“God save our gracious queen ….”

April 2, 2009




Television newscasters last night were preoccupied with questions about why and how the Obamas touched Queen Elizabeth II. The Obamas gave the queen the two-handed shake, and that – according to people who care about such things – is reserved for those one knows very well, indeed. Also, Michelle Obama put her arm around the queen at one point, and that – so the experts say – is flirting with impropriety (although it was obvious in the clip that was run over and over and over again that the queen also briefly touched Michelle Obama’s back during that encounter). And, of course, there’s the iPod.

This business gets me thinking again about the purpose of monarchy in the 21st century, at least in places where the monarch does not govern. Monarchs who do govern are problematic in themselves, but that’s another issue. I discussed this once with a chemist in Denmark. We were having dinner, and I asked him why he thought a country like his – advanced in most ways – hangs on to the monarchy, in that case, Queen Margrethe II. Denmark has so far removed the monarchy from any real influence in government that members of the royal family do not vote in elections, although they have the right to. The chemist thought about this for a few seconds; he seemed to never have considered the question before and certainly didn’t have a pat answer. Finally he said, “Well, she is Denmark, isn’t she?” which I guess is as good an explanation as any. Of course a flag serves the same purpose, but if you hug a flag, it doesn’t hug back.


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