Lilliput or America – who has a better way to choose its leaders?
Across the gulf of three centuries, Jonathan Swift’s insights provide another perspective on America. His observations, cloaked in metaphor, deserve attention. The following is an excerpt from Gulliver’s Travels, A Voyage to Lilliput, chapter 3 — where Gulliver learns how the King’s officers and advisers are chosen. (source).
The Lilliputians, being of a civilization less advanced than our own, accept this bizarre selection method as normal. This is their way, justified by tradition and that it has not utterly failed (yet).
What relevance could this passage have for us? America’s Presidents select their team by rational methods unlike these foolish games employed by the Kings of Lilliput. Still, an objective observer — unfamiliar with our society — would find it strange that logical criteria yields an Administration of attorneys and academics, neither with much experience in managing a vast enterprise like the US government (or managing anything at all). These worthies are supplemented by other professionals: friends, school-chums, and political technicans — the latter having rare skills, such as gathering crowds to hear a speech at shopping malls on Saturday mornings.
I was diverted with none so much as that of the Rope-Dancers, performed upon a slender white Thread, extended about two Foot and twelve Inches from the Ground. Upon which I shall desire liberty, with the Reader’s Patience, to enlarge a little. This Diversion is only practiced by those Persons who are Candidates for great Employments and high Favour, at Court. They are trained in this Art from their Youth, and are not always of noble Birth, or liberal Education.
When a great Office is vacant either by Death or disgrace (which often happens) five or six of those Candidates petition the Emperor to entertain his Majesty and the Court with a Dance on the Rope, and whoever jumps the highest without falling, succeeds in the Office. Very often the Chief Ministers themselves are commanded to show their Skill, and to convince the Emperor that they have not lost their Faculty. Flimnap, the Treasurer, is allowed to cut a Caper on the strait Rope, at least an Inch higher than any other Lord in the whole Empire. I have seen him do the Summerset several times together upon a Trencher fixed on the Rope, which is no thicker than a common packthread in England. My friend Reldresal, principal Secretary for private Affairs, is, in my Opinion, if I am not partial, the second after the Treasurer; the rest of the great Officers are much upon a par.
These Diversions are often attended with fatal Accidents, whereof great Numbers are on Record. I my self have seen two or three Candidates break a Limb. But the Danger is much greater when the Ministers themselves are commanded to shew their Dexterity; for by contending to excel themselves and their Fellows, they strain so far, that there is hardly one of them who has not received a Fall, and some of them two or three. I was assured that a Year or two before my Arrival, Flimnap would have infallibly broken his Neck, if one of the King’s Cushions, that accidentally lay on the Ground, had not weakened the Force of his Fall.
Let those who can hear his message.
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Posts on the FM site discussing Some solutions, ways to reform America:
- Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
- Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008
- Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
- Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
- Fixing America: elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
- Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
- Fixing America: solutions — elections, revolt, passivity, 18 August 2008
- What happens next? Advice for the new President, part one., 17 October 2008
- What to do? Advice for the new President, part two., 18 October 2008