As much as we try to keep love well outside of the walls of the political arena, it always finds its way in.
Witness Andrew Coyne’s column this week on the monarchy. Coyne, normally the very picture of stoic sobriety, turns into St. Valentine when he talks about her majesty:
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 . . . [Love], 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.
I think Coyne is right. I also think this is nothing new. In fact, it was said first about 800 years ago by an African bishop. Does this sound familiar?
[If a] people is an assemblage of reasonable beings bound together by a common agreement as to the objects of their love, then, in order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what they love.
It’s almost as if love—which is, by nature, outside politics—is also central to it.
Augustine’s insight is also deep in a way that Coyne’s is not. Coyne tells us that “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.” There is something to this, of course—people respect the office of the monarchy perhaps more than the monarchy itself—but what sustains the love of the monarchy?
Blood itself isn’t enough, as any French citizen or any American will tell you. Nor is “it’s always been this way” a good enough reason to sustain a system of government. If these were the only points in the monarchy’s favour, Coyne’s colleague Jonathan Kay would be right:
In the realm of principle . . . you either believe men are created equal, or you don’t, regardless of their parents’ crotchal status. And if you don’t, then all that treacle about people “beaming” at each other in staged spectacles is just a sentimental way of taking the side of feudalism lite.
But that’s not all the monarchy represents. Return to Augustine’s argument, and extrapolate something radical (even now I’m barricading my doors against the rabid republicans who are no doubt sharpening their pitchforks): What if we love the Queen because she shows us what it means to love, and to love well and rightly?
This, I think, gets to the heart of the Queen’s popularity, and the popularity and longevity of the Canadian monarchy at large and the success of our nation. The Queen and her forbears know what it means to love, because they know what it means to serve. They are better than us not because their royal DNA is somehow superior, but because they have performed so well in a role that is, in fact, a burden, not a privilege.
The monarchy will only be popular, and will only survive—it should only survive—as long as it continues to show us that the love exemplified by her majesty to her people is a reflection of that deeper love shown to us—whether we acknowledge it or not—by Christ our Lord. That is the stuff that a just and lasting commonwealth is built on.