By Philip S. Powell, 9 September 2015
Queen Elizabeth II has now become Britain's longest-reigning monarch, surpassing the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria of 63 years, 216 days. Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne on 6 February 1952 at the age 25, upon the death of her father, King George VI. When she became Queen, Stalin was still leader of the USSR and Truman President of the US. Twelve British Prime Ministers have served the Queen, starting with Sir Winston Churchill to the present PM David Cameron, along with 14 New Zealand Prime Ministers, 13 Australian Prime Ministers and 11 Canadian Prime Ministers during her long reign. This is a remarkable achievement for any one individual.
I’ve been living in England since 1998 but remain a citizen of India. Britain and India continue to shape who I am and this bi-cultural belonging influences what I write. When India won her freedom from Britain in 1947, we decided to remain in the British Commonwealth but became a republic. We now have our own elected head of state. Queen Elizabeth II does not have the title ‘Empress of India’ given to Queen Victoria in 1876. I also have strong republican leanings. I agree with Immanuel Kant’s view in Perpetual Peace (1795) that "The Civil Constitution of Every State Should Be Republican" (Section II, The First Definitive Article). Kant was taking aim at Prussia’s Frederick the Great, implying that Europe’s royal families are a dying branch of humanity. Two hundred and twenty years after Kant wrote Perpetual Peace these dynastic families with extreme wealth and power seem to be going strong. Having said all that, on a day like today, I am deeply moved when I think about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
I don’t believe the Royal family or the Queen is above politics. True, she does not have a passport and never has to win an election to exercise her authority but that does not make hereditary heads of state non-political. She is part of the public life of our nation and is accountable to the power of Parliament. And yet her exercise of authority is different. Some might call this soft power. It is about the values she embodies and practices. The Queen, as a person of godly character with an extraordinary sense of duty, remains an unshakeable pillar of certain values through the vicissitudes of life over six decades. And it is this aspect of the Queen that we must acknowledge and appreciate.
Why do the values of leaders in public life matter? The people who govern, whether elected or unelected, do so based on a set of values that is at the core of who they are as individuals. These personal values matter and they impact the leader’s public role. Values are internal to a person, meaning they are invisible and non-material, but they are made visible in their manifestation through a person’s choices or preferences concerning behavior and courses of actions. The reason the Queen is so loved by people in Britain and around the world is because of the integrity of her character. Her popularity is not simply the success of the PR machinery behind her throne. As far as I can tell there is something genuinely righteous about her as a person and her credibility has stood the test of time. She is a virtuous woman who has served her people well. For this I am grateful along with millions of people around the world.
Let me end with the two middle paragraphs of God Save The Queen:
O Lord, our monarch bless
With strength and righteousness:
Long may she reign:
Her heart inspire and move
With wisdom from above;
And in a nation's love
Her throne maintain
May just and righteous laws
Uphold the public cause,
And bless our isle:
Home of the brave and free,
Thou land of liberty,
We pray that still on thee
Kind heaven may smile.
Indeed, may just and righteous law uphold the public cause of justice and God bless the Queen and the peoples of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth.