Two articles on the Queen: one lionizing her and the other attacking her

September 10, 2022 • 12:45 pm

Because Queen Elizabeth was more or less a cipher, her death has led to people projecting all manner of their own feelings onto her, seeing her ranging from a kind, diligent, and dedicated person to a  representative of an outdated and bloody colonialist regime, as well as of a monarchy past its time. This post will give you one example of each pole. I have no d*g in this fight, so I tend to see the Queen as a decent and hardworking person, but the monarchy as an institution whose time has come and gone.

Reaction to the death of Elizabeth II was at first wholly worshipful, but a backlash is beginning—largely in the U.S. I’ll talk about that in a bit, but first let’s hear the positive assessment of Elizabeth by one of her former “subjects,” Andrew Sullivan. Her legacy is the main object of his column yesterday (click to read, but subscribe if you read frequently).

As a conservative and an ex-Brit, one might expect Sullivan to admire the Queen, and indeed he does.  But he mainly admires her for hanging in there, for choosing a life that is not a human life, because she knew that her lot would be the abandonment of freedom for duty.  I have to say, Sully does say that well:

[When Biden was elected], I found myself watching the life of an entirely different head of state: a young, somewhat shy woman suddenly elevated to immense responsibilities and duties in her twenties, hemmed in by protocol, rigidified by discipline. The new president could barely get through the day without some provocation, insult, threat or lie. Elizabeth Windsor was tasked as a twenty-something with a job that required her to say or do nothing that could be misconstrued, controversial, or even interestingly human — for the rest of her life.

The immense difficulty of this is proven by the failure of almost every other member of her family — including her husband — to pull it off. We know her son King Charles III’s views on a host of different subjects, many admirable, some cringe-inducing. We know so much of the psychological struggles of Diana; the reactionary outbursts of Philip; the trauma of Harry; the depravity of Andrew; the agonies of Margaret. We still know nothing like that about the Queen. Because whatever else her life was about, it was not about her.

Part of the hard-to-explain grief I feel today is related to how staggeringly rare that level of self-restraint is today. Narcissism is everywhere. Every feeling we have is bound to be expressed. Self-revelation, transparency, authenticity — these are our values. The idea that we are firstly humans with duties to others that will require and demand the suppression of our own needs and feelings seems archaic. Elizabeth kept it alive simply by example.

Yes, she is to be admired for that self-restraint, though I don’t think it would have sullied her image to do a few more Paddington Bear skits. But, I suppose, Sullivan does come close to the reason for the outburst of grief in Britain at the Queen’s death:

Elizabeth never rode those tides of acclaim or celebrity. She never pressed the easy buttons of conventional popularity. She didn’t even become known for her caustic wit like the Queen Mother, or her compulsively social sorties like Margaret. The gays of Britain could turn both of these queens into camp divas. But not her. In private as in public, she had the kind of integrity no one can mock successfully.

You can make all sorts of solid arguments against a constitutional monarchy — but the point of monarchy is precisely that it is not the fruit of an argument. It is emphatically not an Enlightenment institution. It’s a primordial institution smuggled into a democratic system. It has nothing to do with merit and logic and everything to do with authority and mystery — two deeply human needs our modern world has trouble satisfying without danger.

The Crown satisfies those needs, which keeps other more malign alternatives at bay.

Well, one could disagree that countries need royalty to keep them stable. Although I’ve heard it argued that America could use a “head of state” for ceremonial purposes, alongside the President for governance, I think we’ve done pretty well (excepting for one four-year period); and many countries thrive without royalty.  I, for one, don’t crave authority and mystery.  Could Sullivan’s emphasis on those qualities have something to do with his Catholicism, which teems with both?

But in contrast to the article below, Sullivan does explain the Elizabeth-worship that so puzzles Americans:

 But it matters that divisive figures such as Boris Johnson or Margaret Thatcher were never required or expected to represent the entire nation. It matters that in times of profound acrimony, something unites. It matters that in a pandemic when the country was shut down, the Queen too followed the rules, even at her husband’s funeral, and was able to refer to a phrase — “we’ll meet again” — that instantly reconjured the days of the Blitz, when she and the royal family stayed in London even as Hitler’s bombs fell from the sky.

Every Brit has a memory like this. She was part of every family’s consciousness, woven into the stories of our lives, representing a continuity and stability over decades of massive change and dislocation. No American will ever experience that kind of comfort, that very human form of patriotism across the decades in one’s own life and then the centuries before. When I grew up studying the Normans and the Plantagenets and the Tudors, they were not just artifacts of the distant past, but deeply linked to the present by the monarchy’s persistence and the nation’s thousand-year survival as a sovereign state — something no other European country can claim.

