British monarchs provoke in the French “a mixture of admiration and amazement”, says Chantal Delsol in Le Figaro. Amazement because we have a cruel history with cruel kings; to us, loving one seems like “prostrating oneself before a madman who thinks he is God”. That’s not to say we haven’t lapsed occasionally – Napoleon Bonaparte and General de Gaulle were both venerated like monarchs. And, just as we care about the “little fads” of celebrities as much as the English do, so too did we admire Elizabeth II, as has been amply on show since her death.
We could only solve the problem of absolute monarchs by chopping off their heads. But the British found a much better approach, constructing “a masterpiece of the separation of powers”. They have “real democracy”: a popular vote for Brexit was eventually followed through on. But when France voted against ratifying an EU constitution in a 2005 referendum, its parliament later pushed through an updated version anyway. Yet the British retain a figure you can love “like you’ll never love a constitution”. They know that you can never fully rid politics of irrationality – even the French Revolution didn’t quite manage it. “Since to be a nation is to have something in common, it is better to have in common someone summarising the something.”