A vote is like a prayer

Maybe we won’t bother with voting. Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

OK, so what is the difference between a nation and an organized crime network?

Sometimes, not much. I understand the civil conflict in Sudan (and the one in Libya too) is between two people who would like to be president. They are not fighting to set the nation free from tyranny; they’re just unhappy with someone else being the tyrant. The winner will join the world of gold-plated bathroom fittings on a personalized jumbo, and can conveniently use the army, the courts, the prisons and the police to make sure the racket continues.

(There is, or was, a wonderful democracy movement in Sudan that toppled the old tyrant but the would-be replacement tyrants unfortunately have lots of guns.)

Our own history in the UK shades this way sometimes. When our soldiers went around Ireland or India collecting taxes in a famine and hanging those who declined to fill out a tax return, which did we look like more? A nation or a criminal gang?

Augustine addressed this problem in the City of God (book 3-ish?), applying it pointedly to Rome, which was rather proud of being a nation and an empire. I believe his solution was that a nation is only a nation when it has a principle of justice for all the nation’s stakeholders. Everyone gets a say. In his context, that included God, since Rome was officially Christian by then.

Including God makes slightly more sense of our recent coronation, which seemed to me a thing wobbling indeterminedly between a national bowing to God and an old man sitting on an old chair holding a ball and a stick. But even including God doesn’t seem to be quite enough on its own. The Iranian republic is big on God but his role seems to be a big stick – as used by the clerics to hit people with. Unless you include the people who don’t do God in the decision-making, I’m afraid I’m not sure you can only trust those who do.

Eventually, I think, we have to get to democracy, that rambunctuous process that tries to act on those those weighty words, ‘We, the people‘. The people are the employers. The rulers have to reapply for their jobs every few years. The tyrant says to the people, ‘You work for me.’ The democrat says, at least in principle, ‘I work for you.’ So slow. So messy. So prone to spasms of populism. So ugly and unseemly and cruel and abusive and vulgar at times. But not a criminal gang most of the time, because everyone over whom the nation rules has a say in who rules it. We, the people.

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