She was there, she didn’t screw up, she was one fixed point in a changing world, and she was the latest instantiation of a hereditary monarchy.  The first three points I can understand, the last I can’t. I’d prefer a country that didn’t have a lineage set apart (and considered superior to) all others. The United State is only about 250 years old, but would having a king ensure our persistence? Would a king have prevented Trump from nearly subverting the Republic? I don’t think so.


I was told that the NYT article below was “pretty good,” but when I read it I discovered a hit job on Queen Elizabeth from a woke-ish perspective.  In other words, though I wasn’t a huge fan of the Queen or the monarchy, I see this article as fundamentally unfair. For it pins on Queen Elizabeth all the horrible crimes and tragedies that went with the creation of the British Empire, even though she had nothing to do with those things. She may have embodied that history as a ruler, but she was a virtually powerless figurehead who had nothing to do with the stuff. Nevertheless, Jasanoff finds a way to pin it on her: colonialism, racism, paternalism—the whole schmear.  Click to read:


Jasanoff begins with the obligatory bow to Elizabeth’s fortitude and commitment, but quickly begins tarring her with the crimes of Empire formation:

Tell me if this is not an undeserved slur:

The queen embodied a profound, sincere commitment to her duties — her final public act was to appoint her 15th prime minister — and for her unflagging performance of them, she will be rightly mourned. She has been a fixture of stability, and her death in already turbulent times will send ripples of sadness around the world. But we should not romanticize her era. For the queen was also an image: the face of a nation that, during the course of her reign, witnessed the dissolution of nearly the entire British Empire into some 50 independent states and significantly reduced global influence. By design as much as by the accident of her long life, her presence as head of state and head of the Commonwealth, an association of Britain and its former colonies, put a stolid traditionalist front over decades of violent upheaval. As such, the queen helped obscure a bloody history of decolonization whose proportions and legacies have yet to be adequately acknowledged.

Seriously? The queen obscured a bloody history? Was it her job to stand up and pronounce about that? Did she deliberately obscure the bad aspects of British colonial history. No, because that’s not her brief. She did not favor or perpetuate or obscure any bloody history; all she did (which Jasanoff emphasizes) is make occasional visits to the “colonies” and have her picture taken with “mostly nonwhite” people in those places.

Here’s more:

In photographs from Commonwealth leaders’ conferences, the white queen sits front and center among dozens of mostly nonwhite premiers, like a matriarch flanked by her offspring. She took her role very seriously, sometimes even clashing with her ministers to support Commonwealth interests over narrower political imperatives, as when she advocated multifaith Commonwealth Day services in the 1960s and encouraged a tougher line on apartheid South Africa.

Note that the queen was against apartheid. But. . . but. . .

What you would never know from the pictures — which is partly their point — is the violence that lies behind them.

. . . for which the Queen bears no blame. Jasanoff brings up British violence in Malaya, Ireland (not that the IRA had anything to do with that), and especially in Kenya, where the British engaged in mass slaughter to subdue the populace (read this piece: “The colonization of Kenya” to hear about British malfeasance in all its horror.)  I could add India to Elizabeth’s crimes. Was the Queen to blame for the Jallianwalah Bagh Massacre, or the deaths of millions following the partition in 1947?  She wasn’t even Queen during these times.

Perhaps Elizabeth knew all the bloody details, but knowing is not perpetrating or approving. Yet look at this sly dig: she might have known!

We may never learn what the queen did or didn’t know about the crimes committed in her name. (What transpires in the sovereign’s weekly meetings with the prime minister remains a black box at the center of the British state.) Her subjects haven’t necessarily gotten the full story, either. Colonial officials destroyed many records that, according to a dispatch from the secretary of state for the colonies, “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” and deliberately concealed others in a secret archive whose existence was revealed only in 2011.

This is perilously close to the “have you stopped beating your wife?” accusation.  Jasanoff keeps mixing up Elizabeth with the bad actions of others, like the previous Prime Minister, tarring her with the sins not just of her contemporaries, but also of the sins of the past. She is even faulted for “her white face”! Jasanoff just can’t stop mixing up the sins of the Empire with the character of the Queen:

Yet xenophobia and racism have been rising, fueled by the toxic politics of Brexit. Picking up on a longstanding investment in the Commonwealth among Euroskeptics (both left and right) as a British-led alternative to European integration, Mr. Johnson’s government (with Liz Truss, now the prime minister, as its foreign secretary) leaned into a vision of “Global Britain” steeped in half-truths and imperial nostalgia.

The queen’s very longevity made it easier for outdated fantasies of a second Elizabethan age to persist. She represented a living link to World War II and a patriotic myth that Britain alone saved the world from fascism. She had a personal relationship with Winston Churchill, the first of her 15 prime ministers, whom Mr. Johnson pugnaciously defended against well-founded criticism of his retrograde imperialism. And she was, of course, a white face on all the coins, notes and stamps circulated in a rapidly diversifying nation: From perhaps one person of color in 200 Britons at her accession, the 2011 census counted one in seven.

