King empire

Queen Elizabeth’s funeral ushers in the era of the Hobbit King

Jhe queen is dead. Long live the king. How strange, archaic and theatrical, moving and melancholic this process is, mixing the worlds of King Arthur and Netflix. We are often told that it is this link with the deep past that gives meaning to the monarchy. But as the world prepares for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London tomorrow, the unchanging continuity is less significant than the subtle evolution of the nation behind it.

By burying its oldest monarch, Britain is also burying a part of itself: the country it once was but no longer is. And that’s how it should be. When the Queen’s father, King George VI, was laid to rest in 1952, Britain said goodbye to its last imperial monarch, the man who had served as Emperor of India. With his death, followed 13 years later by that of Winston Churchill, the imperial era passed. Elizabeth’s legacy in 1952 – despite much of the American commentary over the past week – was the first Publishimperial crown in British history. Elizabeth was not the monarch of an empire, but of a loose, global Commonwealth sitting awkwardly in a distinctly American imperium. And yet his was still a global role. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen, was a totem of this global Britain, erected just as the tide of British power was beginning its long turn towards the shore.

Tomorrow’s ceremony in London therefore not only marks the end of a reign, but the passage of an era. It is hard to imagine that London will again witness such a gathering of world leaders. In 1952, after all, President Harry Truman did not deem it necessary to attend King George VI’s funeral, despite the bond forged during World War II. Today, the American Caesar himself will arrive, alongside the Emperor of Japan, the President of France, the King of Spain and countless other royals, dignitaries and prime ministers. Like the Japanese maple that filled Clive James’ imagination at the end of his life, Elizabeth’s funeral offers “a vision of a world that shone so brightly at the end, then faded away “.

The queen leaves behind a completely different crown from the one she inherited: not worldwide, but national. Charles is the head of the Commonwealth, like his mother, and the king of Australia, New Zealand and Canada as well as the United Kingdom. But in 1952, when Elizabeth was crowned, Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies was unashamed to declare himself British. This world is gone.

Some will see only shame in this narrowing of Britain’s horizons. To them, perhaps, Charles is an embarrassing emblem of Brexit Britain, a country that has turned in on itself – no longer the country of Elizabeth, but one of a new, lackluster provincialism. made all the more absurd by Britain’s apparent desire to cling to lost greatness. I’m afraid to see almost the opposite.

Far from resisting such royal parochialism, Britain should embrace Charles as the emblem of its new normal age. Very few people in the world know the names of Dutch, Danish or Norwegian monarchs, but their citizens are much more prosperous and their kingdoms more settled. If Charles joins them in relative anonymity, that should be celebrated.

In 1962, a decade into Britain’s second Elizabethan era, the great American Dean Acheson caused real hurt and anger in London by declaring that Britain had lost an empire but had yet to found a role. Elizabeth’s entire reign was filled with her leading ministers searching for the answer to this challenge. But with his death, Britain can stop its research. Not playing a central role in the great game is a perfectly noble aspiration, a liberating opportunity – and one that King Charles is well placed to symbolize.

Jhere is a poignant picture from the young Queen Elizabeth returning from Kenya after the sudden death of her father in 1952, from the stiff, grim backs of Britain’s greatest generation of leaders waiting on the tarmac at Heathrow to welcome their new ruler. From left to right we see Winston Churchill, Labor leader Clement Attlee and Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, each a staunch monarchist committed to maintaining Britain’s power and influence in the world. In 1956, no one was in power. Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister after Britain’s humiliation at Suez, the lion’s last roar.

Macmillan was the first of the British prime ministers to conclude that the answer to Acheson’s famous question was Europe. If Britain could only fight its way into the big new federal scheme underway on the Continent, it would be able to protect its global influence. From the start, therefore, joining Europe was not motivated by a realization by Damascus that decline was inevitable – an acceptance of post-imperial reality – but by the conviction that such a decline could be avoided. It was the same conviction that led Charles de Gaulle to block British entry, because he too saw Europe as the means to protect national greatness. If Europe has been the means of a country’s resurrection, that country is Germany, not Britain or France.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Europe was seen as the answer to Britain’s problems, the spur to economic reform and the solution to its lost role in the world. All prime ministers who followed Macmillan shared this conclusion, including Boris Johnson. Each placed the maintenance of British radiation at the center of their foreign policy, just like Churchill, Attlee and Eden. Even today, the government of Liz Truss, like that of Johnson, promises to create a new global britain.

