Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Divide and rule

Dianne Abbott's "divide and rule" tweet instantly struck me as ironic, for it is grievance-mongers and tribalists like the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington who contribute to social division. And Abbott is right that people are easier to manipulate and subdue when they are divided.

In the course of some recent searching [1], I came across the following excerpt from John Stuart Mill's On Representative Government:
Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities. Among a people without fellow-feeling, especially if they read and speak different languages, the united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist. The influences which form opinions and decide political acts are different in the different sections of the country. An altogether different set of leaders have the confidence of one part of the country and of another. The same books, newspapers, pamphlets, speeches, do not reach them. One section does not know what opinions, or what instigations, are circulating in another. The same incidents, the same acts, the same system of government, affect them in different ways; and each fears more injury to itself from the other nationalities than from the common arbiter, the state. Their mutual antipathies are generally much stronger than jealousy of the government. That any one of them feels aggrieved by the policy of the common ruler is sufficient to determine another to support that policy. Even if all are aggrieved, none feel that they can rely on the others for fidelity in a joint resistance; the strength of none is sufficient to resist alone, and each may reasonably think that it consults its own advantage most by bidding for the favour of the government against the rest.
This is where we find ourselves: short on fellow-feeling, divided into so many groups of "us" and "them", bidding for the favour of the government against the rest. Many races. Many cultures. Union v management. Rich v poor. Town v country. Labour v Conservative. Smoker v non-smoker. English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish — and that's just the UK. In the EU, we have an empire whose fragmentation rivals that of the Habsburgs.

But at the risk of sounding conspiratorial, the problem is broader. The loudly and proudly expressed animosity between American and European politicians is largely synthetic. They have more in common with each other than they do with us.

You don't have to be a tinfoil hatter to recognise that there is a ruling class, and that it has been going global. Will the ordinary people wake up, and recognise their true, common enemy. Not any time soon, it would seem.

[1] This article, discovered in the course of writing this blog post.

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