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The power of love versus the love of power

“Though God hath raised me high yet this I count the glory of my reign, that I have reigned with your loves … For though you have had and may have many mightier and wiser princes yet you never have had nor ever shall have any that will love you better.” (said by Elizabeth I, late in her life)

After four centuries, I think her namesake lets that “nor ever” be retired, or at least equalled. Echoing the thoughts of many, the Archbishop of Canterbury said

Rarely has such a promise been so well kept!

in his sermon at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, adding (for the benefit of the assembled world leaders?)

“People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are rarer still.”

Indeed they are, as the founding fathers knew.

It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. (Madison, The Federalist, No 51)

When someone reaches a place of power by being born to it instead of choosing to seek it, then it is a bit more likely that they will end up feeling, as Elizabeth I said,

To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.

But that is no more guaranteed than any of the other defences that have been tried against the rule of those who love power. Wisdom wants little government, not much. Wisdom wants constitutional rule, not arbitrary. And Wisdom knows these alone cannot protect us for ever. Every now and then, we will need the lucky chance of a ruler who loves us more than power.

____________

[The so-called “golden speech” of Queen Elizabeth I (given in parliament on the last day of November 1601) was written down by several hearers in several versions, all essentially the same but with minor differences of phrasing here and there, including in the passages I have quoted.]

14 comments to The power of love versus the love of power

  • Paul Marks

    It is not the day to discuss the decline of British society over the last 70 years.

    Queen Elizabeth the Second was a good person, who set a noble example.

    Things declining around the gracious lady, was most certainly not her fault.

    Nor are things over yet – the great outpouring of decent feeling that we have seen since the death of the Queen, shows that the British people are not yet lost.

    We are united in our grief – in our respect for the late Monarch.

    We know only too well that in our own lives, we have not lived up to the example of Queen Elizabeth the Second. And we wish we had done.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I watched the funeral today and managed to stay fairly composed throughout, until the end, when the Archbishop gave the benediction, and I started to cry.

    Elizabeth II was a most excellent monarch, and managed to hold things fairly tightly together during the many changes of the time, with arguably the Diana death being the biggest crisis, or so it seemed at the time. The recent problems of Andrew and Harry/Meghan must have tried her patience greatly, but she seemed to have weathered those episodes reasonably well.

    Consider, that when she started out, it was just eight years after WW2 had ended, and much of the UK was still a rubble-strewn, austerity-hit country trying to unravel a large empire while also stand up to the Soviets. By the time she laid down the burdens of monarchy, the UK was the sixth-largest economy in the world; the Berlin Wall had fallen, the UK was a relatively prosperous place and yes, despite all the problems, a country that many people try to emigrate to.

    Much can and should be written about the value of constitutional monarchy, and whether it acts as a constraint on power or not, and how the checks and balances of a mature liberal democracy can be aided or not by the idea of a hereditary monarchy. I think the institution does create a bit of a firewall against demagogic forms of nationalism that one can get in certain types of republics; and in a country of several faiths such as the UK, having a Christian monarch who also appears agreeable when talking to those from other faiths is a positive force. A lot, however, depends on the character of a monarch. With Elizabeth, her approach was remarkably effective, but what happens if a future monarch is an oaf?

    Clearly, we have problems: a steady erosion of the English Common Law, abominations such as the Online Safety Bill (which might, hopefully, be binned) and the recent horrors over lockdowns and all the rest of it. The Queen could not really do much about this; she cannot issue executive orders like a US president.

    Maybe we do need a new constitutional settlement of some kind, and we certainly do need a full-throated push for freedoms of speech, etc. A monarchy that is largely ceremonial and symbolic cannot really be of much use in these areas, which are up to we “commoners” to fix. But a likeable monarch can at least provide an element of “ballast” when times are in flux.

    I am sad at the demise of this most excellent queen, and hope her successor can do a good job, and create his own style that works.

  • Peter MacFarlane

    “ Maybe we do need a new constitutional settlement of some kind, and we certainly do need a full-throated push for freedoms of speech, etc.”

    I fear that if we were to experience a new constitutional settlement, it would be created by the current PTB and would certainly not advance the cause of freedom of speech – or freedom of anything else for that matter. More likely it would entrench wokery and all the other currently-fashionable causes.

    Best to keep a hold of nurse imho.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I watched most of the ceremonies from the arrival of the coffin to Westminster Abbey to the lowering of the coffin in Windsor, and was greatly impressed. A fitting tribute to a life of service to the nation(s), service for which there is evidently a lot of gratitude.

  • bobby b

    “I fear that if we were to experience a new constitutional settlement, it would be created by the current PTB and would certainly not advance the cause of freedom of speech – or freedom of anything else for that matter. More likely it would entrench wokery and all the other currently-fashionable causes.”

    It is to be avoided at all costs. We’d end up with some monstrosity like the South Africa multi-volume set, enshrining every progressive wish into a majority-proof legacy. Justice R.B. Ginsburg often spoke of the left’s yearning – her yearning – for such an opportunity. Can you imagine the penumbras and implied rights we’d have after a few years?

  • Ferox

    Can you imagine the penumbras and implied rights we’d have after a few years?

    Only some of us. The rest of us would have the right to shut up and like it .. or else.

