The Queen is dead
How can we assess Elizabeth's reign? She was at the same time to blame for everything, and responsible for nothing.
The Queen died yesterday.
I think my partner put it best: that she was shocked that a 96 year old woman died in her lifetime, despite knowing that 96 year old women trend towards death. Elizabeth has been in everyone’s lives for so long that it was unexpected that she would ever leave.
Was Elizabeth a good monarch? Were we blessed for living under her reign? Looking back, I don’t even know if I can properly answer those questions. How do you take the measure of a monarch in a constitutional monarchy who is both at the same time ever present, but also far away?
Opinions on her death are wide ranging. For example, Macron’s statement is touching:
And then there is colonialism:
Residential schools happened under Elizabeth’s watch, yes, but they weren’t her idea presumably (they started long before!). You can say that the Queen was a symbol of colonization, but really it was the governments acting in her name. But her reign also oversaw decolonization. Can we blame her for colonization while also not crediting her for decolonization? Most of Africa became independent under her watch.
Apartheid in South Africa started and ended her with as well (The Crown suggests she pressured the government in private). She was so ever present, but ever so silent, that we can imbue her as a symbol with whatever cause we want. For some, she is the rock that has held our countries and commonwealth together for 70 years. For others, she is a symbol of empire. As a symbol, she is all of those things, but at the same time none of them.
Was Elizabeth a good monarch? I think it is too soon to tell. We might be able to judge in another 100 years. If we can’t blame her for colonization and we can’t credit her for decolonization, what can we credit her for? If her goal was to survive as monarch, has she set Charles up for success? Could she have been a better monarch by abdicating earlier? Again, too soon to tell. I get the sense though that Elizabeth was a decent person who tried to do the best with what she had. I believe her papers and archives will be sealed for a long time, so we probably won’t be able to properly judge this in my lifetime.
I think the monarchy in Canada is something that most people don’t think all that much about. Most people concern themselves more with the Royal Family itself rather than what it means for the country that they exist and are in charge. I think its been at worst a benign influence on the country, compared to what else we would have had at this point if we had reformed. Was Elizabeth a good monarch for Canada? She certainly stayed out of our affairs, but it feels anachronistic to have supreme executive power reside in an elderly woman (now man) who lives across the ocean. The dualism reemerges: She was both everything we did and nothing.
I’ve believed for a long time that Canada will eventually become a republic, not just a de facto republic. I dread that transformation, not because I’m so tied to the monarchy, but because I don’t believe we can peacefully transition to another form of government. Canada has been a remarkably stable country for our 155 years, and a serious republican movement will throw that into flux. It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t tie ourselves to a hereditary monarch and hard to figure out what should actually replace it.
Elizabeth’s death is a sign that we are approaching that turn on the highway. It’s come sooner than I expected, but it is here now. It’s been easy to say that Canada should become a republic, but since Elizabeth was so popular, it’s been easy to ignore it. Charles is not as well liked, so it won’t be so easy. Changing our system of government is not just words of course. Constitutional change is hard at the best of times, and in our country now I fear that it will mean violence and the beginning of the end of Canada.
So Elizabeth herself did not mean that much to me, and I am not sad that she passed (aside from any other human passing). I am instead melancholy and nostalgic over the ending of an era of our history, and for what that means for our future. Love live the King.
As a final thought: