I wrote this about 4 years ago for my last novel. A city elder, Faisel, is delivering closing remarks at a citizens’ assembly, called “Town.” He describes the modern democracy’s rise and fall, and he cautions the citizens to not follow the same route. Originally I wrote Faisel’s speech with America in mind, but I changed it to China, since the novel was set far into the future and China would be a more recent example of a fallen democracy. Here, I’ve stripped all references to China.
Note the “stuff of life” line in the middle of the speech. I lifted it from a Charles Murray piece about the social disintegration of Europe and its causes. That theme was strikingly evident in my writing then as it is now. Alienation and dissociation, along with dependency, are the ranking evils of the technocratic state. Some lessons never grow old, I guess.
Don’t miss the exchange at the end between Faisel and a little girl. In this society, the children are indoctrinated early on to distrust their civic leaders, no matter how wizened they seem.
“A small number, concentrated in the cities at first, were allowed to invent, to create, to live, and they were rewarded for their hard work. They tasted freedom, and the country was better for it. The technocrats were happy because their country was gaining wealth, status, and influence. But the people were becoming free, and free people think for themselves. The technocrats didn’t want that, but they didn’t want to be outdone by competing nations, either. So they permitted a little freedom here and there.
“They didn’t realize how infectious freedom is, how quickly it can spread. More and more people got the itch, despite the technocrats’ attempts to hold them down—in the end frantically—and it became obvious who the bad men were. After making small gains for two generations, the best and brightest matured and overthrew their slaveholders.
“In an instant people’s worlds changed. They were free. They could work where they wanted, live where they wanted, eat what they wanted, make love to whomever they wanted. There was opportunity and the liberty to pursue it. They made things for themselves. And not just things, but families, friendships, businesses, churches, co-ops, charities, the stuff of life, an enduring fabric. A golden era of many decades saw the country increase.
“Then something happened, something terrible. A lot of wealth had been accumulated over the years. And the last generation to contribute to it was tired. They had worked hard all their lives, and they wanted to reap the harvest. So they—just—stopped. They stopped working. They stopped creating. They stopped teaching their children, the biggest mistake any generation can make. They didn’t teach their children how to make what their parents had made. They had what they wanted, and it was time to enjoy it. That’s all that mattered to them.
“Once that spirit of reaching forward faded, it was gone forever. When that last generation that made anything died away, the next generation took after their late parents. They hadn’t learned, because they hadn’t been taught. They said, ‘Let the state provide.’ And the state did provide, until it was no longer a matter of letting the state provide, but needing the state to provide.
“There was less wealth than there was before, so they divided against each other, interest against interest. The young wanted education. The working class wanted occupational security and housing. The elderly wanted retirement subsidies. They elected leaders to steal from the other interests and give to them. For decades all they did was steal from each other. It didn’t take long for the wealth of generations to run out. Then came a period of want, of fear. A strongman emerged who promised to make everything better. He took over the country in a matter of months. Months! It had taken 100 years to build up that society that had set a fifth of Earth’s population people free, and it was gone in just a few months. He did it with the military, distracting them with war, while from under their noses he took all that was left and did with it what he wanted.
“Anyway, some people got what they thought was owed them. But the rest, the vast majority, didn’t. They had one thing in common: They were all slaves. Again they were told what to do, where to live, and how much to eat and drink and buy, just like their ancestors. They had come full circle.
“Today, one little girl is attending her first Town. Will Elaine and her parents John and Renee please stand?”
The two parents of Elaine stood up. Elaine’s father lifted her up by the wrist and planted her on his shoulders.
“Say ‘hello,’” said her father.
Elaine chewed on her thumb. “Hello,” she mumbled.
“Can you answer for me, dear Elaine, in whom is the greatest potential for evil in Compact?”
Her father repeated the question to her in a way she could understand. She whispered back.
“Who is the bad man?” Faisel rephrased.
“So everyone can hear you, sweetheart,” said her father.
She pointed at Faisel.
“Who are you pointing at, dear?” said Faisel.
“You,” she said hesitantly.
“Only if you let me.”