Queen Elizabeth II and the social utility of royal families Robert Reich

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Queen Elizabeth II and the social utility of royal families Robert Reich

Sep 8, 2022


The death of Queen Elizabeth II is not a tragedy. Her life was long and noble, in every sense of the word. That Britain mourns her passing itself signals something special about the relationship between the Brits and their Royal Family. For it is in fact their royal family – not just an archaic symbol of what remains of the British Empire but a living, breathing, soap-opera of a family that in the minds of many Brits symbolized modern-day Britain.

To those who say it’s bizarre for one of the world’s major democracies of the twenty-first century to cling to the fiction of royalty (and it is indeed a fiction – Queen Elizabeth II, and now her son, King Charles – have no tangible political power) I say this: It’s a relatively harmless fiction – and one that arguably meets the needs of people to gossip about, project upon, and vicariously live the lives of a storybook family that tries to be of service of the nation.

Here in America, many of us romanticize our presidents and their families, at least at the start of an administration. Remember Camelot? But because our presidents head the executive branch of the government, the two roles – the projected glamor and the political reality – often get confused, leaving us disappointed if not disgusted.

After Camelot came Lyndon Johnson who pulled up dogs by their ears. And then, eventually, Donald (“when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything”) Trump.

Britain’s government may seem drab and boring (Boris Johnson to the contrary notwithstanding) but is at least free to do its boring best. Here, we demand that our presidents and their spouses throw formal balls and state dinners, decorate the White House like a castle, appear in person at every major national anniversary or memorial or funeral, and always symbolize the nation.  I’m certainly not suggesting America have a royal family. Just that Britain’s infatuation with its own may have some social utility there that we Yanks don’t understand.  

May Queen Elizabeth II RIP.LikeCommentShareYou’re a free subscriber to Robert Reich’s newsletter. For the full experience, become a paid subscriber.© 2022 Robert Reich
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