It’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this week, or rather the latest manifestation of it. In this country, we’ve already celebrated the anniversary of her ascension (February 6), her real birthday (April 21), and her fake “official” birthday (May 21), so needless to say, this is all starting to get a tad fatiguing. Your Majesty is still alive, I get it.
I’ve written about the monarchy a lot over the years, and with the generous support of Citizens for a Canadian Republic, I’ve been able to make a relatively high-profile media career for myself as one of the country’s leading voices on the issue. It was exactly a decade ago, in fact, during the Queen’s golden jubilee that I appeared on television for the very first time in my life, arguing against the merits of a Vancouver royal visit in a screechy-voiced manner I am not particularly eager to link to. Yet even with a decade of activism on this fringe cause under my belt, I’m finding it difficult to maintain the same levels of motivation going forward.
This is such a ghoulish thing to say, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that until the Queen herself dies, the Canadian republican movement (to say nothing of its British equivalent) will remain more or less stagnant. Elizabeth’s ever-advancing age, coupled with her gender, forms a very powerful emotional appeal that, not unjustly, royalists have been actively utilizing to evoke all manner of highly emotional analogies and affinities. She reminds you of your mother, or your nana, or that nice widow down the street. Little old ladies may, in fact, be the single most distinctly nonthreatening, sympathetic, charming, and guilt-inducing subset of humanity, which is probably why you don’t hear about many successful revolutions against them.
To be effective, any political movement seeking to shift the status quo in some unprecedented direction requires a narrative of conflict to give their campaign momentum and energy. This is why Prince Charles is such a vastly better republican foe than his mother; while the latter has been unbendingly apolitical (even at the expense of her required political duties), passive, cloistered, and mysterious, the Prince has been ideological, proactive, outspoken, and not nearly mysterious enough. When Princess Elizabeth assumed the throne back in 1952, no one knew much of what they were getting; when Charles ascends we’ll know far too much. And all available polling data suggests all that familiarity is breeding a great deal of contempt.
But in the meantime, the Queen’s long reign is a status quo that sometimes seems maddeningly endless. Considering her mother’s genes, I don’t doubt we’ll be celebrating a platinum jubilee in 2022, featuring an even more wizened and sympathetic monarch waving an even more frail hand to a public that will have even more nostalgic affinities. David Mitchell recently wrote a good piece about this state of affairs in the London Guardian; at some point anyone who opposes this poor creature just looks like an awful, impolite boor. I don’t look forward to making distasteful arguments about the Queen being too old or senile or bed-ridden to perform her duties, but that’s very much what the republican future looks to be.
Before any monarchist get too triumphalist at any of this, it’s worth reemphasizing that this malaise has absolutely nothing to due with the strengths of their arguments or the weakness of the good guys’. The principles of god-ordained hereditary kingship are still ridiculous, and the practical merits of a democratically-selected head of state are still superior to the alternative. The royals are winning by default, and since their strongest weapon is the emotional appeal of a frail senior citizen, it’s a very creepy and exploitative default at that.
But it’s a form of short-term victory none the less, and I’m not petty enough to deny it.
Happy anniversary, Your Majesty. You’ve proven a challenging opponent.