The Country/The Country

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38. 'Is It Better to be Loved or Feared?'

“You never answered me,” Pig said.

They were walking again, two strolling, aging men, one body twice the size of the other, but both sharing the same materially downward profile, and both minds already aware of the impact of gravity, the implacable foe that would ultimately convert creatures such as themselves from mind and body to mud and minerals.

“I haven’t?” Keel’s gait stuttered a little. He glanced at his companion, saw the subject was a serious one. “Remind me. What was the question?”

“Whether it is better for a ruler to be loved or feared.”

He remembered now. And he knew by the slick of ill-smelling evasion back on the screen the night before -- nooz-readers reciting what they had been told to say -- that nothing fundamental had been changed by the exposure of Pig’s horns.

Local items led.

The line of baby geese who stopped traffic in the rustic suburb of Haresview.

The fire in an old warehouse within the riverfront district, the only piece of the city Keel avoided out of fear of just such occurrences among the old war-houses that had once housed munitions along with other trade commodities.

“Right,” Keel said, putting aside regrets. “The famous question posed by the author of ‘The Politics,’ in the great age of Uprisings. The philosopher of rule Elster Mac-Veely -- the formidable Malachismo.”

“That’s one of his noms de plume,” Pig interrupted. “I prefer ‘Le Politicien.’”

“The gloved hand?” Keel questioned. “The mailed fist concealed within the silk glove. A philosophy of governing that bends to meet your every need?”

"My needs?”

“Well,” Keel replied, “why else are we talking about these matters?”

“OK, you’re on. What are my needs?”

“The needs of the ruler. The absolute ruler, to accept the premises of Mac-Veely, who governs without the check of opposition. Who doesn’t worry about sharing power.”

Pig grunted.

“But today,” Keel said, risking more candor, “we elect leaders. In this country. In this age of the world. The voters choose them. Every citizen of a certain age has the right to vote. They don’t have to ‘love’ you, Mr. Pegasso, they simply have to decide that you’re the best choice.”

Pig lifted a hand, waved vaguely to the view of the great old pile of the Capitol.

“You disappoint me, Keel. You are telling me fairy tales. The old stories of the old men who lived in those old buildings. Where these days our leaders -- our ‘elected representatives’ -- daydream at their desks, take their two-hour lunches, and return to watch the clock. If they even bother to come back.”

They had stopped walking. Thunder was gathering in the skies of Pig.

“Their day is past, Keel. And you know it. Don’t pretend you don’t.”

Keel waited, fully expecting more. What would it be?

A driving, steady downpour. A true storm?

“This’ age of the world’ -- is that what you call it? Well this age -- this old age of the Commonhope of UZ -- is over. This country’s been sleeping, man, can’t you see it?”

The big man’s eyes bored into smaller companion, who withheld comment.

“It’s sleeping now and it’s been sleeping for years under O’Rhule. When’s the last time something happened down there in The Capital, that cesspool of pettifoggery, to shake things up?” He pointed again at the district Capitol Building, now plainly in view. “The leaders, these so-called representatives, are time-passers, that’s all they are. Their idea of this country has no mission. No challenge.”

Pig’s arm flew, pumping imaginary water. The rally gesture.

“No battles to fight! No call to awaken!”

Rally cap stuff -- but some of Pig’s words, the last few especially, found their target.

He might have been talking about me, Keel thought. What was his mission? Where was the dedication, zeal, passion in his life? Is that why Pig chose me as a foil? Keel asked himself. Am I one of the worn-out leets? The representative of all he hates?

“You wish to wake the sleepers?” he queried.

“To shake the earth they stand on,” Pig replied. He lifted his chin skyward, as if calling on the sky as his witness.

“So, yeah, my men come into town and they shake things up. They stir the pot. The ground moves under the feet of all these sleepers. They are thrown out of their cozy beds, knocked off their feet.”

He stared at his companion, or opponent, in dialogue; who made no reply

“And, yeah, a few get hurt. Well, a few must be sacrificed, for the good of the many. Yes, there is fear, there are rumblings, rumors, stories are passed. Some egos get bruised. Some dirty secrets spilled. The little sins of men -- and a few ‘careless’ women, let us say -- are exposed.... It is a cleansing. It’s all part of a necessary renewal. This is a new age, man.”

Pig looks darkly about him. No one is cheering, by then the only voice within hearing is not objecting either.

