Sunday, October 2, 2016

Wars, marriages and votes

As we toured Scotland, we heard about battles that determined this union or that independence.  Much of Ireland's Easter Uprising of 1916 and "the troubles" of 1968-1998 had to do with who will govern.  Clearly much of the history of humankind for the last two thousand years is about fighting over who will govern.  The last men standing are the 'winners', I guess, and they get to say what the rules are, who will make them and who will enforce them.

If we adopt the idea that the son or maybe the daughter of the king or queen is also fit to be the next king or queen, we switch from warfare to marriage as a determinant of power.  Prof. Stephanie Coontz's book "Marriage: A History" makes clear the long, complex history of using marriage and birth as the deciding factor as to who should rule.  If I am the king and she and I are married, then my daughter or son can be the ruler when our child matures and I die or abdicate.  If you want to be the ruler, you may seek to show that I did not properly marry her and that therefore our offspring are not legitimately in line to be the next rulers.  If I am married to Catherine of Aragon for 18 years and we still don't have a son, I may ask the Pope to annul or divorce us.  If he refuses, I may declare that my kingly right enables me to remove my country from his church and recast our religion.  That may open the door to both troubles and riches but we are still focusing on who is married to whom to make political decisions and lineages.

According to the Wikipedia article on Election, various types of elections have been held since ancient times, sometimes only among a selected few, as when a set of chiefs elect their head.  But the practice of regular elections to determine who will rule, make the rules and enforce them is more recent.  We might say from the 17th century.  I think it makes a fascinating picture to compare a battlefield of dead and dying bodies with a marriage ceremony with a polling place. 

I may be biased but I like the picture of all adults voting better than hoping the son will grow up to be a good a ruler as his father.  Both of those methods of deciding seem smarter and less damaging than all meeting on a field and slicing each other open.

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