The second paragraph faults her for having a “personal relationship” with Churchill, for being somehow associated with Boris Johnson’s defense of Churchill, and of course for having a “white face” that’s on all the currency and stamps. I suppose that visage on money and postage harms people. At long last, Dr. Jasanoff, have you no sense of decency?

At the end, Jasanoff calls for an end to the imperial monarchy. I agree. I oppose any hereditary aristocracy, and it’s time to at least ratchet back on the pomp and circumstance. But for Jasanoff, Elizabeth is a screen on which the sweating Harvard Professor projects all her hatred of colonialism and the bad things the British did to secure their empire. And I agree with that assessment of colonialism as well. But I do not agree that Elizabeth, by merely existing, somehow legitimizes the racism and xenophobia of British history.

Matthew tells me that this kind of criticism of Elizabeth is far stronger in America than in Britain. That, of course, is because she was the British Queen, but also because Americans are more Pecksniffian and woke than Brits.  Perhaps it is time for a reckoning of the “British Empire’s violent atrocities,” as the Guardian piece below reports. In that way the Queen is like George Floyd, as the deaths of both of them have unleashed huge amounts of resentment and calls to reassess the past.

When Matthew sent me these tweets about what was going on in the UK, and I read some of the vicious criticism of Jasanoff’s piece by readers commenting on her article, I thought, “Wait, this is surely an overreaction.” Now I’m not so sure. Here are some tweets:

Eizabeth’s death unleashes anger at both her and British history:

h/t: Matthew

64 thoughts on “Two articles on the Queen: one lionizing her and the other attacking her

  1. Does anyone have knowledge of written language in sub-Saharan Africa? Were the Europeans the ones who introduced written language there?

    1. Well, several answers there.
      – You have eg. the Lusona ideographs in Angola, but I’m not 100% sure that would qualify as a written language. It could be argued it is a kind of hieroglyphic script though. And I could think of some other examples.
      – There have been several just-not-sub-saharan African writing systems, Meroe and Kush for example. They were writing while Europe was still hunting and gathering.
      – Hunter gatherer and not very complex agricultural societies don’t need written languages. I’m not sure how simple sub-Saharan societies were, I doubt it is a good argument. One should not forget that sub saharan Africa was Khoi, before the subsaharan Bantu expansion.
      – It is thought that written language did not originate regularly, only 3 or 4 times: in the Middle East, China and Mesoamerica, and maybe Egypt. All the others were linked to those, cultural spread sounds better than cultural appropriation, I’d say.
      – Europeans were definitely (one definite answer, at last) not the first to introduce alphabetic script in sub-Saharan Africa, that must have been the Arabs.

      1. thank you…I will do research based on your response.

        In terms of the Arabs, I wonder if that introduction has anything to do with the slave trade to the Middle East, which is older than the Atlantic one, I believe, due to geography. Also, the spread of Islam.

        1. In terms of the Arabs, I wonder if that introduction has anything to do with the slave trade to the Middle East,

          Absolutely : my first job in sub-Saharan Africa was on the “Swahili Coast” and started with a boat trip from Kilwa Masouku (N -8.94091, E 39.50709)- going to the rig on a desert island (N -8.38182, E 39.57442). But with the usual constraints of time, I didn’t get a chance to visit the 15th century (IIRC) Sultan’s palace at Kilwa. The Arabs had been trading (slaves, gold from Great Zimbabwean, cloth …) up and down that coast for centuries if not millennia by then.

      2. in the Middle East, China and Mesoamerica, and maybe Egypt

        The last time I looked, I thought the understanding was that the Semitic writing systems (including Phoenician, hence Greek, hence Latin) were derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.
        Where that leaves cuneiform (one writing systems, multiple languages), Linear A (untranslated), the Phaistos script (a hapax legomenon of scripts)… ?

      3. One of the things that really ought to be pointed out is that the Queen lived a life of opulence beyond what most could even dream of, and in her death all we hear about is her wonderful execution of duty (which she did as well as one could ask, to be fair). It’s hard to gel that opulence with the contrasting reports of the struggles many British have gone and are going through during her long reign.

        The whole thing feels quite perverse really, and in her death all the gratuitous things about the monarchy are currently off the table. And in Australia, it’s not the right time to question why our head of state is a figurehead half a world away. So hail to the King, I guess…

        1. Yes – the way she wielded scissors cutting ribbons was indeed something to behold! And boy, launching ships – be still my beating heart!

  2. … authority and mystery — two deeply human needs …

    Sez who?

    As for mystery, one can find all one needs in the as-yet unresolved (and, perhaps, unresolvable) questions posed by science.

    And as for authority, it ought in the main to be resisted and put to a heavy burden justifying its exercise.

