Vivat Regina!

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Today, Queen Elizabeth II becomes the longest reigning British monarch, surpassing her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Elizabeth acceded to the throne on the death of her father, George VI in 1952. She has been described as an "accidental queen," advancing to heir presumptive when her uncle Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 and her father, Prince Albert, the Duke of York, became King George VI.

The birth of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor on April 21, 1926 was a relatively minor event for a world teetering between two world wars and just three years away from the Great Depression.

The curly-haired "Lilibet" was destined for marriage, not the throne.

But after reigning for just 325 days, her childless uncle Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American.

Princess Elizabeth's father inherited the crown as George VI and she suddenly became heir to the throne.

When the young Elizabeth and her sister Margaret had to move to Buckingham Palace she asked her nanny: "What, you mean forever?"

On her 21st birthday she vowed to spend her life serving her country....

Queen Elizabeth's first prime minister was Winston Churchill, a man who had served in the army of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

By the time the current holder of that job, David Cameron, was born in 1966, she had already been monarch for 14 years.

"The first time she saw [Cameron] he was playing a rabbit in a school production in which her son Prince Edward was taking part," royal historian Hugo Vickers said.

"He is the man from whom she now takes formal advice."

Mark Steyn takes the occasion to reflect upon the nature of monarchy and the increasingly monarchical presidency:

There have been moments in the last 63 years when one might have wished for a little more imagination from the Queen. But in an undeferential and unmonarchical age she has played a difficult hand very shrewdly. The picture at top right was taken by my beloved daughter during the Diamond Jubilee year. My little girl has met many celebrities, from Macaulay Culkin all the way to Lindsey Graham (at the local fair last month), but she thought the Queen was very "cool" in the way she didn't feel the need to work the room. What I liked that day was the way she didn't bother with the 40-car motorcade - just a vehicle in front of a couple of coppers, and one behind with another copper and a lady-in-waiting, all of whom would take a bullet for her, which I cannot reliably say of those Secret Service guys cavorting with their Cartagena hookers. At any rate, my daughter got within a foot of the Queen, which she'll never do with Obama or Hillary when they're conveyed by their motorcades to a simulacrum of a visit to an ice-cream parlor on Martha's Vineyard and the surrounding streets are closed and vacuumed of all non-credentialed persons. The citizen-executive has become, as Adams proposed, His Mostly Benign Highness: a distant, all-powerful sovereign -- but kindly, and generous with his food stamps, if merciless with his IRS audits.

Monarchy is not to everyone's taste, of course, least of all the pundit class in Fleet Street. But it's interesting to note that their main objection to the Royal Family these days is not that they are an affront to the masses in a democratic age, but that they're way too popular. This is republicanism as class marker: Apparently, the only argument against an anachronistic, out-of-touch hereditary family ruling by divine right is that they appeal to the basest instincts of the proletariat. I remember, years ago, being told by a Hampstead intellectual that the problem with the Queen was that she was too middle class. Today, for Britain's elites, monarchy is simply too, too common. For most of the rest of us, by comparison with all the alternatives, Elizabeth II has been for 63 years about the least worst person to have to live under.

Steyn reprises his column to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, pondering the success of Elizabeth's realms among the community of nations. For she is also the monarch of Canada, Australia, New Zealand,

In the 2012 Heritage Foundation rankings of global economic freedom, eight of the top ten nations are current or former realms of the Crown, including the top four: Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand. So are about half of the 20 economies with the highest GDP per capita, and for large countries with populations over 20 million the top three is an Anglosphere sweep: Australia, Canada, the United States. Three-sevenths of the G7 are nations of British descent, and so are two-fifths of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Of course, no record is unblemished, and in the fringes and fag-ends of empire lurk Gaza, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

Nevertheless, from South Africa to India, today the key regional powers in almost every corner of the globe are British-derived -- and, even among the lesser players, as a general rule you're better off for having been exposed to British rule than not: Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados? Whatever part of the map you find yourself in, the surest guide to comparative rankings is which territories have been under the British Crown and which haven't.

The Queen could say all this, in one almighty blow-out Christmas message to remember, but it's not her style.

Is the monarchy anything to do with the unrivaled record of the Britannic inheritance? Working for the Free French in London during the war, Simone Weil found herself pondering why, among the European powers, only England had maintained 'a centuries-old tradition of liberty'. She was struck by the paradox of the Westminster system -- that ultimate power is vested in one who cannot wield it in any practical sense. Endowing the sovereignty of the nation in an absentee monarch -- as Australia does -- is an even more exquisite refinement of the Weil theory: vesting power in its literal rather than merely political absence.

What Malcolm Turnbull objects to most -- she doesn't live here! -- is what I find most appealing. A minimalist monarchy is perhaps the most benign form of government one could devise -- except that no hyper-rationalist would ever 'devise' such a thing at all.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 9, 2015 7:55 AM.

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