K. J. Pedersen
“Democracy fails because it is prone to the corrupting influences of demagogues. We have all heard this said before, have we not?” said Herra Eadweardson, our history teacher. “Nevertheless, history has proven it true. The history of the 20th Century, above all else, proves democracy is the impractical — no, impossible — dream of democratic-republicans, social democrats, and certain addle-headed liberals. European civilization’s experiment with democratic-republicanism was a failure.”
“So, Herra Eadweardson, logic follows then that this Republic was the product of demagoguery!” Shane said.
“You misinterpret the events of last century then,” the teacher said.
“No, I understand what occurred perfectly well,” Shane continued. “But you are right, Herra Eadweardson, demagoguery played a substantial role in the subversion of democratic-republicanism in the AFR. Regardless, I stand by my assertion: It also played a significant role in the creation of this new, global, republican order.”
Herra Eadweardson stood up from behind his desk, came around front, and sat on the edge. He looked at Shane for a long moment. “As I said, democracy was a failure.” Then he looked out to the class. “So how did the democratic state come apart? What was the process?”
“In 1979 a law was passed in Liberia which charged a substantial fee of those individuals who ran for the Senate and Landsthing,” I said. “In 1980, a similar bill was submitted and passed regarding those seeking federal offices.” I leaned forward, and continued, “At first the political parties simply paid the fees for their candidates, and because the AFR had, and has, a ‘winner-takes-all’ electoral process, the smaller parties, which seldom won seats anyway, were the only voices to protest.”
“But there were legal challenges against the law, weren’t there?” the teacher said.
Ælfred Wurthingas spoke up. “True, there were numerous attempts to strike down the new law, but the Federal Court deemed the law constitutional, citing precedents set in the 18th Century with the founding of the Republic of Nova Anglia. At that time, property requirements and fees were well established. The men who founded the country knew what they were doing,” he said. “It was only later when democrats and socialists entered the political arena that the republic was destabilized by their endless demands in the name of ‘fairness.’”
Markus Eiriksson concurred: “From there it was all downhill.”
“Oh, yes,” Shane said. “All down hill, Markus. All down hill indeed. The workweek was reduced to forty hours; there was money in the pockets of the working-classes; open, universal public education was established; universities and colleges flourished in every city from coast to coast; literacy was wide-spread; cheap, efficient public utilities served the people; and almost seventy percent of families occupied their own homes. What a horrible era that was.”
“It was unsustainable,” Ælfred said simply. “And what of the tax burden? The State had no right to tax income at all. Much less did the State have the right to enact a progressive income tax. Taxation is theft.”
“What right does it have to charge sales taxes then?” I asked. “And what right does Capital have to tax the working-classes in the form of labor?”
The door opened right then. It was Lukas. I was surprised to see him; he hadn’t been in our literature class that morning, and I figured he was sick.
“Hold on,” the teacher said. Then he turned to Lukas. “Good of you to join us, Lukas.” His tone was sarcastic, nasty even. “You’re only fifteen minutes late.”
“Sorry,” he said and sat in the empty seat next to mine.
“Our discussion is getting off track,” the teacher said. “What was the next step taken to end universal suffrage?”
Lukas turned to me. “What are we discussing?” he whispered.
“The collapse of the democratic-republic,” I replied in kind.
“The next step was that property requirements were then passed into law for those seeking a seat with the Landsthing and Senate. Soon thereafter all federal offices had associated property and/or income requirements. Challenges in the courts met failure because of earlier precedents, just as Ælfred said,” Shane said. “The electorate was disgusted with whole thing. It was all just ‘politics as usual’ in their eyes, and even though only half of them ever voted, the assault on the general public’s rights to run for office was still not enough to rouse them to take action at the ballot box. After all, many thought it wasn’t such a huge change considering the Conservatives and Liberals alike were already the lap-dogs of corporate lobbyists, and only the wealthy and well-to-do were ever elected anyway.”
Ælfred rolled his eyes.
“In 1986 the open-ended Voter Registration and Responsibilities Act was passed, which established a poll tax,” Shane continued. “Of course, this poll tax was called a ‘fee’ as taxation had become synonymous with theft.” Shane glared at Ælfred. “This fee was enough to discourage lower-income individuals from voting. By that time though, a significant portion of lower-income individuals didn’t bother to vote at all because they had become skeptical of the entire political process anyway.”
“The public was apathetic then?” the teacher pressed.
“That’s another reason democracies fail,” Markus said. “Voter apathy.”
“Voter apathy, Markus? Or was it voter contempt for the way moneyed-interests had insinuated themselves so deeply into the political machinery of the State? Both political parties, the Conservatives and Liberals alike, were — and are — heavily influenced by the banks, law firms, and the military-industrial complex,” Lukas said suddenly, forcefully. “The base of support for the abolition of universal suffrage was Liberian, primarily among the upper middle-class which, though they enjoyed a lifestyle of prosperity unsurpassed — to that point — in human history, they still believed themselves to be too heavily taxed. They rallied the media to their cause in the name of getting ‘the federal government off their back.’ They didn’t propose the abolition of the State, or government, or even taxation. No, they simply wanted the burden shifted, from their shoulders, and placed entirely upon the shoulders of the ‘lazy, hedonistic, pampered, and ill-educated horde.’”
“You exaggerate, Lukas,” Markus said.
“Really? Read the newspapers and magazines of that era, Markus, if you believe I speak in hyperbole,” Lukas said.
The teacher spoke over Markus and Lukas, and asked, “What happened finally; what was the final stroke against universal adult suffrage, Shane?”