  3. Here’s the thing about the Queen as I see it. She was born to a position of great responsibility not just to the people of the United Kingdom, but to the Commonwealth and the colonies. She could, in theory, have walked away from her responsibilities like her uncle did. She chose not to do that, as she had undoubtedly been raised. Through the transformation of the post-war UK and de-colonization of the Empire, as well as the changing nature of the monarchy, she kept to it, and did the best she could, which seems to have actually been a good job. This is especially so given the shrunken power of the Crown since the death of Victoria. It’s easy to damn Elizabeth as the representative of bloody Colonialism, but she merely inherited (literally) the problem. Dealing with it was the right thing to do, and I respect her for it.

    1. She could, in theory, have walked away from her responsibilities like her uncle [insertion] did.

      [insertion] and one of her children, too. And she signed her descendents out of the firing line too, once they had been born. (I assume there was some problem with doing it pre-emptively.)

    2. I completely agree DrBrydon. She was born into wealth, but she was placed in a position few of us would envy. She accepted and discharged the enormous responsibilities of her position with integrity and commitment that few could manage. She always behaved in an exemplary manner, and remained completely discreet throughout eight decades of public life.

      There is much disinformation about the Queen being bandied about, and I think it’s important to put the record straight. She played a huge and active role in the deconstruction of the British Empire, and was committed to the process of decolonisation. The nonsense in the NYT about her being a colonial, racist figurehead could not be farther from the truth. Such notions arise from plain ignorance and more than a touch of just making things up. Anyone who knows history will realise how silly the NYT narrative really is.

      I’m no fan of the Royals, or of monarchy in general. However, I think it’s only fair to treat people on their own merits. From my QEII was a lady of distinction, both in terms of her morality and her sense of duty. That said, I’d be perfectly happy to get rid of the lot of ’em, and replace them with something less anachronistic.

  4. All this is much ado about nothing. Monarchies are like one long Seinfeld episode, although less significant and far less funny. I

      1. I think Bob’s comment was directed to the merit (or, rather, lack thereof) of monarchies themselves, Jerry, rather than to the content of your post.

  5. Every Brit has a memory like this. She was part of every family’s consciousness, woven into the stories of our lives, representing a continuity and stability over decades of massive change and dislocation. No American will ever experience that kind of comfort, that very human form of patriotism across the decades in one’s own life …

    For an earlier generation of Americans, I’d say that role was filled — through the Great Depression, and through The War, and, even after her husband’s death, through the early Cold War and the Red Scare — by Eleanor Roosevelt (except maybe as to FDR haters, whose hatred he welcomed).

    1. I think that quote sums up why many of us feel strangely sad, while finding the monarchy as an institution hard to justify on any rational basis. A friend wrote to me: “I too am surprisingly affected by the news. I guess she was queen for my whole life and it’s an adjustment to know that era is over.”

      But the saturation media coverage in NZ is hard to take, especially when there are a few other things going on elsewhere in the world, especially in Ukraine. Although I suppose it’s a change from saturation coverage of Maori Language Week.

      1. Saturation in the newspapers as they clean out the files but you wouldn’t notice anything had happened wandering around town yesterday.

    2. I like how Sullivan, a multimillionaire expat who’s lived in the US for 40 years, claims to know what ‘every Brit’ has a memory of. I’m a Brit and I have no such memories; she isn’t ‘part of my consciousness’, unless seeing constant news stories in the Daily Mail about their private lives counts. Most Brits are concerned with paying their energy bills, getting a doctor’s appointment. A lot of elderly people will die this winter due to their inabilty to pay their bills. I doubt the media outlets will care all that much.

      1. A lot of elderly people will die this winter due to their inabilty to pay their bills.

        Note for Americans : that’s heating bills, not medical bills.

        1. Richard Johnson, writing in The Critic, remarked that the monarchy has served the Labour agenda well:

          “Under the British constitution, real power is vested in whichever party can command a simple majority in the House of Commons. This has allowed Labour governments to implement powerful social changes: the nationalisation of industry, the socialisation of the health service, the decolonisation of the Empire, the expansion of mass education, the widening of the social safety net, and the proliferation of rights for ordinary workers. In all of these battles, echoing Lansbury, Attlee reflected, “Capitalism, not monarchy, was the enemy”. So it remained the case throughout the second Elizabethan era. At no point did any of her prime ministers face the slightest resistance from Her Majesty in their projects of social and economic reform. Instead, all spoke warmly of the wise counsel and support she showed them.
          In contrast, we have seen how republics, even those with ostensibly figurehead presidents, can see governments and their agendas thwarted by this additional political veto player. Recently, Italy’s supposedly largely ceremonial president has operated as an instrument of European financiers blocking governments who are perceived as threatening the status quo. The British monarch has no such authority to behave similarly. “

  6. Has the NYT ever bemoaned the following omissions? (a) No authority in the Muslim world has ever “acknowledged” the bloody Arab/Islamic imperial conquests of the 7th-8th centuries; (b) nobody in Mongolia has ever apologized for Genghis Khan; (c) not a soul in Russia has ever lamented the 5 centuries of continuous imperial expansion that produced the present shape of Russia (and underlies its current policy); (d) in Turkey, it is illegal today to acknowledge the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of the Armenians; and so on. The predictable, tiresome woke scab-picking about the British Empire is best treated by administering a balanced assessment, such as Niall Ferguson’s “Empire: the Rise and Demise of the British World Order”.

