Queen Elizabeth II has passed away after 70 years on the throne. This is the longest reign of any British monarch and the second longest reign ever for the monarch of a sovereign country.
The United Kingdom has been plunged into a period of national heartbreak. Whether it be on social media, in people’s homes, or on the streets, British citizens everywhere have voiced their grief and condolences at the news.
And yet outsiders, especially libertarians, seem puzzled by this ostensibly bizarre, sentimental attachment the British have towards their ruler. How can a nation be so enamored with someone above their station?
When thinking about politics, libertarians can often become too focused on dry, abstract concepts, and overlook ones that many people value, notably culture, community, and history.
Queen Elizabeth II was a great unifier among the British people throughout the country’s ups and downs over the past 70 years. She was a constant figure to rally around who provided soul and national pride, someone who bound together the cultural heritage of the Commonwealth that makes trade and communication easier between peoples.
A representative for Britain across the world, utterly devoted to her duty with resolve, consistency, and humility.
She saw World War II and the ensuing rebuilding of the country, the troubles in Ireland, the Cold War, the industrial unrest that brought Britain to its knees, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more recently Brexit.
Yet to a libertarian, monarchy is a form of evil. If all humans are to be equal and free, then nobody should have unjustified authority over another; there must be legitimacy, and birthright is certainly not a source of legitimacy in the 21st century.
Of course, this is a completely valid principle on which to construct your politics. The problem is that the real world is not valid, nor is it principled. We are not starting from scratch; we are dealing with nations where institutions, customs, and networks have developed over time, all around the world.
Hierarchical authority exists in every system, whether it be democratic, fascist, communist, or even anarchist. The question of politics is to organize society so that said authority maximizes certain values.
Libertarianism is about the sanctity of the individual’s right to go about their life unhampered, on the condition that they do not harm others. Thus, society should be structured around that very principle.
Democracy is an important facet of this: it is the way we attempt to ensure accountability and renewal in governance. But democracy is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end.
Libertarian principles have a strong current of anti-politics. Political decision making, where collective resources and will is used to achieve ends, should be minimized, while private decision making should be maximized.
I can think of no greater nightmare than unchecked, radical political forces having the audacity and entitlement to enact their vision on the populace to reshape a society in whatever twisted image they feel is right at the time.
So why would a libertarian want the highest authority to be political? Why would we make heads of government, who wield hard, active power, also heads of state?
It is often said that the monarchy is useless because it doesn’t do anything, but that is exactly the point; it is the unmoving, apolitical bulwark against the political nonsense we all hate. The monarch occupies positions, not to enact anything significant, but to prevent others from occupying them.
I enjoy the fact that every week, the prime minister, the head of government, has to humble themselves and bow to someone who has been around for far longer than they have. I enjoy the fact that the armed forces swear allegiance to the crown, not the political wing of the state.
They are, in essence, conditioned to defer to the embodiment of the nation, the land, and its history, and not the short-termism, greed, and psychopathy of politics.
Constitutional monarchies typically do not have secret police or gross overreaches of government power. They consistently have solid records on stability, civil liberties, and the rule of law.
It is no coincidence that the execution of the Tsars led to the horrors of communism, and the execution of Louis XVI led to imperial France under Napoleon.
This is the great tradition of British politics, law, and philosophy. Unlike in most of continental Europe, we do not deal in grand political visions and all their chaos. We value discovery, cynicism, experimentation, and pragmatism, all anti-political, and thus libertarian values.
We have no time for heavy-handed, radical politics, where everything we know and grew up around is cast aside every four years and subject to whatever theories some maniac has read in a book.
As a libertarian Brit, I do not feel less free knowing the head of state is unelected.
I feel less free when the single-payer National Health Service (NHS) makes me wait half a year for anything beyond a simple doctor’s appointment.
I feel less free knowing how our horrendous bureaucracy and tax system eats up swathes of public resources.
And I feel less free when the government imprisons people for making fun of others on the internet.
These are the fault of politics and of government, and that is where our attention is most needed. Rest in peace Queen Elizabeth II, long live the King.
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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.