ONE million people gathered along the banks of the Thames last weekend to watch the Queen pass by. One million people, that is, stood in the pouring rain for hours and cheered themselves giddy over a famously dowdy 86-year-old grandmother, who spent the afternoon much as she has spent the last 60 years, waving at crowds as she passed. Could anything be more glorious?
What moved all those people to stand and cheer? Not celebrity or glamour or drink, but loyalty, which is another word for love: a mixture of affection for the Queen herself and a deep attachment to what she represents. Which is, in part, them. The Queen not only personifies the state, but also the nation. As she endures, so it endures.
And so the love they bear for her is also love for each other: a sense of being part of the same thing, bound up in each other's fate, willing to make sacrifices for each other.
We may understand these as concepts, but something in human beings finds it easier to attach these sentiments to a human being, and having done so to one, to do so more generally.
All through that cheering, soaking crowd, the same ritual was performed over and over. People first beamed at the Queen, then turned and beamed at each other. And, a second later, thought: How marvellous it is to be a part of -- this place, this tribe, this happiness.
That, as much as her constitutional role, is what the Queen represents, or rather that bedrock of popular affection is what ultimately underpins her constitutional role. A constitutional order founded on love strikes me as no bad thing.
And what, in turn, underpins that affection? There is no escaping the matter: heredity.
The Queen seems like a perfectly nice person, but the people love her not because she is some sort of saint, but because she is Queen, and she is Queen for no other reason than because she is the eldest child of the late king.
To be sure, they also respect her for her sense of duty, but that, too, is the product of heredity, not in the sense of an inherited trait, but as her chosen response to circumstances that were very much not of her choosing, the life she was born to, and the responsibilities that come with it.
This is the gate at which many critics of the monarchy stumble.
Most will profess to admire the Queen personally. Some claim to like the idea of the Crown, in some disembodied way, and of a head of state, separate from the head of government, as the repository of state sovereignty.
But, they squirm, couldn't they be chosen in some other way? By election, or appointment, or, I don't know, just not heredity?
But this is to misunderstand the special genius of monarchy. You think all those people would have half-drowned themselves for the sixtieth jubilee of an elected head of state? You think an elected head of state would even have been around that long? Of course not.
In the course of her long reign, Elizabeth has seen a dozen British prime ministers come and go, along with 11 Canadian prime ministers and who knows how many more across the Commonwealth.
Where she represents continuity and the affection that grows with time, they represent popularity, as fleeting as the weather.
It is in the nature of elected office to be temporary. We tire of them, they tire of the job, precisely because it is a matter of choice on either side.
Appointment is no different. Whatever interests, values and fashions dictated that this person at this time should represent us would soon be replaced by others.
Judges and senators, though ostensibly appointed for life, are not really. They had lives before they were appointed and will have lives after. In the end, it is just a job.
But now consider the lot of a hereditary monarch. You aren't elected or appointed or selected in any way. Indeed, you did nothing to earn it. But neither did you seek it. You just are. It is not a job or a position or even a calling. It is you -- from the day you are born until the day you die. You may think the Queen's life a privileged one, but I can't imagine most of us would trade places with her.
It is a life sentence, and yet one she accepts uncomplainingly.
This is why the Queen will never abdicate. It is central to the bond that exists between her and her subjects. And when one day she dies, I think some of the affection and respect she enjoys will transfer to Charles -- a solemn recognition that, as the Crown passes, so do its duties, best expressed in those laconic words: The Queen is dead. Long live the King.
Andrew Coyne is a national
columnist for Postmedia News.