    1. And, to my knowledge, the NYT has never bemoaned the actions of the Africans and Arabs who enslaved other Africans and sold them to the Europeans in the first place.

      We hear a lot these days about the need to restore looted treasures to the nations we stole them from, such as the Benin Bronzes. Quite right; so we should. And perhaps we should also remember how the Benin kingdom acquired its great wealth. Yes, in part, from slavery.

      While we’re at it, has the NYT ever given any credit to the UK for its part in suppressing the slave trade, decades after we had abolished it ourselves? I won’t wait up for the answer.

  7. The Queen had no governmental power, so it seems unfair to fault her personally for misdeeds perpetrated by the British government. As a figurehead, she endured being an object of both praise or criticism depending on the commentator. Either she had a thick skin for criticism, or knowing she was a figurehead, she managed not to take the slings and arrows personally. Either way, she was a living symbol, not a political operative. It’s sad that some commentators feel the need to mete out criticism against a person on the occasion of her death.

    Suppose for a moment we were to think of the Queen literally as a symbol, such as a flag is a symbol. Just as one would not truly believe the British flag was at fault for certain wrongs perpetrated by the British government, we shouldn’t truly believe that the British Queen was at fault for those wrongs either. The Queen’s great strength was in maintaining her dignity as the symbol of Britannia, even as British governments through the years committed deeds both good and bad. Her job was not to waver, and she did that admirably. It wasn’t easy being a symbol with little power to act.

    Indeed the British monarchy is an anachronism. But it’s their anachronism and Britons seem to want to keep it. There’s also the entertainment value. 🙂

      1. Oops. My bad. It’s Norman. I caught it and tried to edit it, but the site didn’t allow me to edit my name.

    1. I agree with you whole heartedly here Norma(n).
      If the UK went to a republic with a symbolic president would the parliamentary antics change much. If parliament brought before the Queen (now a King) a really odious piece of legislation, she could have precipitated a constitutional crisis and not sign it. Would have been interesting.

      Would the UK “nationalize” all the Windsor properties on going to a republic? Having said that the Belgium monarchy seems much less ostentatious.

    2. But it’s their anachronism and Britons seem to want to keep it.

      Speak for yourself ; you don’t speak for me.
      The fetid tide of Liz-o-mania is doing wonders for the Republican wing of the Scottish Independence movement. We’ll be rid of the Saxe-Coburgs within the foreseeable future.

  8. My feelings on Sullivan mirror what someone once said of Churchill: when he’s right, he’s right (and both Sullivan and Churchill were right on a couple big things), but when he’s wrong, oh my god.

    Both are/were also damn good at wielding The Queen’s (er, now once again, The King’s) English.

  9. Sullivan (an undeniably evocative writer) tell us: “When I grew up studying the Normans and the Plantagenets and the Tudors, they were not just artifacts of the distant past, but deeply linked to the present by the monarchy’s persistence and the nation’s thousand-year survival as a sovereign state.” What amuses me about this attitude is that the current monarchs represent, not the Normans or Plantagenets or Tudors, but rather Haus Hannover and Haus Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha. For that matter, the Normans descended from Vikings who took over a stretch of NW France, became civilized by eating coquilles St. Jacques, and then took over England. The Swedes, who are similarly fond of their more modest monarchy, overlook the fact that it descends from a French general. The only monarch in the world with a lineage actually indigenous to his domain might be Tupou VI, King of Tonga.

    1. Well… Japan’s is very indigenous to its domain.
      When I lived in Tokyo as a younger man I was always interested in their monarchy which, to some extent, has borrowed its aesthetics and dynamics from the House of Windsor (after the war that is, during and leading up to the war it was a martial cult, mixed in with a lot of samurai nonsense, before THAT is was just a low key religious thing).
      The (deeply corrupt) Tongan royal family is quite a trip.

    2. Now you’ve given me an appetite for scallops, Jon, or maybe for conquering England — or maybe both, who knows? We’ll have to see how the rest of the evening goes. 🙂

      1. or maybe for conquering England

        You’ve learned from Hadrian, Antoninus, Severus, and William the Bastard, and will be stopping just north of Newcastle?

  10. “And she was, of course, a white face on all the coins, notes and stamps circulated in a rapidly diversifying nation.”
    So we go from colonization to imperialism to the crime of having a “white face”?
    What other possible color would a British monarch have? What color was Alfred the Great?
    Does opening your country to immigration mean that your people and its rulers and traditions automatically become suspect and prime for interrogation and deconstruction?
    Academic leftists in their fanatical devotion to “antiracism” seem to have developed an ugly and reflexive anti-white bias.

