The passing of Canada’s monarch has raised many thoughts and feelings within me. The personal embodiment of the Crown, the Crown any of us in Canada have ever really known, died but the Crown endures and instantly is embodied in our new King. And he is our King much more so than the King.
Canada is a constitutional monarchy where the monarch is not here very often and it really costs us nothing which that means that we as a nation are generally agnostics when it comes to the underpinnings of our system of governance, the Crown. I reflect on all the ways the Crown is still part of our lives and am slightly surprised at how all pervasive it is. There is nothing new to me, I just never thought about all the aspects at once.
I work as a civil servant which means I work for the Crown. This really has always been an abstract thing for me, the legal construct we have to ensure we have a government. The Crown has evolved over the ages as the way for us to name the source of power for government. I work next door to what was the Queen’s Printer and is now the King’s Printer. The human aspects of the Crown have intersected with the governance aspects in ways like this because of the passing of Canada’s Queen.
There is something absurd about the very idea of the Crown but having the Crown means we have a monarch and there is always a human being that embodies it. It is only within a constitutional monarchy that the underpinnings of governance are given real human form that is truly apolitical. This matters and more than people think it does.
Constitutional monarchies, with all their preposterous traditions, are oddly the most stable and consistent form of government we humans have come up with. It was the established constitutional monarchies of the 30s that resisted fascism and totalitarianism. George Orwell made this observation at the time, and I always thought it was purely coincidental but as I reflect on this as King Charles has ascended to the throne, I think there is a lot more truth to this than I ever thought before.
This change in the Crown will be more noticeable than it might have been because the Crown has a gender. We have lived in a country where for the last 70 years the ultimate fount of governance was female in form and now it will be male. Most countries are “it”s but through the personal embodiment of the state in the monarch our country has a human gender. I have to wonder if part of reason constitutional monarchies seem to be immune to extremism is because the state is not a genderless object to be controlled by one political faction or another but has a tangible human component that remains above politics?
The Windsors are a family of privileged people who have many foibles. We have a whole celebrity culture built around them. It is this flawed humanity that has been why many of us in Canada have this agnostic feeling about the monarchy. In the 90s I lived in the UK and the monarchy was much present than I had ever experienced in Canada. My uncle had had a much more personal connection to the family than people in Canada ever have, he tried to get John Turner and Princess Margret together. I reflect back on our conversations about the institution, and I can see he had a wisdom about the humanity of the people who are quite literally stuck in the system.
Should we judge our recent Queen by the funny Paddington video she made this year, or should we judge her as the person that sacrificed her life to allow us in all her realms to have stable governments? And anyone that does not believe she sacrificed her chance to have a personal life does not understand what she did for 70 years. King Charles made mistakes as a human being in his life, but we should not judge him on any of that and should judge him about how he embodies the state and helps ensure stable and, ultimately, fair government.
I have a strong revolutionary and radical streak within me but for once I think I can say “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. For all the weirdness and human flaws, the system lumbers along and generally works.
I am trying to decide how to end this because the obvious ending is to say I am a monarchist now, but I can’t bring myself to say it. In keeping with the contradictions of the Crown, I remain a monarchical agnostic but do not support getting rid of it. All that is left to say is Long Live the King.