  • JohnB

    I was very impressed, and surprised, by the apparent moral consistency of this event.
    May the late Queen rest in peace.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Elizabeth I was very close to an absolute monarch. Elizabeth II had almost no power at all. It is very difficult to compare the two. The job of constitutional monarch is not very difficult. Madness, gluttony and aloofness have not disbarred people from the position. The only thing that has disbarred someone is wanting to marry a divorced woman. All you really have to do is to keep out of politics. Elizabeth I had to deal with a religious war, rebellion in Ireland and a possible invasion. Elizabeth II had to deal with the death of her daughter-in-law and her son falling foul of America’s stupid age-of-consent laws.

    Just in case you think I lack respect, yesterday I walked down the road, joined a crowd and bowed to the coffin. This is in addition to the annoyingly large amount of liquid that has found its way on to my handkerchief. It’s just I think we should keep this in perspective.

  • By unusual chance, I was glancing at the Bing News headline summary.

    “Queen’s corgis will feel her loss”, says dog

    Evening Standard headline, as excerpted by Bing News.

    (I have a suspicion that a word after ‘dog’ has been cut by the excerpt program, but wanted to preserve the moment before checking.)

    In less happy news,

    PayPal shuts down accounts of Free Speech Union

    is the excerpt of a Daily Telegraph headline – and, sadly, I have less reason to suspect any qualifying word was truncated from it. (Of course, I long ago decided not to use PayPal about any donations to the Free Speech Union or similar.)

  • Alex

    […]her son falling foul of America’s stupid age-of-consent laws.

    Hmm. I think the reaction to Andrew’s behaviour was overblown but it’s a little more complex than age of consent laws, isn’t it. He was close friends with Epstein who was already notorious in the early 00s. It’s obvious that not only was Andrew aware of this but was essentially a client of the pimp.

    Personally I’d be pretty suspicious of any person in their thirties, forties or older looking for sex with a teenager, regardless of the age of consent. There’s just too much of an age gap for this to be healthy. It’s predatory, pure and simple. It’s more understandable for someone in their twenties forming a relationship with someone in their late teens but even there the older person would be well advised to wait a few years and especially so when it comes to sex. I’m not saying that all autumn-spring romances are plain wrong but the older person should act with caution and due restraint.

    It’s not as though this was a case of a 22-year-old having sex with a 17-year-old. This was a 41-year-old man deliberately seeking out sex with girls under the legal age. If he’d done this in London with an English 17-year-old it would still be as objectionable.

  • bobby b

    Patrick Crozier
    September 20, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    ” . . . her son falling foul of America’s stupid age-of-consent laws.”

    Yeah, this one threw me.

    “Boink adults. Don’t boink children.”

    Stupid? What am I missing?

  • Patrick Crozier

    The age of consent in the UK is 16.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Personally I’d be pretty suspicious of any person in their thirties, forties or older looking for sex with a teenager, regardless of the age of consent. There’s just too much of an age gap for this to be healthy.

    As the greater Marx (Groucho) said, you are only as old as the woman you feel.

    I’m not saying that all autumn-spring romances are plain wrong but the older person should act with caution and due restraint.

    I definitely agree with that. Depends also on the maturity and previous sexual experience of the younger partner, of course.

    One thing that has not been remarked upon, is that (afaik) we are not talking about a relationship, but about underage prostitution. The age of consent is not the same as the legal age for prostitution, or pornography. (In addition to the fact that it is unseemly for a Royal to patronize prostitutes of any age.)

  • Fraser Orr

    It is interesting to me that as we listen the the endless hagiographies of Elizabeth that the thing which she did which garnered praise was nothing, which is to say in not doing she excelled. Which seems a rather low bar. But on the other hand when I think about it I honestly wish more people in government did nothing, since often when they do things they do more damage than good. However, doing nothing is not a great way to get elected. Promising everything seems to be a more effective strategy, which surely is a comment on the average voter. I am reminded of a quote that comes out of my quotes file attributed to Lord Salisbury, a British Prime Minister, though I can’t find a source for this, so you might instead attribute it to me: Whatever happens will be for the worst, and therefore it is in our best interest that nothing happens. This is rather my motto on government action. And in this the queen was the master.

    I am very struck by all the tales of her genius that, we are, being regaled with, but to be honest they all seem rather uninspiring, perfunctory, superficial to me. But all in all she seemed a very nice and decent lady who fulfilled her role well by doing nothing.

    I have also been struck by the funeral yesterday and comparing the events there to the events surrounding the death of Diana Spencer. For sure I accept that the former was expected and the latter utterly unexpected with the accompanying shock. But the events surrounding Diana’s death and funeral were what I would describe as distinctly un British, maybe even, God help us, very American. The mordant display of emotion, the overwhelming grief about somebody they didn’t know at all, the hair trigger of anger at the most minor of sleights. Compared to yesterday’s events which were very, very British. Stiff upper lip. Ceremonious, tradition to give a guide path to grief and an answer to the question that often arises when someone dies — what do I do now? I have known many people who have had relatives die, and I have observed that in all the busy activity immediately following up to the funeral and wake, people hold it together. But after, in the time when they aren’t busy with preparations, in the lull of learning to live without the person, that is the hardest part. And so all this glorious and somber ceremony is, as I say, a guide path of appropriate grief.

    As to my personal feelings: I think the monarchy is really rather stupid, elitist and kind of offensive. But I think highly of her as a person. Frankly I think it makes me sad that she died because to me she represents my parents, my mum, and it is kind of like her dying all over again.

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