Although we knew it was coming, we still experienced the death of Queen Elizabeth II as a blow. I myself was caught off guard and wept when I heard the news. A good friend put it well: we are all orphans. The Queen had been on the throne for seven decades, since before I was born, and serving until after my retirement.
Because I was born and raised in the United States, I was taught in the public schools to revere the country’s 18th-century founders who had crafted a constitution so perfect as to be virtually fool proof. Embodying a series of checks and balances among legislative, executive and judicial powers, the Constitution of the United States established a remarkably lasting political system. Unfortunately, the U.S. has seen its share of leaders who, if they have not quite attained the status of fool, have been covertly or overtly contemptuous of the constitutional limits placed on their offices. Moreover, virtually every country that has borrowed an American-style presidential system has eventually ended up a dictatorship, Turkey being the latest unhappy example of this.
Stability in a constitutional monarchy
This is why, despite my upbringing, I have come to appreciate constitutional monarchy as a guarantor of political stability and as conducive to a modicum of public justice. Our Westminster system is not perfect, and I could wish for more limits on the power of the prime minister and a willingness to co-operate across partisan divisions. Nevertheless, the handful of constitutional monarchies are among the most successful nations in the world, boasting high levels of mutual trust and economic prosperity. When Spain reverted to monarchy following the death of Francisco Franco, King Juan Carlos guided the country into a democratic future, successfully foiling a coup attempt a few years later.
In Canada and 14 other Commonwealth Realms, once styled dominions, Queen Elizabeth II served as head of state, serenely carrying out the responsibilities she believed God had given her. No other monarch reigned as long as she. During her years on the throne, she earned the admiration of her own subjects and of people around the world, who have good reason to envy people living in these realms.
The Queen saw a lot of history, including what Francis Fukuyama labelled the “Great Disruption” and Charles Taylor called the rise of “expressive individualism.” On her 21st birthday, while visiting South Africa, the young Princess Elizabeth vowed to serve her people for as long as she lived, manifesting a clear sense of duty in a family devoted to public service. Today, when Western culture seems preoccupied with personal autonomy and finding one’s authentic self, the Queen embodied an older and nobler standard of service.
May our new King live up to his late mother’s example.