Monday, October 06, 2008


Political Systems

John Wain, Samuel Johnson (New York: Viking Press, 1975), p. 275:
Johnson believed that good government was important, but that great areas of human life lay outside the scope of any government, good or bad. In the lines he contributed to his friend Goldsmith's The Traveller occurs the couplet,
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.
In this, he was merely being honest. One of the ways in which human beings can be divided up is that some of them are capable of pinning their total faith in a 'system' and others are not. All of us know the man (or, just as frequently, the woman) who maintains, and appears sincerely to believe, that if only this or that political system were to swallow all its rivals and prevail the millennium would arrive immediately. What makes the rest of us faintly suspicious is not that we have any cut-and-dried counter-arguments but merely that we do not believe that any political system, by itself, can make humanity entirely fulfilled and contented. Some forms of government, obviously, are better than others; now and then tyrannies arise which are too bad to be changed and simply have to be escaped from or overthrown; but, over most of the earth at most times, the difference is not that great. No matter who is in power at the top, one's own struggle goes on.

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