…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
Archbishop: Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, …and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?
Queen: I solemnly promise so to do.
Coronation Oath of the Queen Elizabeth II
When I told an American friend of mine that Singapore only became independent in 1965, he was quite surprised at how young Singapore is as a nation. While we might think American nostalgia for the monarchy to be odd, as they have been a republic for more than two centuries, but in defense of my Anglophilia and monarchist fetish, there are many Singaporeans who still have living memories of being a British colonial subject; most of our parents were born and raised under the British until their teenage years, my mother in particular still occasionally refers to coins as “shillings”.
I was just pondering the very distant and hypothetical possibility of becoming an American citizen, and I simply cannot imagine myself as an American or part of the American people. The reason is not far to seek, culturally and racially, I cannot ever be an American, to be an American is to be either white or black, to be part of a shared history and culture, but no amount of political correctness could ever turn an Asian into an American.
I could however think of myself as a British colonial subject. To be sure, I will never be part of the English people (or the Scots, Irish or Welsh for the matter), but I can enjoy the protection and privileges of Her Majesty’s laws and governance. I may not be part of the English people, but yet the Queen, though herself is English, is fundamentally a ruler, impartially administering her laws and governance over a diverse set of peoples, without necessarily needing to fuse them all into one gooey common people.
This I think explains why, paradoxically, there was a greater sense of our local racial cultures under the British than under our national government. The British did not bother to culturally organise the different racial communities, dialects flourished, interesting interracial distinctiveness lived along side one another. (Consider for example this fascinating Chinese tombstone from the Bukit Brown Cemetery guarded by Sikhs. Stereotypes to be sure, but yet a interesting mixture of diverse cultures without melting into a gooey amorphous commonality.)
But once we were nationalised, dialects became suppressed in public, Mandarin enforced as the “official” language of the Chinese and the various racial communities were aggressively organised and streamlined. I do not wish to comment on whether this is a good or bad thing, I do enjoy many benefits of an efficient streamlined management and organisation of racial relations. I like draconian orderly states.
My main point rather is that the process of “nationalisation” inevitably requires the fusion of various contradictory and conflicting cultures into “one people, one nation”, and in that process, the suppression of distinct “peoples”. The British were our colonial administrators and rulers, they did not need us to be “English” or to be part of the English people to enjoy her laws, governance and protections. The Queen’s coronation oath promises to govern the peoples of the various parts of her Empire.
On the other hand, for the Americans, there is an organic and intrinsic unity between their people and their government, it is a government of the people and by the people. Can I be subject to this governance without being an American myself?
Perhaps I can say if I ever take on American citizenship, I enjoy the patronage and protection of the American people. But somehow that feels weird to me compared to saying that I enjoy the patronage and protection of Her Majesty’s rule and laws.
Somehow, perhaps truly multicultural nation is only possible under a monarchy, because a democracy inevitably unites people and governance, thereby requiring destruction of distinctiveness to become “one people”.