The Queen’s Speech and our cult of Feeling | Henry George
The Queen gave a rare statement to the nation at 8 pm on Sunday, 5 April 2020. Britain is currently grappling with the coronavirus outbreak, with a succession of dark stories of rising illness and deaths on the news. We don’t know how bad it will get, nor how much of a scar it will leave. The Queen stands as a central, stabilising figure, a symbol on which the nation can lean in times of trial.
Her speech began by acknowledging the toll the virus is taking on the country, in lives, money and relationships. She praised those NHS, care and other essential workers striving to keep the nation going, saving lives medically and materially.
She thanked those who stayed at home to save the lives of their countrymen, a sacrifice that brought people together in solidarity, even though they are apart. Bear in mind that the Queen is herself unable to see her grandchildren.
Her speech spoke of the attributes of our national character, of “self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling” that bind the dead, living and unborn together across the span of time. She looked back to her first broadcast in WWII, referencing the children evacuated away from their families. As she put it, then as now, we hope and believe present sacrifice will bring a better tomorrow. “We will meet again” she said, referencing Vera Lynn’s moving, classic song.
Not philosophically deep perhaps, nor was it designed to be. This was not what was needed. Her statement spoke to the heart of our human need for connection, to those around us, those before us and those to come after us. These links, articulated in a quietly understated manner so characteristic of her generation, were meant, for a time, to remind us that we are not alone, although we may feel it. For the religious, whom she referenced, we are never alone, if we pause to reflect and express our gratitude.
None of this was enough for some people, particularly the bitter and resentful Very Online who have been denied an opportunity to complain about a facet of the culture war, currently under a ceasefire. For some, it was yet another example of the unfeeling monarch, declaiming from behind the walls of a palace, cut-off from her subjects, above the suffering and heartache many feel daily, and which are intensified during times of difficulty like this. She wasn’t warm enough and didn’t demonstrate how much she cared.
As Peter Hitchens wrote in The Abolition of Britain, there is now an undercurrent of sentimentality in British culture, which demands that we lay our souls bare for other to pick their way through, seeing how much we truly feel about the tragedy of life itself. The reaction to the death of Diana, a sad thing it undeniably was, was really a mass psychosis in which weeping and gnashing of teeth were the order of the day to prove your moral fibre.
As Theodore Dalrymple has written, emotional incontinence is the way we engage with each other and with life. If one doesn’t emote, gushing forth a stream of infantile sentimentality, one is not a caring, authentic person.
The queen grew up in a different time, a different world. Seeing London blown to bits, the impact of war at home and abroad, emotional incontinence is both immoral and dangerous to the national psychology. Why should your unbridled feelings be given full voice when so many others have it so much worse than you? Stoicism, fortitude, restrain and quiet resolve are what is called for. To keep one’s head was essential, lest everyone else lose theirs.
I am not saying we should adopt some caricature of the stiff-upper-lip, and never express how our souls are roiled by the tumult of our lives now. There is a balance between expression and narcissism, however, and the emotional incontinence parts of the national body feel is warranted amounts to a wail of “look at me, see my suffering and bow before my goodness.”
The queen embodies the values of an older time, with which we should acquaint ourselves again over the coming months.
Photo by Regis MUNO on Flickr.