Queen Elizabeth II was undoubtedly a graceful leader, a reassuring diplomat, and an idolized celebrity. And while she wasn’t America’s leader, she was certainly our celebrity. Since her death, glowing obituaries and commentaries — and even several analyses on the future of her pet corgis — have dominated our news media.
At Harvard, talk of her greatness and criticism of the monarchy’s imperial legacy dominate our campus. We make too much of a fuss, both about the good and the contentious. The Queen deserves our respect but not our effervescent and wide-eyed worship. We should admire actions, not ancestry, and the Queen was a stoic witness, not a doer.
Many have rebuked the Queen for the atrocities and inequities committed in her name. Royalists say it is silly to fault a constitutional monarch for the actions of her government — for the government holds the real power. She could not comment on the British crimes during the Mau Mau rebellion, for example, because doing so would violate some sense of impartiality. Her neutrality, her boringness, is what made her great, they say.
Indeed, we should not fault the Queen for the good or the bad during her tenure — for politicians, not the Queen, were truly in charge. But then why do we celebrate someone so bound by neutrality, who is little more than a figurehead? Yes, a neutral monarch can serve as a necessary glue in a polarized society, and I believe the Queen was a dedicated public servant who glowed with humility and love for country in her boringness. But let’s not pretend her service was wholly selfless. Because of her preservation of the monarchy, her heir, King Charles III, is exempt from up to £9.5 billion in inheritance tax.
Perhaps America grew fond of her because she lived for a long time. Indeed, she ruled for a long time. But longevity is not an action and therefore should not be grounds for praise in and of itself.
And why did she rule? She didn’t rule because she was the best person for the job (though she very well might have been), or because the people chose her (though the people might well have). She ruled because her father was king, like his father before him, and his father before him.
I, like a young Liz Truss did, find the idea that one can be born to rule iniquitous. I imagine hardly any on this campus — or in this country — would disagree. In fact, nothing seems less meritocratic, less American. So, let’s be careful with our praise. We should not laud hereditary and decades-long supremacy just because it enthralls us. We should question how non-egalitarian such a system is, and not exclude the Queen from our skepticism.
But if nothing else, she had grit, the obituaries and classmates remind me. She did work until the age of 96. Despite my cynicism, I do believe the Queen was a great woman who did much for her country. But cutting ribbons in your late 90s is hardiness not grit. Grit is conviction and resilience. Rosa Parks had grit. Charles de Gaulle had grit. Rosa Parks and Charles de Gaulle changed their countries; the Queen witnessed hers change. Hardiness is respectable but not admirable.
Maybe the monarchy works in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms. I’m neither a royalist nor a republican: As an American, I have no stake. But I see no reason for us on this campus or in this country to praise the monarchy or its symbols, despite their longevity, neutrality, or hardiness.
I am sure this is a tough time for the Queen’s family and many Britons, and sending our condolences across the pond does little harm. But let’s avoid fixation. As Nigel Farage remarked: “The Queen is dead… Sad day, but we now have a king.”
Kanishka J. Reddy ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.