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I am indebted to Hugh Mason for suggesting this subject

My admiration for Winston Churchill was dented only once in my youth. That was when he said he did not want to go down in history as the Prime Minister who had supervised the breakup of the British Empire. His concern at the time was India. Even though I was still in my teens I saw independence for the British Colonies as a logical development of their civilisation and education. Emperors are – or should be – educators. Their success is the independence we wish for our children. Eventually the enslaved were freed.

The process was sometimes painful but the result was always opportunity – the same kind that Mahatma Gandhi saw for India and Nelson Mandela, for South Africa. The opportunity of freedom involves risk and failure. The freedom it brings is democracy, a society in which everyone has a say. It is less a matter of fairness than of sense. Benevolent and all-wise Emperors are few and far between. They age.

Democracy has two opposing characteristics, what it implies and what it delivers. It assumes levels of understanding by the voters of how humans work and of life economics that are beyond many people’s learning. It also expects that a voter will have a view of his or her needs balanced with those of others. This is easy enough in a village. Everyone knows everyone else and they make allowances for the foibles and quirks of each other. Not to do so means clashes that detract from the efforts necessary to survive and flourish.

A village houses 400-600 people. ‘Planet village’ that we live in houses 9 billion, and counting. Until a short time ago few people knew about any part of the earth except their own. Now everyone can contact anyone several times a day. They still know little about ‘abroad’ and, if the present hostile trade scene is anything to go by, almost nothing about economics.

They do know that other people, those who appear on the news media, are better off than they are. They have been taught that success in life is financial and asset wealth. They want what they see. Their member of parliament doesn’t deliver it. The party s/he belongs to doesn’t deliver it. Voters think a new Emperor will. Worth a try?

What makes the Emperor look so good? Rants and Resins, I suggest. Logic is frightfully boring. Droning on about an unsatisfactory situation is the best way to guarantee sleep. Reason is moderate – no histrionics in that.  A good rant is exciting. If you don’t think so, dip into Netflix. Mix it with some theatrical colouring resin and you have a winner. Or shoot a dozen people on a computer game. Strong feelings are entertaining; strong sense is preachy.

It happens by escalation. First the rhetoric loses its courteous civility, then it becomes abusive. Each move has to be stronger than the last, just like an argument in a wine bar. Soon the only possible response is a punch on the nose, blood is let, war has begun. If you want to see an excellent description of this situation please read Prof. Arne Westad’s article Sleepwalking Toward War in Foreign Affairs Magazine for July/August 2024. Young as I was, I remember vividly the last phases of the build up to WWII, the promises, the threats and the denouement on a Sunday while we were in church. Mothers and sweethearts wept.

The Emperors are reviving again. You don’t need me to spell them out. From Beijing to Washington and at many stops in between the Emperors are aiming to perpetuate their rule. How personal it is I don’t know. How convinced the Emperors are that they can solve the world’s problems, I have no idea. How dangerous they are is there for all to see.

There seems no alternative to the rise of Emperors except appeasement or war. Power is a drug we don’t understand. Like Greed it has little to do with the claims that it will make us better able to help others. Like Pride, it has nothing to do with real comprehension. Like Prejudice, it is a kink of lunacy mated with fear.

Jane Austen had it right to keep these demons in the pages of well written books.

We should keep them as stories of the past, not as predictions of the future.

Good morning

John Bittleston

It’s why our next Drink & Think Soiree is discussing How can WE prevent a world war.

Your views, as always, welcome at [email protected]. Thank you.


14 June 2024