On Political Optimism
Any time I hear a patronizing sneer towards hopeful political thinking, I imagine just how insane representative democracy must have sounded when it first reached circulation.
Oh young one! So you think you have a fun idea to bring down the king. God himself has ordained that he rule, but you disagree.
And instead of a king, you bring us this idea from your expensive education, from a town in Greece where (you have read in a book), the men stood in a circle, put their hands up, and made laws together.
But you don’t want to do this. Instead, you imagine we might take half country, explain this idea of government-via-paper-and-maths, ensure each of them understand the requirements, then have them select (in private, you claim), a person (by writing), then we count all the pieces of paper in each region.
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH FUCKING COUNTING THIS IS?
And how, if the pieces of paper are given in secret, will we ever make sure the right person was selected? And if anyone could secretly alter this count (which we cannot check), they would be in the position of a baron, making local laws. Did I get that right?
Finally, the man with the most pieces of paper gets sent on a special trip, to live outside the area he is to represent and understand, and go to Paris, to perform a second layer of Maths with a debate. I realize, of course, you have fond memories of debating in your fancy University, but taking three days to learn, and one to pontificate, letting all your classmates have a turn at talking, hardly lends itself to the kinds of fast decisions kings can make. The workings of the country would come to a stand-still instantly.
But putting that aside, you still propose we all switch from the man God gave the country, to this thing you wrote an essay on (and your mates agree sounds fun), and govern by paper and counting. How many are in your army? The king has some tens of thousands of archers, and thousands of cavalrymen in plate armour, and unknown numbers of pikemen, and musketeers. How many do you have again?
Disgruntled peasants you say? I realize your trip to the farms felt novel to you, but you need to understand that disgruntled peasants present nothing new, they won’t do anything that they haven’t done in the past.
The land is ruled by a king. A thousand years ago, it was ruled by a king. The next country is ruled by a king, all the countries everywhere were always ruled by kings, everywhere, forever. And because of a story book, about a magical-little-town in Greece, where men put their hands up, to make a pretend-decree, you’ve concocted this Utopia in your head, where you explain your grand plan to hundreds of thousands of peasants, and they all understand the system, and nobody miscounts the papers, and they rise up, and murder all the men currently armed with the most expensive and deadly weapons known to mankind.
Do I have all that right? Is that your actual plan?
Representative Democracy must have sounded ridiculous before it happened. I try to think of this whenever I hear of something which makes people say ’that will never happen'.