The best that monarchy has to show us underlines the basic problem with monarchy.
After 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth the second has died. Quietly. Perhaps the most recognizable woman on the planet, she was a fixture on the international stage for as far back as most of the world can remember. The mourning has begun.
She seemed, at least when seen though the lens of the most aggressively micro managed public relations efforts in history, to be a reasonably nice lady. I like to think that that was true. But it’s largely irrelevant to this moment. Only a bare handful of people ever had opportunity to really know her personally, as an individual. The vast public response isn’t really to a person, but to a symbol. A monarch.
So it’s vitally important to remember what a monarch is fundamentally a symbol of. Unearned, inherited power. Heredity. The only credential Elizabeth required for her position, the one trait which opened the door to a long life of almost unthinkable opulence and influence, was being born out of the right rich woman’s vagina. That’s it.
A great deal is currently being said about how skillfully she performed her role. Let’s be honest about that, too. With no constitutional power, England’s monarch is purely a figurehead, responsible for being present at certain ceremonies and making occasional speeches. It’s hardly brain surgery. The majority of the world’s nations get by just fine without requiring anyone to fill that role.
If you had seventy years of practice while billions of dollars and a literal army of servants provided you with the best care available to anyone on Earth, you could probably get pretty good at performing a few functionally meaningless tasks, too.
But inside the role there resides a person. Easily among the most privileged persons in existence. Their position, while in some ways the very definition of a gilded cage, also affords them a truly stunning amount of real power, easily eclipsing what’s available to several entire countries. The crown is the biggest single landholder on Earth, with title to more than 6.6 billion acres of real estate. Every public utterance they make carries immense weight with vast multitudes of people and may be…