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The trouble with republics

Embodying dignity: Claire Foy as Elizabeth II in The Crown

There’s a paradox at the heart of republicanism, says Diana Reid in The Sydney Morning Herald. The chair of the Australian Republic Movement wants to replace the Queen with an elected head of state who would, he says, “embody the dignity of the Australian people”. Elections, of course, mean campaigns, and winners and losers, not to mention candidates having to assert their personalities to win over voters.

But if a ceremonial head of state has to “embody the dignity of the Australian people”, then what about the people who voted for their opponents? And don’t they need to sacrifice their personality, not assert it, in order to represent such an expansive, abstract idea? Think of judges, who as embodiments of the legal system are supposed to be “robed; impartial; sphynx-like”. And think of Elizabeth II – “the abnegation of personality in the service of the people” is the central theme of her reign. In the first series of The Crown, she poses for an official portrait, “her expression an empire of emptiness; flat enough for a coin”. If we want to ditch the monarchy, then maybe the replacement needs to be multiple people. Otherwise, we’ll be seeking a “paradoxical personality” – one “unique enough to win elections, and generic enough to represent all of us at once”.

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