THE way Britain still defines its national identity around royalty brings both praise and scorn, even when a royal is only a symbol. If a monarch rules well, then all's well in the kingdom. If not ... well, that's when democracy springs up.
But this week all that's pish-posh as Britons remember, even celebrate, the "Queen Mum," who died Saturday.
A woman born when Queen Victoria was alive, who married into the House of Windsor and was queen from 1937 to 1952, who helped rally a nation when Nazi bombs were falling, and who raised a daughter who's reigned well for half a century as Elizabeth II, Queen Elizabeth the queen mother, will be remembered for restoring the monarchy's reputation and for keeping it through the travails of Prince Charles.
The ancient idea of being able to rule simply by the nonvirtue of family ties spent itself in the 20th century. Those who have retained some sort of royal title have largely had to earn it, either by helping others or, occasionally, by unifying a nation in crisis.
Many current monarchs, such as the kings of Thailand and Cambodia, and and Japan's emperor, have worked hard to keep in touch with their peoples and set a noble example.
Modern monarchs must maintain an aura in order to retain respect, and the queen mother did that in knowing what to keep secret and what to share with her people (such as her love of horseracing). She helped lead a troubled British monarchy through a troubled 20th century.