    1. You’re correct, except for the part about “seem to have developed”. It always was an attack against a certain group.

  11. In this context, I found this video from 1953, reposted a few weeks ago, remarkable:

    It’s the first ever TV appearance of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, who was imprisoned by the British for years. He was in Britain for the Coronation and 1953, and was asked why he and other Indians at the time felt so little bitterness.

    There seems to be increasing bitterness among the younger generation in the former colonies. Here in NZ it seems to be the younger generation of Māori who are most disgruntled at the legacy of colonialism. The older co-leader of the Māori party, Rawiri Waititi, made a most gracious statement on the death of the queen:

    “We all mourn the passing of this Ariki. The huge vacuum left will cause debate, but in this time of grief and loss we can only support her Whānau and Mokopuna as they grieve and heal. She was a constant across three generations, an anchor in a rapidly changing globe.”

  12. As you have established that the function of the monarchy is representative, it also represents the colonial past. Of course. The monarchy is about a continuity that persists through the centuries, administrations, and prime ministers, and it does continue through their royal family into the future. That’s the one thing. Monarchy symbolises a tradition, and it has to represent all the facets, not just the ones that someone personally likes.

    Elizabeth II indeed is not personally responsible for what happened before her reign. But as a monarch and symbol, it was still her function to carry the torch. I thought that’s the whole job. Just as it will be for the future monarchs. When you take over an organisation that did bad things before you took over, you can‘t say it got nothing to do with you, and carry on as if that settles it (especially not when you are only in charge now because you are from that blood, and your wealth and position is founded also on that past). At the very least, you would have to acknowledge the reality of the bad things, and make amends. The NYT says via the Guardian, that Colonial Era records were destroyed, …

    “These papers give the instructions for systematic destruction issued in 1961 after Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies, directed that post-independence governments should not get any material that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government”, that could “embarrass members of the police, military forces, public servants or others eg police informers”, that might compromise intelligence sources, or that might “be used unethically by ministers in the successor government”

    Elizabeth II coronation was in 1953. I think it’s fair to put it at the monarch’s doorstep how it went on from a colonial past. Regardless of whether she was involved in this particular policy, she could have done something. This sweeping under the carpet seems well in line with her attitude.

    Regardless, I don’t have strong feelings about this. I take it as evident that Britain and many other nations weren’t forced to confront their own past. I can understand that especially ex-colonial “subjects” take the opportunity now to bring it up.

    1. Well, maybe for some ex-colonial subjects. The ones who were actually colonized by the British. But not Uju Anya. Her family is Igbo from Nigeria, and the people who colonized and oppressed and killed her people were other Nigerians. Anya herself is American, educated at Dartmouth & Brown & UCLA, and now a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon. She’s among the least oppressed people on the planet.

      1. Well, the fact that she’s Igbo puts a different complection on things. Some of us remember, as if it was yesterday, the Biafran War of Independence in 1968 – or Nigerian Civil War if you prefer – in which the British government of Harold Wilson was complicit in the starving to death of thousands of Biafrans. I still regard it as the most shameful act of the British Government in my lifetime. You can’t blame the Queen herself, but It does make Uni Anya’s feelings more understandable

  13. It seems that Britain and other western nations are acknowledging their colonial past.

    In a recent New Zealand article (Miles, 2022), Donna Miles, a Muslim woman from Iran and whose opinion pieces I enjoy, says that people who come from the Middle East know only too well that much of their history, and the everyday violence that happens there, are shaped by imperial interests. We can agree, so long as we remember that corruption, disunity and the incompetence of their own leaders play a big part too (Donna’s words), and that certain nations within that region have a history of belligerence.

    Donna reminds us that there is nothing new about settler colonial occupation of other people’s lands. She tells us that our own country, and countries like Canada, Australia and the United States, were all formed by the forcible confiscation of land and suppression of indigenous people. We may agree with Donna’s assessment of history and it does seem strange that the Balfour Declaration of 1917, announcing support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, was issued by the British Government rather than Governments deriving from within the region.

    Donna goes on to assert that it is blatant inequality, persistent dismissal of the Palestinian desire for statehood and self-determination that makes it impossible to achieve peace there. Donna makes her point very forcibly here but, again, the picture is complex and there is fault on both sides – both Israelis and Palestinians.

    However, colonialism, expansion and warmongering did not begin with the arrival of Europeans. Islamic nations also engaged in conquest, as did African and other tribes and, indeed, indigenous Irish people, indigenous British people, indigenous Europeans and Māori. Perhaps the difference lies in the scale of colonialism and plunder of the resources of other peoples, made possible only because of the much greater level of military capability attained by Great Britain and other European nations.