“The final blow was struck in 1998, when the Voter Registration and Responsibilities Act was amended. The amendment introduced property requirements in order to register to vote at all. The franchise was limited and the property and income requirements steadily increased with each passing year and in tandem with the free movement of capital — that is, capital flight — an increasingly ‘service-oriented’ job-market, and the steadily deteriorating wages of the working-classes. With that, universal suffrage, and thus the democratic-republic, was abolished,” Shane said. “By 2016 the so-called ‘welfare-state’ had been completely dismantled, along with public education, the regulation of industry and commerce, labor laws — including child labor laws — and the gulf between the poorest working members of society, and the wealthiest ten percent, steadily increased from an income ratio of 5-1 in 1998 to 10-1 in 2024. It stayed relatively steady, but now, for the last ten years, it has begun to increase yet again.”
Ælfred mocked Shane: “You have the left-wing explanation of things worked out to a science.”
“Oh, I know the right-wing explanation just as well. I’ll give it to you in a nutshell: The ‘human-herd’ was, and is, too stupid to concern itself with res publica, and it should therefore be left to those who understand politics.”
“Mac Cormac!” the teacher warned.
“First, let’s be clear on this: The AFR was a democratic-republic,” Shane said. “And that is not the same thing as a democracy.”
“Well, Shane, if you’re going to be pedantic,” Herra Eadweardson said to a few chuckles from the class, “then you’re correct in the sense that laws were passed by representatives elected by the people rather than enacted by the people themselves. Except in a few cases where plebiscites were called for.”
“Nevertheless, the differences between representative and participatory government are significant, and the distinction must be made. Like I said, the AFR was never a democracy,” he said. “And as far as representative government was concerned, it was hardly ‘democratic’ either, considering the absence of proportional representation. Without proportional representation, the government was never truly representative, merely majoritarian.”
“No, not even majoritarian,” I said, “for even a mere plurality of votes would win a candidate office.”
“But proportional representation permits authoritarian, even totalitarian, political parties to participate in the political process,” Markus said.
Lukas replied to that, saying, “The abolition of universal suffrage in and of itself was an authoritarian action. It concentrated political power totally in the hands of a minority. In this respect, I dare say it was totalitarian! It was proposed by the Conservatives, and ratified by Liberals, and therefore, as far as I’m concerned, both are authoritarian, even totalitarian, political parties. In those nations which had proportional representation, the decline and abolition of universal suffrage only occurred after the formation of the Terran Republic.”
“Lukas is right,” Shane said. “In the United Republics of Scandia, for example, there were many different parties represented, and most of those parties stood firm against any inroads against universal suffrage. It wasn’t until a right-wing coalition government — formed between the Hójra, Folke-Kristelig, and Fædreland parties — came to power, that the people’s democratic rights were whittled away. And even that was largely the result of economic pressures placed on those states by the Terran Republic — dominated by the AFR, Sinæ, and the Rus — with its legal insistence upon ‘Free Trade,’ and subsequent capital flight away from those nations which insisted upon maintaining open and publicly accountable economic institutions.”
I looked at the teacher. “Isn’t that true? Isn’t it true that it was much more difficult for anti-democratic ‘populist’ forces to rally the public in those nations which had proportional representation than those with a ‘winner-takes-all’ electoral system?”
Herra Eadweardson scratched his forehead. “Yes, Johannes. That is true.”
Markus Eiriksson said, “Nevertheless, democracy was subverted by demagoguery.”
“Yes, indeed! But, as Shane said, the present form of republican government was what those demagogues called for!” I said. “Plutocrats, aristocrats, oligarches — all of these were the demagogues which denounced democracy right from the very beginning.”
“And rightly so! Democracy isn’t just a system of government that is easily subverted, it is a corrupting — immoral — form of government in the first place!” Ælfred said. “The founders of the Republic of Nova Anglia put it best three-hundred years ago in their treatise Federal Republicanism and the Modern State: ‘The primary purpose of the State is to protect the Property and Wealth of the wisest and most judicious castes of Men. Because the age of Monarchs and the titular Nobility has passed, we therefore advocate Republicanism as a bulwark against the democratic inclinations of the Masses, and the chaotic ruin such a Government would bring down upon Humanity.’ In other words, Johan: Allow the people to vote, allow them access to the State apparatus, and they will inevitably make inroads against private property.”
“Yes, indeed, Ælfred, that quote says it all,” I said slyly.
“Look at what the unions are doing right now!” Markus interjected. “They are trying to override the sanctity of private property rights.” He shot a pointed look at Lukas. There was anger in his eyes, I saw, half-concealed, but genuine.
“And what is the precondition for slavery, Ælfred? Markus?” Lukas demanded. “Private property! Slaves are the private human property of their masters! The Republic of Nova Anglia established chattel slavery in its very constitution!”
“It permitted it,” Ælfred said.
“It established private property as an ‘inviolable right,’” Lukas said. “It recognized African slaves as the private property of their masters, and provided for the return of slaves to their masters should they run away. It didn’t merely permit slavery at all, Ælfred. It established slavery as a fundamental property right.”
“Nevertheless, chattel slavery was abolished,” Markus said. “African slavery in the New World was ended one-hundred-seventy years ago.”
“Only after the abolitionist Christian Law Society of Nova Anglia and Red Republicans from Francia Nova not-so-secretly supplied arms to escaped slaves, men still in bondage, willing freemen, and agitated for insurrection,” Lukas said.
“And what do you propose, ultimately? That the State should own and govern property instead?” Ælfred retorted.
“It required State action to put an end to chattel slavery!” I said.
“And such action damn near started a civil war which would have destroyed the nation, Johan,” Markus replied quickly.
The Saxon Shires, on the southeast Atlantic coast of the continent, threatened to secede from the Nova Anglian republic, and called up the shire militias to lend physical authority to their voiced threat.
