QUEEN ELIZABETH II was more than just a person. To different people, she represented a diverse spectrum of ideas. For some, she was emblematic of a colonial empire steeped in pillaging and plundering. Adorned with glittering jewels, ruby red as the blood spilled in their attainment. Whatever wild fantasies come to mind, they only exist because of her indelible cultural legacy.
Her passing is a gentle reminder that she was, just as all of us are, a person with her desires, torments and challenges, a living, feeling being. She reigned longer than most alive today, in the minds of many an almost immortal figure, for she is all we have ever known. Her influence in recent history cannot be understated. In Britain, the Queen was an almost permanent fixture of life. She was the monarchy.
Queen Elizabeth II understood her role from a very young age. The horrors of World War II witnessed first hand imprinted duty onto her character. She was no longer just a person. She became part of the State. Her greatness was not in her flamboyance or oratory prowess but rather her adherence to service to the country and a sense of humility that mortified the vainest of tyrants.
Wealth and power are one thing, but to be a queen like her was a complete rejection of the self. The understanding that you cannot act, be, or feel how you want to. Your emotions are state policy, your every action is focus-grouped, constantly under surveillance for the slightest slip-up, and no longer an individual but rather an extension of the State. Your life controlled by a coterie of assistants and civil servants.
It is hard to separate the crown from the empire and the individual from the crown. The Queen was not the empire. She was its greatest foe. Elizabeth oversaw the successful decolonisation of the empire on which the sun never sets. In this context, she is not "the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire," as one university professor in the US put it.
The premise of this emotionally-charged hyperbolic statement is that "the sins of the father are the sins of the son." In liberal democracies, we have long since disabused ourselves of that fallacious notion. The collective punishment advocated should be reserved for authoritarian states like North Korea. We in the West view individuals as responsible for their actions, not their descendants or those who look similar.
Should we call for reparations from the descendants of African kings who enslaved their fellow man? The supply chain began with them. Have they been absolved of their complicity? The notion of British soldiers venturing into the African hinterlands, hunting for chattle, is not based on reality. It wholly ascribes fault to the British. It is a caricature of slavery, removing nuance and the roles of other groups in the process. Let us also not forget the British ended the global slave trade. They did not start it but finished it.
The death of Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, marks the end of an era. It is symbolic of the epoch-making shift occurring in the world today. A schism is developing that threatens the relative peace achieved by the end of the Cold War.
The system by which the world economy functions is disintegrating before our eyes. The mutual gains achieved by free trade, spurring economic development, will be no more. Russia's rejection of international norms means that free trade is no longer the order of the day. We see two main trading blocks emerging: the West (principally led by the US and Western Europe) and the East (by China and Russia). Now, nations are focused on vying for control. Smaller states will feel the brunt and suffer the consequences.
The liberal world order, which has dominated the international sphere since the end of WWII, is losing influence. The rising popularity of right-wing populism in France, Germany, Italy, the US and, most recently, Sweden, to name just a few, shows the shifting tides. The unfiltered free flow of information created by communication technologies has allowed ideas antithetical to the prevailing order to flourish. We can see that the philosophical underpinnings of modern society, as we know it, are being challenged.
In England, King Charles III's ascension to the throne puts him in the unenviable position of steadying the ship through uncharted waters. The public's confidence in government is falling. Can he be the voice of reason among the ravenous cacophony set off by the war in Ukraine? Now more than ever, leaders of a stately demeanour are required, calm and composed, with a political ideology rooted in the realities of the world.
In this regard, the contrast between mother and son cannot be more apparent. Elizabeth was among the last of a generation of leaders that knew of the tremendous suffering wrought by global conflict. Comparatively, Charles knows nothing of rationing or the Blitz. He has lived in harmony and luxury, heir presumptive for the most peaceful time in British history. Will he be able to rise to the occasion like his grandfather George VI or will he upset the monarchy like his granduncle Edward VIII? The reality is probably somewhere in-between.
In our cultural zeitgeist, the individual is superior to the collective. The ubiquity of information has eroded the royal veneer of infallibility. In a world where we are all equal, people are increasingly reluctant to swear allegiance to an unelected sovereign. Throw into the mix the soaring cost of living and scandals like Prince Andrew's and suddenly these people no longer look like "God's chosen representative on Earth."
Calls, albeit muted, for republicanism have already begun. Will more countries take the cue from Barbados and follow suit? Polls in the UK show that prospect to be unlikely in the near future. Polls in Commonwealth nations show that the public is indifferent to the monarchy. But Her Majesty's death has opened old wounds and rekindled anticolonial sentiment, sparking conversation about the role of the royal family. Will we bear witness to the formation of a new republic in the UK? The winds of change are blowing. Will the monarchy be swept up in the whirlwind? Only time will tell.