The 60th anniversary celebrations for the reign of Queen Elizabeth was a show for the ages. From millions of people lining the streets of London to thousands of boats cruising along the Thames to Elton John and Paul McCartney rocking and rolling in front of Buckingham Palace, it was quite a performance. Someone well outside the monarchical British Empire had several reactions while watching the spectacle.
First, there was absolutely no mention of money. I didn’t want to know how much it cost, I just wanted to know how Britain could afford such spending in a time of economic hardship and why people weren’t complaining. For all those people enthusiastically waving flags, how many of them were out of work? It didn’t seem to matter. The party was the party, whoever was footing the bill. It was as if time was suspended; there were no economic hardships, there were no racial tensions; there were no terrorist threats. Everything stood still to focus on celebrating the reign of the symbolic monarch. Flag waving trumped empty pockets. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune were left behind.
And that was really the point, I guess. While Britain is no longer a great empire, the Queen represents something for the British that touches the hearts of all her subjects. Non-Brits watch the emotional outpouring, the commonality of feeling of an entire population for a powerless figure, and question why we don’t have similar feelings for any of our rulers. Can you imagine a similar outpouring of warmth for the head of the European Commission? While rationality has been in the forefront of Western philosophy, politics and economics for centuries, the emotional sympathy shown for the Queen represents a telling demonstration of what belonging means. Having a passport is one thing; feeling you are part of a greater whole is entirely different. As lawyers teach us, there are objective and subjective definitions of citizenship.
I marveled at the celebration. Partially, I wanted to feel part of something like that on such a grand scale. Intellectually, I wanted to know what was it that enabled a country to maintain that level of emotional cohesion. Can it be created? Was it a public relations construction? Maybe it’s only a question of time. Sixty years breeds familiarity. Maybe it’s a question of being only symbolic. The Queen has no real power. Those who have power for long periods often finish by being detested.
The Fourth of July and August 1 are approaching. I will try to avoid any comparisons.