“And if the government hadn’t acted to abolish slavery, the State faced not only the threat of a slave rebellion, but outright social revolution,” Shane said. “It could very well have been civil war either way, Markus.”
“But it was the political process which overturned slavery. There was no blood shed; no civil war; no social revolution. The government abolished slavery gradually, incrementally,” I continued. “It was regulated, the abuses were mitigated, and finally that goddamned, evil institution was cast back into the depths of hell from which it emerged.”
“That’s just the way it works, Johan. The State regulates, taxes, ‘mitigates abuses,’ and abolishes. Step by step, like a predator, the State moves forward,” Ælfred said. “Private property is the greatest defense against the encroaching powers of the State.”
Lukas laughed. “Listen to yourself! The State exists now, but do you call for its abolition? No. Of course not. Why is that? Because the State is now solely the domain of the propertied-classes. That was the point in limiting the franchise, Ælfred! The ‘encroaching powers of the State’ only cause you alarm when they encroach upon your privilege! Never mind that those powers encroach today upon the rights — the very freedom — of the working-classes!”
“So, you are a state socialist,” Ælfred said.
“Absolutely not! With Statism, the root of the evil remains: The concentration of social, political, and economic powers in the hands of a few,” Lukas said. “The State is the vehicle of class rule, the means by which one group of men dominate the whole of society. Such dominion is guaranteed by physical coercion, its selective application, or even by its mere threat.”
“Then you are an anarchist!” Ælfred said.
Lukas ignored him and pressed on: “Consider the aristocratic nonsense you just recited, Ælfred, and then tell me with a straight face that you object to the powers and authority of the State. Shall I repeat your quote? ‘The primary purpose of the State is to protect the Property and Wealth of the wisest and most judicious castes of Men.’”
Ælfred didn’t reply to that. His eyes locked with Lukas’s.
Lukas went on, “You are telling me that in order to prevent the plebeians from expropriating the patricians — the ‘wisest and most judicious’ caste — that this ‘enlightened’ body must expropriate the people of their right to participate in res publica — the public matter!”
Again Ælfred said nothing.
“With the formation of the Terran Republic, we see a worldwide super-state, and a worldwide ruling-class,” Lukas said. “Four-hundred-fifty families own 22% of the world’s wealth, another one and a quarter million families own an additional 36% percent of the wealth. Fully 95% of world’s wealth is owned by only 20% of its population.” He was angry. “Is that fair, Ælfred? Is that just? The situation has become almost as severe as it was in Francia before the Great Republican Revolution, or under the Tsar of the Rus. The tremendous capacity of industry does not serve the public generally, but produces luxuries — yachts, ‘sports submarines,’ palatial estates, Lunar vacations, and luxury hotels in orbit. But on the other hand, diseases which were conquered in the 20th Century in this country returned in the first years of the 21st Century, and they are still with us to this day.”
“The market is the only efficient means of regulating production and distribution,” Ælfred said. “History proves that over and over again.”
“History proves the market is only efficient when there is broad public access to it! Social-liberalism and the associated welfare state proved that much as it expanded the domestic market and allowed everyone an income, even if it was, as A. A. Petrov said, ‘the Christian charity of Statists.’ And Francian market socialism — mutualism — proved this point beyond any doubt: The market works well only when it has been largely socialized,” Lukas said. “But you say this system is efficient, do you? Today? As the market is now constituted? You have got to be blind, deaf, and/or crazy, Ælfred! Did you just not hear what I said? The nation’s infrastructure is falling apart! But I don’t suppose you care. After all, it isn’t happening in your neighborhood!”
“Capitalism and the market allocate resources to the efficient,” Ælfred said. “It is as simple as that. Your emotionalism undermines your arguments. Capitalism buried socialism one-hundred plus years ago.”
“It wasn’t capitalism that destroyed socialism in Francia,” Shane said. “Socialism was destroyed there by Alemannian bombers and rifles and bayonets! It wasn’t capitalism that brought an end to socialism in Francia Nova; it was ended abruptly when an atomic weapon was hurled into the ranks of the People’s Militia by Liberian artillery.”
“All capitalism does is allocate resources to the willful, wealthy, and powerful,” Lukas said. “This is the point, Ælfred, which you Liberals fail to grasp: A free market is valueless unless one has access to that market in the first place. The market only responds to demands which have been registered. And how are demands registered? With money! And who dispenses and regulates the value of that money? Those who hold private property — the means of production, distribution, and finance — of course. There is a reason the entire science is called political-economy, after all. Because economics is but one of many political matters!”
“Quite right. Even apart from the State, economics is still a political matter. The market, ultimately, is nothing more than an aggregate of those institutions which deal with matters of political-economy. They are political institutions, whether related to the State or not, and as with all such institutions, they are used to advance the goals of their directors,” Shane said. “And as for capitalism, if defined as broadly as ‘the market’ is, it is simply any economic system which deals with the utilization of capital, be it natural capital, money capital, or ‘human capital.’ Thus socialism is ‘social-property capitalism,’ and communism is ‘common-property capitalism.’ But by Capitalism, Ælfred, you mean exclusively ‘private-property capitalism,’ and that ultimately amounts to nothing more than the feudalism of movable property!”
“You’re fucking socialists, all three of you,” Markus said. He was looking directly at Lukas. “And what you said is not true!”
“Herra Eiriksson,” the teacher said, “please watch your language.”
I ignored Markus’s profanity. “What of the word feudalism?” I asked. “Feodum, fee, fief — all these words are related. They all refer to Property! But whose property? Liberals — like Ælfred here — insist property ownership guarantees Liberty. If that’s true, then our society is only twenty percent free, and eighty percent serf. If property is, in fact, Liberty’s guarantor, then only if every member of society has access, ownership, and the power to participate in the governance of property, would a society be truly free.”
