This panel explores the changing nature, symbolism and moral authority of the State in post-colonial settler societies. More specifically, it uses debates on constitutional reform and the discourse of the 'Crown' to interrogate the State's moral claims to sovereignty and legitimacy.
The problem of the modern State - its formation, effects and legitimacy - lies at the heart of political and legal anthropology. Post-colonial Commonwealth settler states, however, face particular moral challenges: their constitutional legitimacy derives largely from their historic links to the British Crown, yet they keenly proclaim autonomy and distance themselves from their colonial roots. How is this dilemma reconciled? With what authority can they claim to represent all citizens, including indigenous populations?
Many Commonwealth countries utilise 'the Crown' and retain Queen Elizabeth as head of state, which provides a sense of identity, stability, and constitutional flexibility but also reflects legacies of colonialism, exploitation and oppression. Queen Elizabeth's death will precipitate major constitutional debates that go beyond republicanism. These debates, which have already begun, offer glimpses into the contingent and often fragile nature of the state's claims to legitimacy and sovereignty. While much has been written about the legal personality of the State, less attention has been paid to its character as a moral actor. Among the questions this panel asks are:
• What characterises the State in post-colonial settler societies?
• How is the State symbolised/represented?
• How do symbols underpin the State's moral positions?
• How is its moral authority established and contested?
• What is the 'Crown' and what work (political,legal and symbolic) does that concept perform?
• What insights into moral politics can be gleaned from closer analysis of the State in post-colonial settler societies?
• What moral horizons are evident in debates over constitutional reform?