Brexit, like Queen Elizabeth, is often explained as an artifact of latent British imperialism. While there is no doubt that some Brexiteers yearn for a lost era of British greatness, Brexit is far less an expression of imperial nostalgia than a reflection of longing. not have a global role: return to the hole of the hobbit and remain alone to preserve the Shire. It was those who favored keeping Britain in Europe who feared the loss of British prestige, power and influence on the Continent, and who spoke of disappointing the Americans and the country finding itself isolated.

“It was Frodo and Sam’s own country,” JRR Tolkien wrote in the last chapters of The Lord of the Rings. “And they found out now that they care more than any other place in the world.” He spoke of his own feelings, but also of the deep feeling of old England.

In Tolkien’s epic, the Shire had been monstrously transformed as the hobbits went on adventures. “The pleasant row of ancient hobbit holes on the bank on the north side of the pool was deserted, and their little gardens which stretched to the water’s edge were full of weeds”, Tolkien wrote. “And looking in dismay at the road to Bag End, they saw in the distance a tall brick chimney. It poured black smoke into the evening air.

This kind of localism is, I think, much closer to the driving impulse of Brexit than is the desire for a return to global power. It was the impetus that saw Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, opposed to any British intervention abroad and determined to rebuild the Britain that briefly existed in his post-war youth, come close to power in 2017. This is the impetus behind the desire to “take back control” in order to spend less money on the European Union and more on the national health service. It is the desire to retain what exists at home, not the desire to retain British power abroad.

Today, whatever the good and bad sides of Brexit, the instinct to return to the Shire seems entirely reasonable. Britain, like the Shire, has no shortage of problems that need repair. Much of the country is poor by European standards. The nation itself seems to have lost the sense of collective identity necessary for any country to hold together for very long, and dissident nationalists rule in two parts of the kingdom.

Going back to the hobbit hole doesn’t mean Britain has to stop caring about the world beyond the Shire. He can continue to arm and train Ukrainians, using his voice in the UN Security Council and NATO. But it means making decisions free from the incessant desire to protect radiation.

“When things are in danger: someone must give them up, lose them, so others can keep them,” says Frodo after deciding he must leave the Shire. Maybe it’s the same with Elizabeth.

Iin many ways Charles is remarkably well suited to the role of Hobbit King now open to him. Like George III, the man who ruined America and embraced its “farmer George” image, there’s something about the bluffing country squire about Charles. He is much more interested in the advantages of traditional English hurdles than in the great world glory of Britain. Its orientation seems more national than international.

Today, Charles is more obviously the heir of British Tolkienism than of his mother’s Elizabethan globalism. Like Tolkien, Charles’s conservationism is both romantic and puzzling, so Tory in his instincts ends up having much more in common with modern left-wing environmentalism than the free-market ideology of today’s right. today. The growth at all costs that Liz Truss wants After tall chimneys, no less.

During Charles’ early days on the job, he gave an indication of the national role he clearly feels he should play by visiting England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The very fact that Charles’ first act was to visit each of the original four nations of his kingdom is an indication of the fragility of that kingdom. Even in his speeches, when he speaks of his “kingdoms” abroad, he does not speak as an equally Australian monarch, but as a predominantly British monarch.

Ultimately, it will not be Charles who will define his age. His crown sits atop a nation constantly built and rebuilt by others. Voters and British leaders will decide what kind of country Britain wants to be. Is it global, European or national? Maybe a little of each. Does he wish to be British, however, or English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish? With Elizabeth coming of age, Britain seems unclear as to the answer.

If we find ourselves here 20 years from now, burying Charles, the age that bears his name will not be judged by his reputation around the world or the number of presidents who show up to pay his respects. Whether or not Australia has become a republic will not matter. If the realm itself remains united, the Shire settled and prosperous, and the hedgerows well tended, Caroline’s age will be considered a success.

For one more day, London is the center of the world; then Britain should embrace the beauty of its autumn days.

The Queen of the World is dead; long live the hobbit king.