Long Live the King (My President)!
Among the many explanations or interpretations of the roaring buzz that followed the death of the Queen of England and the proclamation of the new king, I note three plausible ones, from the most comforting to the most concerning—in a classical-liberal or libertarian perspective.
The first, optimistic, interpretation is that people (by which I mean “most people”) like a hands-off distant sovereign as opposed to an omnipresent harasser. They would rather see the photograph of a constitutional, i.e. limited, monarch in government offices than a meddling and divisive fifty-percent-plus-one president. The queen has arguably never done anything against one of her subjects, contrary to Trump or Biden. In a fertile imagination, the queen might evoke Anthony de Jasay’s “capitalist state,” which reigns but does not govern, that is, does not impose costs on some subjects for the benefit of others, and whose only role is to prevent the establishment of a state that would govern.
This overly optimistic view is attenuated by the fact that the queen did allow the decline of English liberty (although she could probably not have prevented it). As a symbolic representation, compare the 96 cannonballs that mourned her passing with the interdiction for any subject who is not in her majesty’s service to have a revolver in his nightstand drawer. Moreover, by any account, the start of the decline of English liberty preceded Elizabeth II’s reign anyway.
A second interpretation is that people simply like ceremonial rites, decorum, and tradition, which is very different from what they get under egalitarian and totalitarian democracy, a sausage factory of discriminatory laws that take sides for some subjects and against others, and change every few years under the cheers of a passing numerical majority and the shouts of an exploited minority. Passing through checkpoints is not a ride in a carriage drawn by white horses. A ceremonial king or queen makes the subjects feel above all that.
As de Jasay notes, however, a state that looks innocuous may just serve to “disarm mistrust.” In this perspective, the main benefit of the good queen may be a fairy tale for her subjects to dream about. They love royalty like they are fans of celebrities. The propaganda power of the state should not be ignored. Instead of a queen or a king, the French have the timeless Marianne, an attractive woman who represents the republic (see image below). How can that be dangerous?
The third and most pessimistic interpretation of the buzz around Elizabeth II and Charles III, is that people may long for a glamorous and powerful sovereign to obey. James Buchanan was caught wondering if individuals really want equal liberty as classical liberals have assumed for a few centuries. The British cry “long live the King” could be analogous to the proud “Trump is my president” or possibly “Biden is my president” of Americans.
The actual mix of these explanations across the different individuals may determine how far we are down “the road to serfdom.”