“That is, more or less, the contention of all socialists, whether they be right-wing statists, or left-wing anarchists,” Herra Eadweardson said.
“We put this debate to bed a hundred years ago,” Markus said.
“Quite right,” Ælfred said.
“It was put to sleep,” Lukas replied. “‘Strangled in its cradle,’ I believe was the expression.”
Herra Eadweardson stood up. “Well, the bitterness of this debate reminds me of democracy’s other primary fault,” he said, “namely, factionalism.”
* * *
Lukas looked sick when we met up in the lunch hall at noon. I stepped up beside him in the food serving line. “Are you feeling ill, Luki?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said. “If I was feeling sick, I’d go home.”
He looked so downcast, so unlike his usual cheerful self, I felt my heart sink.
“Seriously, brother, are you okay?”
I reached out to him and touched his shoulder. If we had been alone, I’d have wrapped my arms around him and offered better reassurance. I wanted too. If the situation was reversed, he would have, and the world be damned.
“Johan ... yeah, I’m fine.”
“Have you heard from your father?”
“Yeah.” There was a bitter, frightened tone to his voice. “He didn’t come home last night like he promised. That’s why I missed literature class this morning. I was worried about him. I stayed home waiting for him to call.”
“With all that’s happened this morning, I guess he’s worried about his fellow workers, and is doing whatever he can to come to an acceptable agreement with Æthelbaldson-Herewic.”
“When did you talk to him?”
“This morning, an hour or so after the proconsul’s address. He called us, told us not to worry. ‘The matter in Corpus Christi is localized, not general.’ That’s what he said anyway.”
We paid for lunch, took our trays, and sat down at an empty table near the middle of the lunch hall. It was about five minutes after noon, the televisions on the walls in the four corners of the room were on, but the proconsul’s promised address had yet to materialize. There were two newsmen talking away, going on and on about the ‘averted crisis’ and the proconsul’s ‘decisive action’ in declaring martial law.
“The Industrial Socialist Workers’ union has been under investigation by the Federal Security Bureau for a long time now.” one newsman said to the other. “The public must understand the ISW is the Red Republican Party’s ‘labor front.’”
A small, harsh-sounding laugh escaped Lukas’s lips, and he shook his head. “Labor front? The leadership of the ISW is forthright about their political affiliation with the Red Republicans! Everyone knows it. All of the union’s literature refers directly to the party, and the party’s to the union. Both use the red star and sheaves of wheat as their symbol too. And they act together, as one.”
“If these pundits wanted to expose deception,” I said, “they should have mentioned that leaders of the Christian Brotherhood of Labor are members sub rosa of the Christian Nationalist Party.”
That ‘union’ nevertheless insisted it was independent, all the while preaching the same brand of xenophobia, militarism, and nationalism that appeared in the CNP’s platform. Further, neither the ‘union’ nor the party maintained any genuinely pro-labor positions, but merely repeated a vaguely populist rhetoric that offered no means by which working men and women could improve their economic situation.
Lukas’s eyes met mine; his expression was very serious. He lowered his voice, and said, “What the newsmen said about the government investigating the ISW ... it applies to the WCLW too.” Then he leaned forward across the table, and said slowly, “My father is being investigated, Johannes.”
“That’s what Matti told me this morning,” I said, matching his lowered voice. “I understand the Board of Directors at Æthelbaldson-Herewic filed a criminal complaint against your father. Why didn’t they just fire him?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe they were afraid the union would call for strike action right then and there.”
“He’s been fired before for trying to organize the WCLW, hasn’t he?” I said.
“Several times.” He paused, and then said, “The government considers the WCLW a greater danger to the order of things than it does either the ISW or the Red Republicans.”
I understood what he meant immediately. The threat libertarians posed was greater because they did not limit themselves to actions within the framework of the State. Libertarian Workers weren’t merely socialists like the Red Republicans and the rank and file of the ISW, but anarchists. Unlike the Democratic-Republicans and other ‘social-liberals,’ they weren’t trying to reform and regulate capitalism in an effort to reestablish the so-called ‘Democratic Market’ welfare-state. And unlike the Red Republicans and Social Democrats, they weren’t trying to bring about a Workers’ Republic either. They were not simply challenging capitalism, but the State itself, for they were working to establish a free confederation of syndicates, shires, and communes.
A free, balanced, democratic society based on the principles of self-government, mutual aid, and confederalism was indeed the ultimate aim of the libertarian movement. Nevertheless, there were more immediate concerns which transcended the political aims of the various political parties, associations, and movements. Solidarity was called for.
Matthias-Paulus was right: The hundreds of labor disputes which had erupted worldwide were frightening. They were politically and socially divisive as well, and apparently chaotic. But they were also necessary. The cost of living had exceeded the income of the bottom half of the labor force for too long, and appeals to the government, and to the executives and board members of the firms had proven futile. The time was right to act. And that was why most of the unions — even the relatively conservative Anglian National Congress of Labor — decided to coordinate their efforts and take joint strike action this time.
The government had anticipated the strikes and called a special session of the Landsthing and Senate last week before strike action was ever taken. With the frequency of labor disputes erupting last summer — in Niew Lifrapol, Corpus Christi, Niew Dunham, Lundenwic, Karlgrottastadt, Roma, Hannover, Lund, Warszawa, Moskva, Shanghai, Tokyo-Yokohama — there wasn’t much to anticipate really.
Lukas and I had talked about this all before. Many times, in fact.
He scratched his head thoughtfully. It was a nervous habit I found strangely endearing. “Johannes,” he said, “I’ve got to talk to my father. There’s no way around it. I’ve got to go.”
He went to get up from his chair; I grabbed his wrist.
