The dream of an Australian republic is fading

Well, I have to admit, I thought she was going to hit the ton, the centenary. That tough German lineage, those royal and aristocratic genes. She has several relatives who made three-digit numbers. That’s where vampire legends must come from – the aristocracy lives on and on while everyone around them dies. It would have been worth watching her stick through another four years, if only for the spectacle of seeing her send a congratulatory message to herself.

That would not have happened, of course, but only because the Queen was and is inseparable from her role, a form of premodern identity that persists in the world of self-shattered identities. It was her position in relation to the rest of us, a reminder that everyone was like this a few centuries ago and since time began. For many Britons, and not a few Commonwealth citizens of all origins, this ensemble – fused with its exceptional longevity – was a paradoxical embodiment of permanence. She stood at the interface of nature and culture, of person and nation, of present and past.

It would be foolish, therefore, to underestimate the extent to which she was a figure not just of history but of history, not just for Britain and the Commonwealth but for the world. The Atlantic alliance dominates the West, and the British end of the alliance is recorded in part by mysticism: by the unity of the United Kingdom and by the person of the Queen. She ascended the throne at 25 in an era of limited publicity, particularly for royal princesses. Very little was known about her personally. Everything that became known about her happened during her reign, so it was the habits and deeds of the authority-laden monarch.

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That’s obviously not the case with King Charles III, who reached adulthood in the transformational 1960s — on the edge of the 21st century when Woodstock appeared — freeing him from a dour and dutiful upbringing. That may have been his personal fortune, but it is a disaster for the projection of power and mystery in his reign. He’s too much like the Boomers he hails from, with his enthusiasm for mystical wilderness, the natural aristocracy of the still nomadic First Peoples, talking to plants, enthusiasm for The Goons, love life in general. The crazy talk of skipping him altogether and going straight to William – which seemed to show a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole hereditary monarchy such commentators were trying to preserve – instantly died down and became an immediate relic.

But what has also died are Republican hopes that the death of a monarch – one who has unimpeachably fulfilled her role – to a man pieced together by the same tale of enthusiasm, stupidity and failed obsessions that has shaped the lives of most of us that would provide the opportunity to do so raised questions about the monarchy, particularly in Australia. Too late! They don’t fool around, these royal families; they understand their business. King Charles III is already a thing, and the fact of office has become massive. No one cares about the interchangeable European bike monarchies except the publisher of grace. The transfer of British monarchical power was really important to actual global power.

Too late here? Too early. Our more republican ad hoc movement was gathering under the Albanian government just to bring the issue of a republic back into focus. But it can’t now be done as a ‘if the queen dies…’ plebiscite, which would have been the best chance of a ‘yes’. King Charles III will quickly establish himself as the inevitable monarch unless he’s really, really dumb, and the notion of a rupture will fade into the haze. Any movement towards Australian republicanism must work with the very fact of monarchy as its goal. Lacking any social base and having been a shy creature of the elite since its revival in the 1990s, Australian republicanism is unlikely to get anywhere. I would guess that the Albanian government will not give the coalition a culture war that they are rebuilding around them.

That the coalition could very well be built on a Republican plebiscite is a measure of the weakening of Republican momentum in recent decades. As post-Cold War modernity has lost its confidence and collapsed over the past decade, passion for an enlightened view of the world has waned markedly. The claim that humanity can run its own affairs carried away two decades of failed wars, crashes, failed recoveries, the collapse of conventional politics, the rise of conspiracy theories, and the failure of populism.

The success of the late Queen Elizabeth II was undoubtedly also due to her personal qualities. But the greater part of this has been the weakness and inability of the left and progressives to offer an alternative with meaning and liberation that was worth the risk of scrapping something that offered many a fair amount of both.

The left was unable to offer an attractive alternative to a society whose fundamental meaning had been completely undermined by the nihilism of capitalism, the market and the antisocial nature of new technologies. Bizarrely, then, it is premodern institutions that now set a limit to this steady annihilation. Any Republican relying on a generational uprising against the monarchy, or a non-Anglo Republican, can be in for a nasty shock. The snarls and growls that might be aimed at them will just prove it. Such attacks are always based on envy and defeat, the radicalism of fools.

The story is long. In a way, we are in a position that lags behind the heady moment of 1776, when a bunch of American radicals suggested that words and ideas alone could hold a nation together, rather than the embodiment of a person. This experiment could collapse in 2024 if the third Carlite era continues. At this point we should be thankful that the Russians didn’t bring back the Tsars. Perhaps all this is the prelude to a great dialectical historical advance.

But before putting any money on it, first check whose face is on the banknotes. Vale Elizabeth Windsor. Perhaps her death is an opportunity for progressives to reflect on what they don’t offer or value in their programming that addresses the human needs that can make a small and compact woman a source of meaning and a story force.

After the Queen’s death, does republicanism have a chance in Australia? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected] Please provide your full name to be considered for publication. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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Peter Frey

Peter Frey


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