, even wasteful. After all, why continue to maintain a nominal figurehead who has little actual power in a palace with servants? But such an opinion is more revealing of American ignorance and arrogant presumption than actual reality. Almost all relevant British polls show that the vast majority of the British people still favor retaining a monarchy. After all, the Monarchy is a fundamental part to their history. Their culture. Their sense of what it means to be British. They could no more do without the Monarchy than we Americans could do without baseball, Lady Liberty or Arlington National Cemetery. The British Monarchy is the very embodiment of their nation. It is an institution that prides itself on showing the world the glory of Great Britain. We Americans have a hard time understanding this concept because we are a nation founded on a healthy disrespect of authority, whereas Britain (and many parts of Europe) have always had a healthy respect for authority. Both perspectives are neither good or bad, they simply are what they are.
And it is worth noting that while the British people are still "required" to "support" the royal family (it actually works out to be roughly $1.00 per citizen, per year), the British Crown actually generates roughly $200 million in revenue. Of course, the issue of financially supporting the Royal Family has been a regular source of debate for many citizens, but again, it is clear that the overwhelming majority of British people favor the continued support of the Crown.
And as Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Diamond Jubilee along with millions of her jubilant and festive "subjects," let us, the cousins across the Atlantic, join in the party. She may not be our queen, but "We the People" still smell awfully British from time to time. British history is our history. It's a wonderful and noble history. So, as an American, let me be the first to say to my distant British cousins:
"God Save the Queen!"