    The trend of today is to blame colonialism for much of the world’s ills and for certain present-day inequities and, indeed, colonialism has most probably left a residue of inequity and cultural damage. However, colonialism brought benefits too – education, legal structures and improved health. The world is now different from the world of the nineteen-hundreds and attitudes have reoriented towards greater tolerance and inclusion.

    In addition, if we adopt the same duty of care in examining the cultures of non-Western societies, we may see factions within them that share similar levels of narrow-mindedness as we see in certain communities within the West. Perhaps, in-group/out-group behaviors and other negative attitudes towards others who are different from ourselves is a feature of the evolutionary biology of our species and maybe some of us retain vestiges of primal thinking.

    Surely we must eventually conclude that the best way forward is through impartiality and calling out injustice wherever it occurs and regardless of who dispenses the injustice. There is no such thing as an exclusively guilty or exclusively innocent community or group, and possibly there is no such thing as an exclusively evil or exclusively honorable leader. Perhaps the world’s media will recognize that most often there is more than one side to a political or social issue and that it has the power to influence public thinking for good, but also for ill, and finally that it is possible, very easy in fact, to vilify a person or group or nation through the power of the written word.

    David Lillis

    Miles, Donna (2022). The imperial curse that continues to haunt the Middle East.

  14. The NYT article is simply stating one of the key tenets of ‘Wokeism’, that each individual white is personally responsible for the collective crimes of their race.

    1. To be fair, we’re talking about the literal Queen of England here, in relationship to the last stages of the British Empire. I don’t think we’re exactly in “First they came for …” territory here.

    2. One of the commentators to this article put it well:

      “Yes, we all know that the British Empire of old, as well as the entire last ten-thousand years of our human dominated planet was mostly a brutal place, ran largely by horrible people. Must everything we have and do today constantly remind people like you of whatever the worst things that happened in past centuries were? Will you not feel satisfied until we all confess deep guilt and infinite, unwavering personal responsibility for the collective sins of our human heritage?… History is there to be learned from, not forcibly worn as a crown of thorns.” (AndyW)

      That last line is memorable.

  15. I’ve had an ear worm running between my ears since I got the news that QE II had died. It’s a ditty from the Beatles’ catalogue that goes, “Our queen is a pretty nice gal…”, and that’s how I look at her, a pretty nice gal, like my mom.

  16. If I were going to design a country’s government from scratch, I probably wouldn’t come up with a hereditary monarch. But the British system evolved over centuries through confrontation, civil war and revolution to achieve a balance of powers and responsibilities between the head of state and representative government. Replacing that system with another system would inevitably introduce new instabilities, which is why I think there is still a large part of the UK and the Commonwealth who favour retaining the monarchy. Surely it’s up to the people of those countries to decide which system works for them?

    1. Exactly. And on the occasions when it has been polled or voted on in the Commonwealth, the majority are still in favour of retaining it. As a New Zealander, getting rid of the monarchy would make no meaningful difference to our lives whatsoever – and in the UK, the problems are at the level of the parliament/house of commons; the monarch is an apolitical figurehead with no say in policy – so why bother getting rid of something that provides a) a historical link back through time that is part of British culture and b) the only example of self-sacrifice that we have left in our rapidly-declining society, bloated with self-serving narcissists? The charity and patronage work done by members of the Royal Family is huge. The list of organisations that the Duke of Edinburgh was actively involved in over the years was astonishing, the ‘Duke of Edinburgh Award’ being an important one for young people when I was growing up. As for “a backlash against the Queen, especially in the US”, I fail to see what it has to do with the US. It’s not 1775. The US should focus on its own problems, e.g. having major decisions handed down by a panel of extremely partisan judges who were not elected by anybody, with massive real-life consequences for many people!

      1. I agree. Although Americans do not see eye to eye with Commonwealth nations for historical reasons, in Canada, where we are also governed under a parliament/house of commons model, it is humbling to know that our leaders still have to account to a higher establishment — in theory.

  17. One of the key criticisms of conservatism is that it seeks to recreate an idyllic past that did not really exist.
    It is my suspicion that many of the rabidly anti-colonialist voices are people who believe that those colonies, before European contact, were pastoral Edens, and that had they not been colonized, they would be utopias.

    I believe some of the vitriol against ER is coming from a uniquely modern form of narcissism, which seems partly to blame for the same people wanting all the statues to come down. Just the idea that someone might be revered enough that someone would build a statue of that person is offensive to them.

    It reminds me of the scene in Gilliam’s Munchausen, where the officer who performed singular acts of bravery and heroism was sentenced to execution because his exploits were demoralizing to regular folk.

    Most of us here are probably not big fans of royalty as a concept, but if we were stuck with a regent, it would be pretty hard to imagine someone doing a better job than she did. The people venting their rage at ER do not seem in the least like they are virtuous people, or that they have motives that anyone should emulate.

