We Mourn the Queen as We Imagined Her to Be
An era has ended. Queen Elizabeth II is dead, and the world mourns. We can say that the twentieth century officially ended as the last pillar of the postwar order has fallen.
The queen had her defects. In remembering her, some decry many of her political decisions. Others point to the deplorable things that happened under her reign. Still others are rightly scandalized by the behavior of royal family members.
However, we must look beyond both person and policy to understand her symbolic role in a chaotic world.
Elizabeth II was not just a political figure. She represented the ideal England to the world. When she appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, vast crowds of all persuasions stretched as far as the eye can see and would wildly acclaimed her. Indeed, what presidents could claim such devotion and popularity from the people? Somehow the queen projected the image of a fairy-tale monarch that captivated the imagination.
And that was her most important role.
A Shining Representation
In those sublime moments of public contact, we could catch a glimpse of a brilliance that transcended her person and policies. The English people saw in her the symbol of their glory.
This shining, symbolic representation was one reason why she was so beloved and esteemed. She was not known for her formulation of public policy or political insights. Seeing her, however, the people saw something of themselves reflected. She knew how to take the qualities, virtues and convictions needed by the English people and give them expression. Her presence served to draw the nation together by being the distillation of what it meant to be English.
We need such symbols and ideals because they allow us to imagine the world as it should be. They give us a goal toward which to aspire, even though we realize that we will always fall short due to our fallen nature and the limitations of reality.
Thus, by living up to her role as a symbol, the Queen set the tone of society, influenced fashion and defined standards of excellence. Her Majesty reflected centuries of good taste, finesse, manners and civility. She practiced the sacrifice of always appearing proper even when the rest of the world abandoned this role. Thus, she is remembered much more as the ideal fairy-tale queen everyone imagined her to be, than the person she actually was.
This ability to a representative figure allowed her to exercise another role that is proper to her office. The queen was also beloved and esteemed because she knew how to represent Christian majesty well.
The end of the State is the ordering of the common good and thus those entrusted with authority exercise a supreme mission with an intrinsic dignity and majesty. Since all authority comes from God, it is fitting that it be surrounded by ceremony and splendor so as to better mirror the Divine majesty.
Thus, the queen exercised her authority with calm and benevolent majesty. Indeed, her reign represented the remnants of medieval pageantry that gave authenticity, vigor and dignity to her office. She reminded the world of a splendorous Christian civilization that was rejected by modern vulgarity and egalitarianism.
This splendor contrasts with the demagoguery of clownish modern leaders who present caricatures of real authority. Most politicians follow Rousseauan models that imagine power coming, not from God, but the fickle whims of the popular will.
The queen sacrificed herself by living up to the dignity and majesty of her office, which filled her reign with beauty and stability. Until the last days of her life, she carried out her duties with touching solicitude and affection. Her popular rule endured for over seventy years during which she saw 15 prime ministers, 14 presidents and seven popes take office.
A Queen Beyond England
We live in a postmodern egalitarian world that detests everything that the queen represented. Political leaders today no longer want the arduous task of being a symbol. They are no longer capable of representing the sublime aspirations of their respective people or want to display the majesty and dignity of their offices. Even the surviving royals cannot live up to her standard of dedication and excellence.
The queen stood out because few leaders think beyond their own interests. We are left orphans inside a world political order that does not represent us or present us with ideals.
Everywhere, so many craves those symbols and ideals that give meaning and purpose to political life. Thus, the queen was loved and esteemed far beyond England and Commonwealth. All those orphans who yearned for the ideals she represented could find in her a queen that they could call their own. In a world filled with vulgarity and narcissism, they could always look to her and find themselves asking that God Save the Queen—that ideal queen that represent a splendorous world.
Thus, it was not only England’s queen who died but the queen of all those who can imagine her as a symbol of order, albeit imperfect, in a world in disarray. We mourn because a great pillar has fallen and there is no one to take her place.