The royal funeral was extremely impressive. Members of European royal families joined their relatives in the United Kingdom, along with a multitude of other leaders from different nations, to pay their respects to the deceased monarch. After lying in state in Westminster Hall, where thousands of British subjects filed past the remains of the sovereign, the monarch’s dignified final send-off took place in Windsor Castle’s St. George Chapel.
I could be describing the recent funeral of Elizabeth II, but I am, rather, describing the funeral of Edward VII, King of England, which took place in 1910. That funeral assuredly marked the end of an era. It was the last time that many of the royals from various European countries would gather together. World War I, just four years away, would in its wake sweep away many of the European dynasties, destroy nations and convert the then-most popular form of government into a vestige. The king’s funeral was the overture to the end of a way of life that ultimately concluded in the bloodbath of the First World War.
Is it possible that the recent and equally impressive funeral of Queen Elizabeth II could also mark the end of an era?
Many have speculated that Elizabeth II represented a time long past and that she may have outlived her own epoch. Her death, after 70 years on the British throne, could be considered the last scene of a play that had outlived its audience. It could also represent, however, something else — the beginning of a renewal.
Like so many others, I was captivated by the scenes of the funeral. I watched attentively the pomp and circumstance of the various ceremonies in Scotland and then England and the cortege from London to Windsor Castle. But I was most especially affected by the very apparent outpouring of respect and affection for the deceased queen and what she represented. Literally millions of people lined the streets of Edinburgh, London and the road to Windsor Castle to express their deep sense of loss at the passing of the queen.
Throughout the events, there were essentially no protests, no shouted invectives and no disrespectful actions. Rather, in expressing their ultimate respect and affection, those millions who assembled to mark the death of the queen were either silent or enthusiastic with cheers and repeated “hip hip hurray.”
In our age of iconoclasm, epitomized by a generalized rejection of principles, customs and traditions, it was surprising to see the manner in which such a large portion of the United Kingdom’s population turned out to honor a symbol of the nation’s historic past.
Was this really just the commemoration of the end of an era or was it rather a sign of respect for a dignified and honorable chief of state, who represented continuity, duty and love of country? I am inclined to think that it was the latter.
In recent years, the progressives and purveyors of the woke movement have destroyed so much of what we have taken for granted in the Western world that it cannot be discounted that many ordinary citizens may have decided that they have suffered enough from the turmoil and social carnage. The death and funeral of a beloved monarch, who, more than anyone else in the Western world, represented the history, principles and customs of past centuries, may have been the cathartic event that brought to the fore long-latent nostalgia.
Frequently, nostalgia is considered to be a misplaced fondness or regret for the past accompanied by a refusal to accept progress. But it can also be something quite different. It can represent the affirmation that progress need not be destructive; that it can rather be built upon proven verities, such as human dignity, courtesy, and pride in our past. It can be an affirmation that respect for the past, with all of its flaws, can inform and enrich the future. Ultimately, nostalgia can become a breaking mechanism that stops a steady slide into decline and disorder.
I believe that many of the citizens of the United Kingdom and of many other nations who felt, as I did, a certain compulsion to witness the last act in the life of a woman of great character, did not do so out of a desire to live in the past but rather did so out of respect for certain values that were epitomized by Elizabeth II. She lived in the modern world but with her eyes solidly on her obligation to build upon her nation’s past. She sought to preserve the best that the past had to offer while acknowledging that the world was evolving.
Elizabeth II’s funeral seems not to have been an ending like her great-grandfather’s funeral, but rather a turning point. With its somber and sober ceremonial pomp, Elizabeth II’s funeral may have provided the Western world with the impetus to end the currently pervasive nihilism and to begin a return to certain time-tested values on the basis of which, if we act thoughtfully and respectfully, we can most effectively and constructively pursue progress and the betterment of all humankind.
• Gerard Leval is a partner in the Washington office of a national law firm. He is the author of “Lobbying for Equality: Jacques Godard and the Struggle for Jewish Civil Rights During the French Revolution,” published earlier this year by HUC Press.
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