“Calm down, Luki,” I said and he sat again. “Nothing’s going to happen. I’m sure negotiations are underway in Niew Lifrapol as we speak.”
“My father’s turned off his personal phone.”
“Lukas,” I said gently, “take it easy. He doesn’t want to be disturbed, that’s all.”
“It’s after noon. What happened to the proconsul’s address? Something is wrong.”
“You know politicians. They’re all actors. This wait ... he’s baiting us. That’s all. It’s an assertion of his authority — ”
“Johannes! Lukas!” That was Mattæus. He was accompanied by Shane and Wulfric. He sat down beside me.
We all shook hands and bumped fists, smiled, and greeted each other.
“Well its about time we all met up,” Wulfric said.
Shane nodded in complete agreement. “All of my friends, all together, and all at once!” He turned to Lukas. “You argue very well,” he said referring to the discussion earlier that morning in our history class.
Lukas nodded. “Likewise, Shane.”
Mattæus said then, “Our Esteemed Leader was supposed to make an announcement at noon, wasn’t he?”
“That’s what we were just talking about before you showed up,” Lukas said.
Mattæus popped the top off his orange juice bottle and took a sip. “I can imagine what this announcement will amount to,” he said. “First, allay the fears of the general public, then move in for the kill.”
Lukas shook his head. “That isn’t funny.”
“I know it isn’t,” he said. “But that is what’s going to happen. ”
“You are such a cynic!” Lukas said. “Whatever happened to hope — ?”
“It isn’t lost,” Shane said.
“My father is out there, you know.”
Mattæus reached across the table and tapped Lukas’s forearm with his long fingers. “He’ll be fine, Luki.”
“Everyone keeps saying that,” he said, “but — ”
Lukas was cut off mid-sentence when the first bars of the national anthem — Anglia, Land of Our Fathers — played and the image on the television screens snapped to a picture of the fluttering flags of the AFR and Liberia. The flag of the Anglian Federative Republic was above the flag of the Republic of Liberia, symbolizing their relationship. The flag of the AFR contained the centered red cross of Sanctus Georgius upon a white field, and in the upper corner (beside the flag pole) was the seal of the AFR, a silver eagle clutching a golden fasces in both sets of talons. The flag of Liberia, below, too contained the red cross on the white field, with the Liberian seal — a silver torch topped with a golden flame — in the same upper quarter.
The national anthem and the picture of the flags faded and was replaced by an image of Proconsul Grimwoldson standing in front of the Capitol. In truth, Æthelwulf Grimwoldson was in his late fifties, but cosmetic surgery was a remarkably advanced art (and a prohibitively expensive luxury), so he looked to be in his early thirties instead. He wore his long, thick, black hair loose, and his short beard perfectly trimmed. He was dressed in a blue and silver coat, an ornately patterned vest, white silk shirt, and light tan-colored breeches. To his right stood a man with short-clipped gray hair, swept forward in the Roman Imperial fashion, and wearing a red coat, adorned with gold and silver medallions, shoulder boards, and all the other accessories of a well-decorated general officer. That man, I knew, was General Philipson.
The proconsul waited for a long moment, and then spoke:“Citizens, I assure you, first and foremost, civil order will be restored not only in Corpus Christi, but throughout Liberia, the Anglian Federative Republic, and the Terran Republic. Civil society and the rule of law will be restored and strengthened upon every continent, in every land, in every city and town. The ports will reopen, and the bounteous gifts of trade will once again go forth.
“The necessary actions to secure these promises are being taken as we speak.
“First, civil order was restored this morning in the capital by a temporary declaration of martial law. It was an unfortunate, but necessary, step taken to guarantee public safety.
“There will be a curfew tonight, starting at ten and ending at six tomorrow morning. This curfew will be in effect not only in the city of Corpus Christi, but throughout that shire. Once civil order has been restored throughout Liberia, I will lift the curfew, and call an end to martial law. In order for that to happen though, the strikes in every city, town, and shire in Liberia must come to an immediate halt.
“I do not intend to declare martial law elsewhere. However, I have ordered the Liberian Republican Guard to assist the government in its efforts to restore civil order.
“In places, these citizen-soldiers have already been deployed.
“I am, therefore, ordering the leaders and membership of the various labor unions to cease and desist in their ‘strike action’ immediately. The strikes are to end by no later than seven o’clock this evening. Further, I have authorized the private security firms involved on the behalf of their employers to resolve these matters by whatever reasonable means they feel appropriate.”
A cheer went up in the lunch hall at that. It was followed by clapping. Someone else yelled, “Dictator! Would-be Cæsar!” There were shouts of approval, and a few dissenting utterances of contempt, most of which came from our table.
Lukas’s face fell. My heart sank yet further. My brother clenched his jaw, and I saw the muscles move, clench and unclench. Shane wore the same angry, tight expression my brother wore. Wulfric’s shoulders sagged.
The address continued: “The chaos this strike action has brought about undermines industry and further destabilizes our already faltering economy. But more importantly it has now become a threat to the national security of the Anglian Federative Republic itself.
“I am not alone this afternoon in calling for an end to this economic sabotage. The governments of every constituent republic of the AFR have come together, in unity, to restore economic health to our Republic.
“Because of the severity of this situation, and the threat these labor actions now pose to very security of the AFR, First Consul Godfrith Ceolwulfson authorized this morning the mobilization of federal troops. If necessary, I will not hesitate to request their deployment.
Shane stood up and pushed back his chair. It tipped over and clattered along the linoleum floor loudly. “Fuck that!” he shouted. “To hell with you, Grimwoldson!” He turned to leave the lunch hall.
“To hell with you, Mac Cormac!” someone else shouted.
