Japanese lawmaker Taro Yamamoto got himself into a bit of hot water not so long ago, following the most ill-advised letter since the Children’s Television Workshop’s dalliance with Cyrillic in 1983 as part of a well-intentioned but ultimately disastrous attempt to ease Cold War tensions between East and West (“One! One Mother Russia! AHA HA HA HA!”).
It’ll perhaps come as little surprise to you that I’m a republican. Not in the Fox News, Tea Party, Keep ‘em out and string ‘em high American incarnation of the word, mark you. I am slightly but firmly to the left of the political centre. The opposition to my republicanism aren’t Democrats but monarchists. It’s 2013, and living in (and indeed coming from) a country that still chooses it’s head of state based on whose descendents were more ruthlessly and murderously Machiavellian a few centuries past is, frankly, embarrassing.
Not that this is a particular cause I’ll be heading to the barricades over any time soon. Kings and queens serve a purpose, I guess; most countries with extant monarchies have many more obviously pressing issues that need addressing, and a quick glance around the world is enough to tell you that more supposedly egalitarian methods of selection aren’t exactly guarantees of suitability. There’s something to be said for having a figurehead who can rise above it all, who can transcend politics and embody the immutable and inviolate traditions of the nation.
|Traditional British pastimes.|
Except, of course, that nation-states are anything but immutable and inviolate. The modern nation state is an entirely political entity, so the notion of a Head of State who’s above politics is as untenable as the notion of a general who’s above violence.
That’s not a random choice of simile on my part either. Prior to 1945 state-building worked pretty much like this: the ruling elites of one vaguely unified group of people would notice that their neighbours weren’t quite as strong as them, and so co-opt their land, resources, and population either through force or negotiation (backed up by the threat of force); they would then notice the same thing about another set of neighbours and the process would repeat until either a) they extended too far from their original core that the periphery proved too hard or costly to control, or b) they met another similarly powerful group expanding in the other direction, at which point there’d be a bit of a squabble about exact boundaries and then things might settle down. For a while.
Post-1945 things work in much the same way, except that, as a result of the whole core-periphery-overextension thing you also had option c) whereby the European powers decided the best way to go about dismantling their empires was by drawing a lot of random straight lines on a world map, thus directly contributing to decades of peace in the Middle East and West Africa. Good job guys!
|But then I owe my entire knowledge of geopolitical|
history to CIV, so what do I know?
War is, of course, the ultimate political act (‘The Last Argument of Kings’ and all that). So to argue that any Head of State, let alone one who owes his position to the politicking and intrigue of generations of predecessors, is ‘above politics’ is demonstrable bullshit. The state is political, and so as the embodiment of the state they too, surely, must be political themselves. Claiming otherwise is just another of the tactics by which people are conned into believing that certain purposefully constructed institutions are ‘natural’ and inevitable, when they are actually built and maintained for the benefit of a privileged few.
You can’t have your letter and read it, or something. If your Head of State owes his position to politics (as all heads of state must), then he might as well get his hands dirty. So good on you, Mr Yamamoto, though I can’t help feeling that you might have been better off sending your letter to Santa Claus; he’s just as much of an artificial construct, but he wouldn’t have thrown it back in your face and you might, at least, have got a mince pie for your troubles.