His expression lightens as he focuses on the un-objecting Keel.

“The new air rushes in. It’s my breath, Keel, you’re feeling on the back of your neck. The fresh air of a new day. Don’t you taste it, smell it? Feel it?”

Keel had no wish to feel the breath of the Pig anywhere on his person, but he has determined not to get into a rhetorical contest, or mere mud-slinging. Moderation is not exciting. Who wishes to defend sleepers? To accept this battleground is already to be defeated.

Instead, he summarized.

“So what you are saying, if I understand correctly, is that citizens of this country no longer have a choice to make. A change must be made, and it will come whether they wish it or not. A necessary change.” He spoke slowly. “That will benefit all in the end. That will save them from decline.”

Pig grunted, softly. Less in satisfaction, it appeared, than in cautious attention.

“And so,” Keel resumed, “if we are pursuing the question of how the leader, the new leader, should address the populace of the Commonhope of UZ... Whether, that is -- as you first put the matter -- he should seek to be loved or feared, then the goal is no longer appealing for their consent. Consent, in our traditional form of government, comes through a vote. But what you are seeking is acceptance. Acceptance --” he hesitated for a word -- “of a regime. A new regime. You wish to win the people’s acceptance, if not their approval, for the new directions you believe are necessary. Their obedience, we might say. A ruler must be obeyed, as Mac-Vey would say. A regime must be accepted. Or else things, the ordinary daily life of a civil society, the polis, will not run smoothly.”

He stopped speaking, to take in the face of the Leading Candidate.

“So it’s a question of tactics, then, isn’t it?”

Pig’s throat made a grumbling noise. And then he laughed.

“This is why I like you, Keel.”

Keel thought the big man was about to touch him, clap him on the shoulder, perhaps. But he did not.

“You get to the heart of things. You understand the big picture.”

Flattery. Every man, he thought, adores a tyrant.

“Love,” Keel said.

Pig’s face opened, and he looked away as if to hide his face until understanding came. Then he looked back at Keel.

“And do they love me with horns? Or do they fear me more?”

“I think,” Pig said a while later, as they walked back toward the lodging, having chewed this subject and several other traditional way-to-rule questions raised by the famous Mac-Vey, or as he is known, the philosoph Malachismo, or ‘Le Politicien,’ such as...

should the ruler appoint family members to positions of state or be careful to shield them from public view?

should the ruler lead his country to war to inspire his people or strive always to keep the peace? at what price?

should taxes be fair for all or should certain enterprises receive special favor to promote advances that benefit the realm?

should the ruler divest himself of private holdings to avoid the appearance of favoritism? should the prince appoint a simple, but savvy man of the people over a learned academician to a place on a high council or court?

or should he, of all things, appoint a woman?...

“that they will love me because of this.”

He glanced surreptitiously at Keel, who rewarded this attention with a nod.

“It will make me more like them. Imperfect. I am one of them. Flawed. As we all are.”

What was Keel’s flaw? What was not?

Keel knew he should not answer because he had no rational basis for answering this sort of question, whether Pig’s supporters would ‘love’ him more for his horns than they already do --

because he was not ‘one of them’ himself. In fact, he believed, ‘people like him’ would not make too much of it, because they believe actions speak louder than appearances; and by his actions Pig has already shown himself ruthless, prone to violence, and devoted to his own cause before all other goods.

It might cause an unscrupulous opponent to suggest, in a subtle, coded way, that people should not trust a candidate who is, physically, “not like us.” Who belongs, that is, to the small minority of UZ people who bear upon their bodies signs of animal originations.

And, more to the point, Mrs. Nathan already knew all this because she could think it out -- and see it, farther than he could.

So the real question for Keel was: what did she expect to happen? Had it simply been a throw of the dice? A card to play when, after all, you were running out of cards. A way of saying: This man hides things. Do not trust him.

She was taking a risk, then? Gambling?

Or was she only risking Keel? Sending him to stay close to the Leading Candidate, a man who had shown (at least to her penetrating vision) that he did not mind taking a life here and there to make a point?

She has played him, he saw. Like a pawn. She has moved him to her opponent’s end of the board, where he would not, unfortunately, become a queen. But could -- perhaps? -- help take a king down.

“You want the people to love you then, I take it,” Keel responded, at length, perhaps more artfully than sincerely, “rather than fear you.”

They walked in silence for a moment. “Then we agree.”

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