Wretchard’s post yesterday at Belmont Club about the plight of “Old Europe” brought to mind Coriolanus. In Act II, Scene III, Coriolanus stands before the people of Rome, doing a little reluctant electioneering:
Why in this woolvish toge should I stand here,
To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear,
Their needless vouches! Custom calls me to’t:
What custom wills, in all things should we do’t,
The dust on antique time would lie unswept,
And mountainous error be too highly heap’d
For truth to o’erpeer.
Recall that Coriolanus was a patrician warrior, pushed by a domineering mother into trying for the office of Consul. But this was during the Roman Republic, and Coriolanus was obliged to go through the annoying little formality of an election. Part of the customary ritual required the candidate to dress up in rustic plebeian clothes and meet the electorate. Coriolanus was a proud member of the warrior elite, and he found this task odious and degrading to his aristocratic sensibilities.
Now that the scene is laid, let’s engage in a little anachronistic fisking of Shakespeare, bearing the European Union in mind.
Why in this woolvish toge should I stand here: In the case of the modern European politician, the “woolvish toge” might be represented by the Bavarian candidate in lederhosen, the Frenchman in sabots and beret, the English member of Parliament campaigning for reelection in a humble cloth cap. If you’re going to go slumming among the lumpenproletariat, you’ve got to look like one of them.
To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear: Ah, dear old Hob and Dick, or Franz, or Jacques, or Pietro… Those delightful rubes, engaged in their usual rustic pastimes in pub, café, and bierkeller. Amusing fellows — elbows up, lads!
Their needless vouches! Now we come to crux of it: those damned useless votes! If only we weren’t required to go through this whole democratic charade! That’s why we’re setting up the mega-state with Brussels as its capital, to keep as far away from those pesky old votes as possible.
Custom calls me to’t:/What custom wills, in all things should we do’t: Those tiresome democratic rituals, in which we vote every so often just because that’s the way we’ve always done it.
The dust on antique time would lie unswept,/And mountainous error be too highly heap’d/For truth to o’erpeer: The downside of democracy is that the masses continually make bad decisions, and their accumulated errors lead them down the road to ruin. For their own good, the chaps in Brussels are going to have to guide them gently to the correct decisions. Taxes, regulation, welfare, and the guiding hand of those who know better: that’s the ticket!
We should all remember how Coriolanus ended up, driven to a tragic end by overweening pride and spitted on the sword of Tullus Aufidius.
Let’s hear it for mountainous error!