The Meaning of the Platinum Jubilee

By | 5th June 2022

In 1953, Sociological Review published a paper by two distinguished sociologists, Edward Shils and Michael Young, reviewing the ritual aspects of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. They argued that these enacted and celebrated the fundamental moral values that restrained egotism and held societies together…the [Jubilee] celebrations also pushed back against the sub-Ayn Rand selfishness and narcissism that has marked UK politics in recent years. The monarch cannot directly criticise the government of the day. Ceremonials of this kind are, however, meticulously planned and offer opportunities to create signifiers of fundamental values…

Shils and Young’s analysis of the Coronation has not gone uncontested and there have been dissident voices around the Jubilee, from a handful of republicans and from reparations activists. Nevertheless, the Platinum Jubilee celebrations are an occasion to recall their criticism of the intellectual snobbery of some elements of the intelligentsia. Michael Young, in particular, was deep in his study of the traditional working class communities of East London and the paper has a number of vivid anecdotes of what the Coronation meant there…

As Shils and Young concluded, the very powerlessness of the Crown created an important constitutional check on the sectarian ambitions of politicians. In a very literal sense, the Crown could speak truth to power on behalf of the nation.

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