Archive Authors Civic Polity E.J. Hutchinson Natural Law Nota Bene

Reality and the Ballot-Box (1)

Peter is fond of saying that reality is not up for a vote. We don’t get to vote our way into determining the way things are, though the Zeitgeist is adamantly blowing in that direction. Reality is just there, whether we like it or not.

Below is a particularly eloquent expression of this idea from Thomas Carlyle, largely a Calvinist in ethos if not in personal  faith, from his essay “The Present Time” (1850). He reminds us here of the old metaphor of the Ship of State, and of what would happen if ships simply navigated by vote.

Unanimity of voting,—that will do nothing for us if so. Your ship cannot double Cape Horn by its excellent plans of voting. The ship may vote this and that, above decks and below, in the most harmonious exquisitely constitutional manner: the ship, to get round Cape Horn, will find a set of conditions already voted for, and fixed with adamantine rigor by the ancient Elemental Powers, who are entirely careless how you vote. If you can, by voting or without voting, ascertain these conditions, and valiantly conform to them, you will get round the Cape: if you cannot, the ruffian Winds will blow you ever back again; the inexorable Icebergs, dumb privy-councillors from Chaos, will nudge you with most chaotic “admonition;” you will be flung half frozen on the Patagonian cliffs, or admonished into shivers by your iceberg councillors, and sent sheer down to Davy Jones, and will never get round Cape Horn at all! Unanimity on board ship;—yes indeed, the ship’s crew may be very unanimous, which doubtless, for the time being, will be very comfortable to the ship’s crew, and to their Phantasm Captain if they have one: but if the tack they unanimously steer upon is guiding them into the belly of the Abyss, it will not profit them much!—Ships accordingly do not use the ballot-box at all; and they reject the Phantasm species of Captains: one wishes much some other Entities—since all entities lie under the same rigorous set of laws—could be brought to show as much wisdom, and sense at least of self-preservation, the first command of Nature. Phantasm Captains with unanimous votings: this is considered to be all the law and all the prophets, at present.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

One reply on “Reality and the Ballot-Box (1)”

Comments are closed.