“Shane!” Wulfric called after him, while Lukas, Matti and I exchanged concerned glances.
On the television, the proconsul finished his address: “Citizens, workingmen and women of Liberia, it is up to you to restore civil order and economic health to our nation.
“God bless the Republic.”
* * *
The game against Hohtun Academy was scheduled to start in an hour, at five. The players from Hohtun would be arriving shortly by bus. Lukas and I went to the locker room to change before meeting in the gymnasium for pre-game exercises.
Andreas was already in the locker room when we arrived. “Hey, Johannes, did you talk to the coach about letting me play today?” he asked.
“So ... what did he say?”
“It’s all good, Andy!”
He raised his arms over his head in triumph and laughed. “Great!”
Honestly, like the coach, I too was worried about letting Andreas play because he was the smallest guy on the team, and C-ball could get very rough. Nevertheless, he was strong, fast, and could take care of himself.
“If you prove yourself on the field today, Andy,” I said, “there’s a chance we’ll have you play every game.”
He grabbed my shoulders. “Johan, you’re serious?”
“Fuck yeah!” he shouted and laughed again.
I gave Andreas a quick swat on the rear. “Good luck, bro’r!”
“We’ll grind Hohtun into the dirt,” he said, and left the locker room.
Lukas undressed in silence and kept his eyes down. Slowly, he pulled on his football jersey, shorts, and sat on the bench, shoes and socks in hand. His hair was loose and hung over his face. He just sat there for the longest time.
“Hey,” I said, sat beside him, and placed my hand on his shoulder.
“Hey,” he replied.
I had maintained the facade of optimism, and mostly for his sake, but understood how things really were, and what might happen, and why he was so scared.
“C’mon, Luki,” I said.
We put on our socks and shoes. Lukas tied his hair up in a topknot. Then we stood and left the locker room together. I went into the bathroom; Lukas followed me in. We stood side by side in front of the urinals.
He turned his head slightly toward me after a second or two. “Your brother is so frigging oblivious.”
“What do you mean? Oblivious to what?”
“Your brother doesn’t seem to catch on to the fact that half the guys in this school want to get into his underpants,” Lukas said with a lascivious smirk.
“Well, I know you want to.”
“Fair enough,” he said. “I think.... I think Shane is interested too.”
“Bullshit,” I said. “I don’t know about Shane’s sexuality, Lukas, but Matti is not gay.”
“I never said he was gay, Johan.”
“Fine. Bisexual. Whatever,” I said. “Matti is plenty happy with Lindi. He’s not into guys.”
“Come on, you have to admit he seems awfully comfortable around Shane. Did you see how they kept looking at each other? Did you see how close they sat to one another?” he said. “There are deep feelings there under the surface, man. Deep feelings. The signals are plain if you’d just look at them. It’s mutual.”
“They have a lot in common,” I insisted. “That’s all.”
He smirked again. “Right. Whatever.”
Whatever it was Lukas saw, I didn’t. He was so full of it, so presumptuous in believing and asserting Mattæus was bisexual. I figured because Lukas was comfortable with his own homosexuality, that he assumed most guys had similar urges. At any rate, discussing my brother as a sexual being made me uncomfortable.
As we were about to leave the bathroom, Lukas pushed me back against the wall, and put his hands on my shoulders. He didn’t say anything, but the worry was back in his eyes again. I knew what he wanted, so I put my hands on his waist and leaned forward. I pressed my forehead to his.
“Everything will be okay, Luki,” I said. “Your father is an intelligent, careful man. He’ll be fine.”
Lukas just nodded, wanting to believe what I said.
We kissed briefly — a kiss of friendship, of reassurance — before going out to the gymnasium for pre-game exercises.
There we exercised, stretched, wrestled, threw passes, and then the coach gave us a brief pep-talk, went over the game plan, and told us to return to the locker room. See, it was customary that we pray in the locker room before games.
As in so many other things, in matters of faith, Lukas and I too were so very much alike. Like me, he had occasional doubts about God and the Church, but believed nonetheless in Jesucristus, the Saints, and the Apostles. Even so, he refused to pray with the team. He did not like such public displays of something he considered deeply personal. He believed it was ‘base political posturing,’ and would have nothing to do with it. So, as we went into the locker room to ask God to watch over us and protect us from injury, Lukas, as usual, stayed behind in the gymnasium.
As we passed Lukas on our way into the locker room, Markus muttered, “Godless anarchist.”
I caught the look of surprise and pain in Lukas’s eyes.
* * *
Andreas proved all my fears wrong. He was amazing on the field that evening. He was fast, and despite his size, he was strong enough to keep himself out of trouble. Even when tackled, he went down without injury. He knew how to fall, how to keep the ball to his chest, and he fought hard to maintain possession of the ball as his opponents tried to wrest it away.
We were a point behind Hohtun though. Truthfully, we weren’t playing at all well. Markus was surly, wouldn’t follow the game plan, and played as if he and Godric were the only two members on the team at all. He wouldn’t listen to me, and utterly refused to cooperate with Lukas. (I knew that had everything to do with what had been said that morning in history class, the strike, and what Lukas’s father was doing as a delegate for the WCLW.) Five minutes before, Markus had a perfect opportunity to pass the ball off to Lukas, but hadn’t, and wound up getting tackled by Hohtun’s captain. Markus lost the ball. And that was why we were down a goal.
Lukas, I had to admit, wasn’t playing well either. And without Lukas there beside me, my right hand, I wasn’t playing as well as I usually did. Damn! We were losing! And to Hohtun Academy no less!
But we were in possession of the ball again. I ran, dodged one Hohtun player, and then charged at another, a small guy, faked to the right, ran left, and tossed the ball to Matthias-Paulus. It was a perfect catch. He ran, but went down when Hohtun’s captain dived at him.
