Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Send her victorious

The twenty-fourth of May
Is the Queen's birthday;
If we don't get a holiday,
We'll all run away.

A couple of weeks ago, as is only fitting, we all celebrated the Queen’s birthday. Queen
Victoria’s birthday, that is. How happy and glorious to live in a Dominion that still reveres the memory of Victoria Regina by commemorating the day of her birth with a holiday for its citizens. And in the city named after her (Victoria in this case, not Regina), the occasion is marked each year by a three-hour-long parade down the main street. From far and wide they come, not only from her own realm, but from Washington state, and even Oregon and California. There are endless high-school marching bands from the USA, all in their toy-soldier outfits, playing "Louie, Louie" and other traditional pieces, presumably to express their fervent admiration for Her Britannic Majesty.

Thinking about all those high-school bands, I am struck by how Americans love flags, and marching, and dressing up for war. (The Canadian bands, fewer in number and less expensively outfitted, mostly wear ties and blazers, or casual clothing.) Yes, that’s a generalization, but, as an essay by Geoff Rector argues, in the
United States there is an overlap among religion, the state, and militarism. In this context, says Rector, “the American flag is a sacralized symbol. It is an object of public veneration that focuses the belief systems of a quasi-religious cult of the nation.” A recent poll announces what most people already know: that religion plays a bigger role in the US than in other Western nations.

Why this is so is a complex issue, but consider the ironic fact that a constitutional feature of the
US is the official separation of church and state. Consider also that although the US was founded on liberal principles (summed up in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) and Canada was founded on conservative ones (“peace, order, and good government”), today Canada is significantly more liberal than the US in terms of social values. As Michael Adams, author of Fire and Ice: the United States, Canada, and the Myth of Converging Values, argues, the rampant individualism of their nation's history has encouraged many Americans to turn to religion (including, one might add, the worship of the state) in their search for a sense of community. Canadian culture, grounded in a conservative (and even socialist) emphasis on collective responsibility, paradoxically has allowed for the development of individuals who are, in Adams’ opinion, “less outer-directed and less conformist”.

In a democratic constitutional monarchy, the monarch reigns but does not rule. Those who do rule, as temporary representatives of the people, cannot--unlike the US president, who is head of state as well as head of government--claim to embody in their persons the values of the nation or the authority of the state. Toss the scoundrels out!

God save the Queen.

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