    1. You could make an argument that the New York Times flaunts its wokeness by snide comments about Britain (after voting for Brexit) amongst other things – like the 1619 Project. The treatment of the death of the Queen is yet another handy stick to beat those awful unprogressive Brits with.

      But wokeness is a poisoned chalice. The more one parades woke virtues the more clearly irrational those virtues become. The ‘paper of record’ should avoid appearing irrational.

  18. London bridge has fallen…

    The queen reminds me of my late grandmother who died last Summer at the age of 97. She was a bit older than her majesty, and an American with a genealogy going back to the Mayflower. You know, I wish I would have asked her (sheesh, I had at least 40 years to do it) what she thought about the queen. I think my family has a general respect for the queen herself, but not the institution.

    Back to my grandmother, she had a simple view of life. She didn’t delve into anything deep. Typical baptist, really. No drinking (a little wine), no cursing, no smoking, drugs (except prescribed)…you get the picture. God as centerpiece of life. But she had those endearing and ineffable qualities of creating calm, comfort and normalcy (as intangible as that is). When I read the Readers here describing how they thought of the queen, I kept thinking of grandma. So I want to thank everyone for that. I was surprised at the emotions that bubbled up. I like the idea of a queen better than that of a king for whatever reason.

    Now I’m rambling. Good night.

  19. One of the things that really ought to be pointed out is that the Queen lived a life of opulence beyond what most could even dream of, and in her death all we hear about is her wonderful execution of duty (which she did as well as one could ask, to be fair). It’s hard to gel that opulence with the contrasting reports of the struggles many British have gone and are going through during her long reign.

    The whole thing feels quite perverse really, and in her death all the gratuitous things about the monarchy are currently off the table. And in Australia, it’s not the right time to question why our head of state is a figurehead half a world away. So hail to the King, I guess…

  20. I give up. I will not be lectured by the woke, and especially not on why our monarchy is evil incarnate. I’m likely to resort to something uncharacteristic if faced with that in person. It was 244 years ago you decided to stick your middle finger up at King George. We got the message. Isn’t it about time you put it behind you? Maybe, to go ‘all Biblical on you’, stop worrying about the mote in our eye and address the other thing?

    1. I’m British, Christopher, and I agree that I don’t need to be lectured on the evil of this, or that, committed by my forebears hundreds of years ago. That said, I do object to your use of ‘we’ and ‘you’ in your comment, as it just strengthens and perpetuates the ideas that are used to justify and prolong these petty disagreements.

      I’m certain there are better ways of referring to those involved. By saying ‘we’ got the message, you are claiming to speak for me as a British person, but you don’t speak for me. Constructing this ‘them’ and ‘us’ version of reality on which to base your arguments is just silly. It also comes across as angry and needlessly confrontational.

      There is no need to feel insulted or disrespected just because someone talks about your head of state in a manner with which you disagree. Life’s too short mate.

  21. I’m no monarchist but QEII was a part of my entire life as a Canadian and it was a part of being Canadian and something we shared and felt a sense of community with other commonwealth countries. There is a similarity to former commonwealth nations with a constitutional monarchy like Canada, Australia, New Zealand that I feel is missing when I go to the US and that to me is interesting seeing as Canada shares so much culture and language with the US. I don’t know how this will go in the future. The idea of Charles III on the money is unsavoury to me.

    I have read comments on FB about colonialism all spewed from the woke. I think it is whataboutery. We all know colonialism was the embodiment of ideas we find repugnant and that it did terrible cultural harm, however we are trying to reconcile some of that now at least in English speaking former colonies of the British Empire. And to celebrate QEII’s death and pin all the evils of colonialism on her only illustrates the key tenet of wokeism: no redemption. I hardly think QEII held the same repugnant ideas as her ancestors as we ourselves have dismissed the repugnant ideas of our own ancestors, yet she must never be forgiven and must be eternally punished just as those with a “white face” must also be eternally punished.

  22. I rather think if Jasanoff lives in the US she is not in a position to comment on racism in the UK. Though it undoubtedly exists.

    Personally I hate the rich! Off with their heads!! Including the intelligentsia! 🤩

    Is Jasanoff equally as critical of other empires & their misdeeds? I am not sure the British one, bad as it was in many respects, & now long gone, was any worse than others, like the French or American.

  23. What a difference 10 years makes. I met Maya Jasanoff a couple of times and admired her courage in researching and publishing loyalism among subject peoples of the Empire. I even defended her at a conference from a glib, woke delegate who rubbished her as reactionary. Now, I fear, the forces of wokery have got to her and this is reflected in her comments on HM. I wrote to MJ telling her off for not being the Maya I admire. No reply yet. One thing she should consider – the late Queen had a wonderful humility, an ability to admire people arguably greater than her – Nelson Mandela springs to mind. It’s not a quality very common in academe. I hope Maya will reflect on this – me, I’m glad to be out of an academy I once loved!

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