Matthias-Paulus tried to keep the ball, but lost it. Andreas was right there! He snatched it away from Hohtun’s captain. He was so light on his feet he just danced though the tangle of bodies and found a open space. He ran for the goal.
He was almost there ... but a light-footed boy from Hohtun was on him.
Andreas threw the ball to Lukas. At first, Lukas didn’t seem to know what to do with it. His mind wasn’t on the game, I knew ... everyone knew. Including the other team. Then they were on top of him. That open space Andreas found was closed and Lukas was surrounded.
“Lukas!” I shouted. “Pass the ball to Antonius!”
It was too late; he reacted too slowly. He went down.
“Bloody hell!” someone cried out.
Somebody was hurt.
“Time, time!” I shouted.
“Sceofeld has called a time out,” the referee called and raised both arms and waved. “Two minutes.”
“Who’s hurt?” one of the boys asked.
“I’m okay,” Matthias-Paulus said. “Just twisted my wrist, that’s all. It’s okay.”
Andreas swatted Matthias-Paulus. “Careful, man, that wrist is too valuable to hurt.”
Matthias-Paulus grinned at him. “Andy, you are on fire tonight!”
“Seriously, all of you, we are not playing at a hundred percent,” I said. “We’re not even playing at fifty percent. This is Hohtun. They’re playing an awful game, but we are losing! I don’t know what is wrong, but we’ve got to get our act together before we lose this match.”
“Maybe we need a new captain,” Markus said.
I ignored him, and turned to Lukas. “Brother, you have got to concentrate.”
He nodded. “I’m sorry, Johannes.”
“Have him sit on the bench,” Markus said.
“If you had passed him the ball when he was open a few minutes back we’d still be tied, Markus,” I said. “This is a team, do you understand?”
He didn’t say anything.
“We all know what to do,” I said. “We know Hohtun’s weaknesses. So let’s work together and win this, okay?”
Andreas, Matthias-Paulus, and Antonius cheered. “Let’s do it!”
They trotted back to the center of the field. I stayed behind a step or two. “Lukas,” I called, “come here. I need to talk to you.”
“Yeah. I know. Concentrate. I’m trying.”
“I know. Just ... try to keep your mind on the game. I know it hard with all that’s happening in Niew Lifrapol right now, but — ”
“I’m sorry, I really am.”
“Just keep your focus, Luki. There’s nothing worrying can do to help matters. If you want out of the game, brother, just tell me and I’ll call someone off the bench.”
“No, I can do this.”
We joined the rest of the boys in the middle of the playing field.
The time-out ended and as soon as the referee shouted, “Go!” — I ran with the ball right through Hohtun’s weak center.
The next couple of minutes were insane, but I found myself jumping past the goal line just ahead of two or three of Hohtun’s strongest and fastest players. I couldn’t help but gloat and strut a little. It was a tie again.
And it stayed that way until there were only five minutes left on the clock. Matthias-Paulus was aggressive on the field, but not wild like he was during practice on Thursday. I suppose the coach’s warning got through to him. He was playing very well, and in harmony with Andreas. They were really the only two members of the team to play a serious game. And they won it for us.
We won, final score: 6 - 5.
I looked up into the bleachers and found my brother half way up, cheering, with Lindi at his side. Matti so seldom attended games that I felt my heart swell. I thrust my fist into the air and then pointed at him. He pointed back. Lindi was laughing and clapping.
Matthias-Paulus and Andreas had their arms around each other, and they were obviously very pleased with themselves, and the way they had played. I have to admit, they made an effective pair.
Well, we won, but when we got back to the locker room, the coach was angry, and let us know just how badly we played. He had only one compliment, and that was paid to Andreas, whom he invited to come off the bench permanently if I agreed. And, of course, I did. Then coach let us know how poorly I had played, how poorly Lukas had played, and then he told Markus that he was to sit out the next game.
“Coach,” I protested, “Markus will play better next — ”
The coach ignored me. “Markus, you are going to sit out the next game regardless of what Kirkagárd says. Do you even understand what the word ‘teamwork’ means?”
Markus muttered something, I didn’t hear what though.
“You nearly lost to the very worst team in the shire,” the coach said. “Let me tell you something, boys — I consider this a hollow victory. And so should you.”
* * *
My mother was in the living room reading when I came home following the game. Unlike my father, mum wasn’t particularly vain, and she dressed rather casually. She was in good health, but looked her forty-four years (and perhaps older as a result of the stresses brought about by an unhappy marriage). Her hair, though graying, was the same bronze-color as Matti’s, she had the same dark blue-gray eyes, and similar features. She was undeniably still very pretty, but had chosen to age naturally rather than retain the appearance of youth through cosmetic surgery as my father had.
She looked up at me, and asked, “Hvorfor ar du kedt, Johan?”
“Jig ar ikke kedt, moder,” I replied.
“Naj, naj, min són, du har det ikke sá gott.”
“Okay, I am upset. I’m worried,” I said. “I’m worried about Lukas. I’m worried about his father.”
“I hate to say this, but you have good reason to be worried for Grundtvig,” she said. “It is nearly seven — the proconsul’s deadline — and the WCLW is holding firm in the cities in which the union is active. They are going to defy the government.”
“As a member of the union myself, I have been following things very carefully all day.” She put down the computer pad she had been reading from, and motioned me to sit on the couch beside her. “The WCLW is working very closely with the FSW — the Federation of Socialist Workers. The memberships of both unions voted to stand together in solidarity even though the Anglian National Congress of Labor has declared their intentions to obey the government’s edict and abandon the strike at seven. Unfortunately, the CWC has followed suit.”
