“Lizzy’s in a box.”
Now, those aren’t my words. Those words were but the jubilant chant of Irish soccer fans during a game in Dublin last Thursday in response to the death of England’s Queen Elizabeth II.
I wasn’t originally going to write a column about the queen. I was going to let the mourners mourn, and the world’s oppressed majority cheer. But then I saw what the most popular news anchor in America was saying about the queen and the Empire she represented.
“England ended the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson said. “England was an empire that did bad things, but compared to what? Compared to any other empire in history, this was the most benign empire ever.”
[Related: Queen Elizabeth II dies at 96]
I must tip my hat to Carlson: after all this time he’s been on the air, he continues to find new ways to annoy me. A few notes in response:
To borrow an argument from the late Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Eric Williams, Carlson, like the old British historians, talks about slavery “as if Britain had introduced Negro slavery solely for the satisfaction of abolishing it.”
An empire that “did bad things?” In three words, Carlson glosses over centuries of genocide, plunder and brutality for which the British empire was responsible. Those three words cover up the fact, just to name one example, that the British built concentration camps in Africa long before the Nazis ever came to power.
Finally, there is no such thing as a benign empire.
But perhaps the reader of this column would like to take a middle road between Carlson’s thinly veiled white supremacy and the correct position that hereditary monarchies are bad and should not exist. (Americans should all have the correct position for crying out loud! Thomas Paine spelled it out for us way back in 1776.)
The reader might think, “Well, I don’t agree with Tucker Carlson, but the queen seemed like a nice old lady, and besides, she wasn’t personally responsible for the crimes committed before or during her reign because she didn’t actually have any political power.”
As a socialist, I immediately balked at the suggestion that someone worth half a billion dollars holding a royal title has no actual political power.
But you don’t need to be a socialist to know that this statement is absurd. For example, the royal family secretly vetted over 1,000 British laws before members of Parliament could debate them, according to a 2021 Guardian investigation. In several cases, the royals were found responsible for altering legislative proposals before elected officials could see them.
It is nothing short of political backwardness to ask for the approval of a monarch before lawmakers can openly debate new proposals. This would have been political backwardness 150 years ago, let alone today.
Perhaps even worse than asking for royal consent is the political inaction of the queen during her long reign. It’s just been demonstrated she did in fact have power and did in fact use it. So, why didn’t she use it, say, to order Margaret Thatcher to stop sending death squads to kill civilians in Northern Ireland?
Why didn’t she return the Kohinoor diamond that is set in her crown that the British stole from India? Why didn’t she ever step up to condemn the many crimes of her Empire?
It is beyond the scope of this column to cover all of Britain’s crimes during the reign of Elizabeth II. After all, most nations on earth have been invaded or colonized by the British empire. I would encourage everyone to read about the suffering millions of people have endured under British colonialism and imperialism.
Many will mourn and miss her – the rest will remember her as the figurehead of perhaps the most malignant empire to ever exist.
Jared Quigg (he/him) is a junior studying journalism and political science.