The Monarchy

The Need for a Place to Stand

There are few events in life that shake us to the metaphysical core, even fewer that we share with millions of others, but the death of Queen Elizabeth may well be such a moment. Her Majesty’s death prompts me to ask who are we and, indeed, who am I?

Australian sociologist John Carroll has long maintained that our deepest human search is for a ‘place to stand’ from which we can act in the world collectively and individually. This place to stand can’t be unstable or easily eroded lest we become disoriented and seek comfort  and/or meaning in the trivial or, most dangerous of all, the revolutionary act of destruction. Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor  argues that we must orient ourselves in a moral space, otherwise we are forced into a literal identity crisis. As Jesus put it, one needs to build on a rock, not on sand, so that, spiritually speaking, we can withstand the flood.

For any fair-minded person, it would be difficult to think of anyone more admirable than Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, who knew most definitely where she stood. At age 21 she committed her life to her country and what was then the Empire, never wavering through 70 years on the throne. She was clearly a person profoundly interested in people, in nations and the world, making a deliberate effort to find the human amidst the show of ancient ceremony. As Boris Johnson noted in his brilliant speech to the House of Commons (below), she fulfilled her duty unfailingly. Her devotion to the ideal of service was so thoroughly counter the spirit of our age that it stands almost as a rebuke. It certainly sets a standard by which we can measure our own moral locations and those our leaders. In terms of duty, honour and consistency, by varying degrees virtually all of us come up short.

In the great conservative tradition, the Queen cultivated and adjusted (in a Burkean sense) the role she inherited. She acted with full awareness that she was a legatee responsible for maintaining and transmitting that inheritance in her turn. Crucially, she did it by adhering to, and genuinely nurtured by, the faith she was charged to defend. All this gave her that place to stand.

Now Elizabeth’s death forces us to wonder what comes next. Is the monarchy the ‘centre’, as W.B. Yeats put it, that ‘cannot hold’ now that she is gone? Jordan Peterson is not alone in predicting her passing will mark the start of the monarchy’s dissolution. Mourning the Queen is in some senses a dual mourning: we mourn the person, and we also mourn the passing of an era while contemplating what will follow.

This brings me to a possible Australian republic. I was a voter for the republic in 1999, mainly as a youthful act of patriotism and because I wanted us to be Australian all the way up and down. A part of me still thinks so. But I see that, at its best, the monarchy incorporates a profound solidity — again, that ‘place to stand’ — to be passed from generation to generation. To declare a republic and give the nation a new charter requires something metaphysically deep, a foundation of rock not sand. I confess to a diminishing level of trust that our elites will not seek to use a republic to trivialise, weaken and divide us with worm-ridden wokeness, rather than to reform us into something worthy of an enduring inheritance.

Unless and until that is the case, I will not be marching off to the polls, as in my youth, to vote for severing us from the monarch.   

(Due to an editing error — more specifically, due to the editor’s fat, clumsy fingers and a tick placed in the incorrect box  — this piece originally appeared with the wrong byline. It has since been corrected. Apologies to Chris Sheehan.)

8 thoughts on “The Need for a Place to Stand

  • NarelleG says:

    Perfect Chris – just perfect.

    We are all in the need for a place to stand.

    ‘I confess to a diminishing level of trust that our elites will not seek to use a republic to trivialise, weaken and divide us with worm-ridden wokeness, rather than to reform us into something worthy of an enduring inheritance.”

    Too much wokeness to sever from the monarchy.

  • john.singer says:

    “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the world.” Archimedes said it and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II did it, but both just far enough to move it to stable ground.
    Well said Chris Sheehan

  • STD says:

    And I will be and remain loyal to that ,that I know in my heart, is truly wise and good.
    Lord I truly and rightfully thank you for the life and majesty of your loyal servant – your trusted hand, Queen Elizabeth II.

  • rosross says:

    Well said Chris. I think your sentiments are shared by many. Perhaps as the years pass we learn to appreciate tradition in ways we do not in our youth. And the poem by Yeats does speak to our age. Let us hope that the centre does hold and that we and the monarchy can evolve and grow into new ways of being and becoming.

    The Second Coming
    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
    Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Parenthhod, and in particular from my experience, motherhood, is rather subject to that Burkean type of change. Every generation of parents know they stand in a place of heritage and tradition, yet in each act of parenting we are faced with new decisions and inputs and expectations that relate to our own era. Holding fast to the centre has become more difficult given the moral flux around us but hold is what we do, however imperfect we feel we may be in the role and place we stand.

    To me the Queen exemplified how to be in a parent role to the nation – it is surprisng how often this is recognised by so many terming her the ‘grandmother’, in fact their ‘grandmother’. Nations need the symbol of a family at their moral collectivity. And as a mother Queen Elizabeth worked with dignity to sustain her family. I have lived my life mostly in the Elizabethan Era and thank Her Majesty for being a stable force for good within it. Voting for a Republic in Australia would seem like being short changed anytime soon.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    I’ve just watched Boris Johnson’s speech in the video above. I hadn’t managed to catch up with it until now.
    Blinkng away the tears. It makes me feel very British, which I was born, but also strongly Australian, where I have lived most of my life, for the ties between these two countries are historic and binding in laws and language that all can now appreciate and share in this newer nation as well as in the old.
    Boris has laser focus as a eulogist, but sadly lacked this as a Prime Minister. I hope we continue to see and hear him in public life, for he adds grace and humour in balanced quantities to the usual run-of-the-mill.

  • Rob H says:

    Australian’s who support a Republic are overwhelmingly ignorant of what it would mean. A country that can’t even set down the right to free speech properly and whose population seems to accept government suppression of individual rights (Covid laws) to “keep us safe” has a lot more issues than getting a new Head of State.

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