“What about negotiations with the employers? Is there any hope that a mutually acceptable agreement might be had?”
“There have been no negotiations since this morning,” she said. “The leaders of the various firms feel no need to negotiate with the syndicates, Johannes. The State has already lined up behind Capital, and has shown its willingness to act on their behalf.”
“But, then, what good is defying the proconsul going to do? I mean, for God’s sake, mum, the strike-breakers have guns! And there’s the state militia too!”
“We have a long struggle ahead of us, Johannes; Labor’s rights will not be won back in a day or with a single concerted strike action, as this has been,” she said. “Labor will stand firm in the face of adversity because capitulation would signal their — our — final unwillingness to act. Libertarianism is, above all else, about self-government, the freedom to act, and to carry through.”
That was true, but what if Lukas was right and things got ugly. What if...? God, running through the myriad of ‘what ifs’ never did any good.
“Mum, what’s wrong?” I asked when I noticed her long expression.
“Lukas’s father isn’t the only one in trouble,” she said. “I was called into the university chancellor’s office this afternoon. He was not happy.”
“Let’s start with the articles I write for Freedom & Fellowship and the International Labor Review. I am a ‘representative of the University,’ and the propagation of such ‘working-class radicalism’ does not well serve my position as head of the languages department. Or so the chancellor seems to believe. Ah, yes, and the university’s Board of Directors seems to think along those same lines as well,” she said. “Before the strikes broke out, my articles were merely the ‘utopian meanderings of a left-wing intellectual,’ or so the chancellor said, but now, now things are different. My ‘political agitation has become a liability.’”
“Herra weasel said that?”
“Yes, and more. My membership with the WCLW has become an issue as well,” she said. “Basically, he threatened me: Stop writing such ‘incendiary articles,’ or stop coming to work. He didn’t phrase it as such, but the message was clear nevertheless.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
She laughed. “Adopt a pen name, I suppose.”
I laughed with her.
“I am merely a writer; Grundtvig though is a fighter.”
“What do you think will happen tonight?”
She thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know.”
“Mum, please, be honest with me?” I demanded.
She shook her head. “My speculation will not help matters any, son.”
I knew she was correct. We sat for a long moment in silence.
“What are you reading?” I asked and reached for the computer pad at her side.
“Do you recall the writings of the Francian existentialist Ieremias-Stephanus von Mersch?”
I shook my head.
“He was a very widely read philosopher in the first half of twentieth century,” she said. “He served with the Presidium of the Francian Social Democratic Republic — as chief executive for a year, as director of education for another, and a member at large for another two. He was a very young man — only twenty-six — when he took office.
“Von Mersch was a driving force for mutualism in the formative years of the republic. He turned European socialism on its head, and reoriented it away from statism — which had become so fashionable in the 1880s and 1890s — and toward its earlier libertarian ideal, the ideals Othmar Múller first articulated in his treatise The Workers’ Republic in 1832. Recall this statement? ‘Those who mistake the State for society have no understanding whatever of the nature of human socialization.’”
“I’m familiar with it,” I said.
“The words were Múller’s, but they were words Von Mersch took to heart,” she said. “He officially left politics after serving out his term with the Presidium in 1909. His greatest contributions to society came not from his work in office, but rather from what he wrote following his political career. Among many others, he wrote The Principle of Reciprocity.”
“And that’s what you’re reading?” I asked.
She nodded. “I’ve read it before, when I was younger, as a student at the university.”
“What is it about?”
“In many ways it is a political treatise itself. But it deals directly with relationships between individuals, in small groups — including couples — bound together by either blood or some other affinity. From there the scope expands to larger groups of people, in their communities, in society, and in the interaction between societies. Reciprocity, the exchange for mutual benefit, garners trust,” she said. “Finally, his book is about the role trust plays — must play — in a democratic society, particularly in a participatory democracy, and in economics.”
“As with a gift economy?”
“Yes, among others. Trust plays a particularly important role in free, open economies, and thus his emphasis on mutualism, free-association communism, and certain mixed-market arrangements such as democratic- or social-market capitalism, rather than state socialism, and corporate capitalism.”
“Was Von Mersch an anarchist like the Ruthenian Petrov?”
“No, not exactly. He believed the state could play a beneficial role, if its authority was strictly limited.”
“So he was a liberal democratic socialist?”
“More or less,” she said.
“Was he still alive during the Great War?”
“Yes. When the Francian Social Democracy was finally overrun by the Alemannians in 1957, he sought refuge in Suedia. He died there in 1958 at the age of seventy-nine.”
“Reciprocity and trust. They are such simple concepts, and yet so elusive.”
“It’s a heart-breaking truth, is it not?” she said. “Reciprocity is at the heart of every healthy human relationship, whether between husband and wife; parents and children; siblings; teachers and students; business associates and customers; co-workers.” She looked at me for a long moment. It was a meaningful look, I thought. “Between friends and lovers.” My heart raced.... Did she mean what I thought she meant? Was she talking about my relationship with Lukas? She knew? I didn’t have time to find out because she went on so quickly, “Reciprocity is essential to our humanity. I’ve spent more than twenty years trying to build a working relationship with your father. Trust requires work; it requires an exchange; it requires mutual benefit....” she trailed off, and sighed.
“I hate to admit this, Johannes, but my marriage to your father is ... well, it’s ... it’s beyond repair. There is nothing left. Our relationship ... has become meaningless,” she said. “But your relationship with Eadmund does not need to fall apart as well. Don’t take the same course your brother has. Mattæus has no love for your father, I know, and it pains me to see it. It shouldn’t happen that way between fathers and sons. Johannes, it doesn’t need to be the same way with you.”
“Mum, I love father.”
“Try always, Johannes, to hold onto that then.”
* * *
To be continued....