As Easy As A.B.C.

Monday, March 24th, 2008

A couple months ago, when I watched H.G. Wells’ Things to Come, it led me to pick up a used copy of The Science Fiction Stories of Rudyard Kipling, which includes two stories about a future world “ruled” by the Aerial Board of Control: With the night mail and As Easy As A.B.C.

Kipling’s A.B.C. doesn’t really rule the planet the way Wells’ league of super-scientists, Wings Over the World, does though. The A.B.C. is more like the laissez-faire British Empire, keeping its hands off of things until someone threatens the free flow of (aerial) trade.

The story involves civil unrest in the Chicago of the future, and our heroes come to the rescue — that is, they rescue Chicago from democracy:

Suddenly a man among them began to talk. The Mayor had not in the least exaggerated. It appeared that our Planet lay sunk in slavery beneath the heel of the Aerial Board of Control. The orator urged us to arise in our might, burst our prison doors and break our fetters (all his metaphors, by the way, were of the most medieval). Next he demanded that every matter of daily life, including most of the physical functions, should be submitted for decision at any time of the week, month, or year to, I gathered, anybody who happened to be passing by or residing within a certain radius, and that everybody should forthwith abandon his concerns to settle the matter, first by crowd-making, next by talking to the crowds made, and lastly by describing crosses on pieces of paper, which rubbish should later be counted with certain mystic ceremonies and oaths. Out of this amazing play, he assured us, would automatically arise a higher, nobler, and kinder world, based — he demonstrated this with the awful lucidity of the insane — based on the sanctity of the Crowd and the villainy of the single person. In conclusion, he called loudly upon God to testify to his personal merits and integrity. When the flow ceased, I turned bewildered to Takahira, who was nodding solemnly.

This is a future that has lived through populist democracy and mob rule. Kipling appends something called MacDonough’s Song, apparently from the not-so-distant past of this lawful, non-democratic future:

Whether the State can loose and bind
  In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
  Before or after the birth —
These are matters of high concern
  Where State-kept school men are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
  Endeth in Holy War.

Whether The People be led by the Lord,
  Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
  Or cheaper to die by vote —
These are the things we have dealt with once,
  (And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
  Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,
  Seeketh to take or give,
Power above or beyond the Laws,
  Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King —
  Or Holy People’s Will —
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
  Order the guns and kill!

  Saying — after — me: —

Once there was The People — Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth.
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, O ye slain!
Once There was The People — it shall never be again!

“We own ourselves,” the non-democrats say.

Anyway, I was shocked to come across such a clearly non-Progressive story. It reminded me of Mencius Moldbug and of Bryan’s Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter.

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