The World According to Elizabeth II

By Meacham, Jon | Newsweek, July 19, 2010 | Go to article overview

The World According to Elizabeth II


Meacham, Jon, Newsweek


Byline: Jon Meacham

She is an unlikely emblem of the new. Queen Elizabeth II's chief public virtue, in fact, has long seemed to be her stability and sturdiness. In introducing her to the United Nations General Assembly last week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as much, referring to the British monarch as an "anchor for our age."

Her Majesty's ensuing message, though, was decidedly modern--and strikingly multilateralist, especially considering that she, as a hereditary sovereign, is the embodiment of a kind of unilateralism. "It has perhaps always been the case that the waging of peace is the hardest form of leadership of all," Elizabeth said. "I know of no single formula for success, but over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal, and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm, and their inspiration, to work together."

Given her audience and the constitutional restraints on her role--the personification of political life, she must be above politics--Elizabeth's brief address could be read as an exercise in ceremonial conventionality. Yet her little-noted remarks offer a meditation on globalism and post-imperialism from a woman whose ancestors ruled much of the world. For American conservatives who worry that President Obama (or, really, any Democratic president) veers dangerously close to "one worldism," the queen's speech in New York serves as an inadvertent endorsement of a habit of mind in which power, both military and economic, is best exercised cooperatively rather than coercively. Saluting the U.N.'s diplomatic and relief work, she specifically cited the challenges of terrorism and climate change; the latter is of special concern, she said, for a "careful account must be taken of the risks facing smaller, more vulnerable countries, many of them from the Commonwealth."

What does Elizabeth really believe about politics? Is she more of a Cameron than a Clegg, or does her ideology run in a Blair-Brown direction? She keeps such views private, and that is precisely the way she wants it.a"The fact is that one of the great sources of her strength is that she so effectively conceals herapersonal opinionsaonathe U.N. or on foreign policy," says Sally Bedell Smith, who is at work on a forthcoming biography of the queen to be published in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of Elizabeth's accession to the throne. …

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