Her passing meant that a great figure of stability was removed from many societies around the world, and there would be a rush to fill the gap with more temporal power.
It was not merely in Britain and its Commonwealth that the queen radiated stability. The United Kingdom, even when it was submerged within the European Union, still represented a calm, core competency that was a critical underpinning to alliances—and even to the United States’ sense of itself—and to a global sense of the era.
The absence of the queen means that the era has passed. Our time since World War II was defined by more than the Cold War. It was the Second Elizabethan Age, which was characterized by an intimate silence and the last vestiges of nobility that linked her ancient crown with the world.
A surge of unpleasantness and demand for a new order will occur unless, or until, King Charles III can begin to fill the void and express inter-generational continuity. This continuity will not just be for the United Kingdom—where the king will have the easiest time of it—but particularly in the dominions and realms, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Pacific, and the Caribbean states.
Queen Elizabeth had worked assiduously through seven decades of surprises and crises to build her prestige and unassailable dignity. Such prestige and reverence cannot be achieved overnight, nor was it achieved rapidly by the late queen, even though she inherited, in 1952, a throne that enjoyed great popularity and iconic global respect.
Her legend was built on silence, calmness, and impenetrable and enigmatic neutrality as a beacon of leadership. So what can King Charles do but maintain his calm, even as the authoritarian political elements bay, particularly in Australia, for a turn toward republicanism?
The real difference between monarchies and republics is their prioritization between the long-term values of monarchies and the more immediate and material thinking of most republics. Historically, this has been the hallmark differential between “right” and “left”; urban and rural; nationalist and globalist. The COVID-19 crisis of 2020-2021 provided a breakpoint that saw opportunistic power grabs by some political figures, particularly within advanced Western societies. The turn toward authoritarianism in elected governments, however, began to produce visible, or foreseeable, pushback.
Now follows a period of introspection and turmoil, both for political figures and for societies. In a sense, it means that battle lines are being drawn. The republican movement will unfurl its banners, once again, particularly in Australia, where the new government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has already named a minister for the republic. It will also see a rise in republicanism in such places as Jamaica, particularly following the decision by Grenada just before the queen’s passing to become a republic.
Republicanism does not necessarily mean an abandonment of long-term or underlying moralities and principles. The United States created something above politics—the U.S. Constitution—which lasted well for over two centuries. It represented “the crown” of America: something of its enduring values that united all its citizens.
But much of republicanism is the short-term material gratification of desires, whether for political power or the improvement of one’s physical life. That is not to say that monarchies, which focus on the sense of belonging and identity, do not equally hope to fill the bellies of their societies and offer individual prestige as a reward for loyalty and service. However, the republican-monarchy divide is about the balance that each represents between the short and long term—between the external gratification of material reflections of “identity through possessions” and the internal gratification of identity security of mind and soul.
What, then, can King Charles do to fly his banner with the strange device, Excelsior? Can he be more visible in the “contested realms,” such as the separate kingdoms of Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, or the Caribbean? That would seem a fundamental first step.
That Queen Elizabeth did her best to ensure a continuity of transition was evident. She secured a vote at the Perth CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in Perth, Western Australia, in 2011, that Charles would succeed her as head of the Commonwealth. She ensured there would be no debate after her death on the status of Charles’ wife, Camilla, who would be secure in the rank of queen consort to King Charles III.
King Charles will be the decisive figure in unifying the prestige of the British Armed Forces and even the armed forces of the Commonwealth realms. He had served in the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and has strong links to many British and Commonwealth regiments; he should be a natural fit to rally the loyalty of the Armed Forces and galvanize their sense of prestige and purpose.
Britain’s allies should hope it will be so.
Domestically, within the United Kingdom, Charles must follow his mother’s example of truly representing each of the component elements of the United Kingdom. That she chose to pass away in Scotland (because she had that choice; she could have remained at the end in Windsor, in England) showed a commitment to Scotland. She even wore her Scottish plaid for her last official duty, two days before her passing, to ask Elizabeth Truss to form a new UK government.
That the great powers of the world are assessing the passing of the crown is undoubted. China senses opportunity as the queen’s shadow—or light—no longer casts over the Indo-Pacific. Charles, so personally familiar with each of the Commonwealth territories, will need to show his interest there—and soon.
But even Russia—presently at war with the United Kingdom over the Ukraine issue—has sought to see the queen’s passing as an opportunity to show an underlying sense of respect for the crown. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tribute to the queen was unambiguously warm and showed the possibility of reconciliation between Moscow and the West. That is less surprising than it might seem: Putin has shown apparent affection for monarchical governance and helped resuscitate the prestige of Russia’s own martyred Tsar and Imperial family.
He noted that the queen “rightfully enjoyed the love and respect of her subjects, as well as authority on the world stage.” To King Charles, he said: “I wish you courage and resilience in the face of this difficult, irreparable loss. May I ask you to pass on sincere condolences and support to members of the royal family and the entire people of Great Britain.”
So it is a new age.
It may become the age of Charles III—the new “Carolean Age”—even as the adoption of the throne name of Charles signified the new king’s link to the ancient Stuart kings of England and Scotland, something not wasted on the Scots as they debate whether their authoritarian first minister of Scotland should be allowed to push them into secession from the United Kingdom.
Still, the battle lines have been drawn between material republicanism—often, but not necessarily, socialist in inclination—and identity-security monarchism, usually, but not always, conservative in orientation.
But let me say, in closing: God Bless Queen Elizabeth, and God Save King Charles.