No. 732.—A Modest Nation-State.
LIKE MOST BOYS our age, my friend Ned and I were captivated by Plato’s Republic, which we considered a cracking good book, certainly our third-favorite after Treasure Island and Robert’s Rules of Order. Nor was it only the twists and turns of the plot and the sparkling wit of the dialogue that kept us turning pages. Mixed in with those delights, as fans of Plato may have noticed, is a fair amount of wisdom on the subject of political philosophy. Long after we were supposed to be in bed, Ned and I kept up our debates on the questions brought up by the book, communicating between our houses by means of a telegraphic system we had devised involving night lights and Venetian blinds in our respective bedrooms.
Although we had been absolute dictators of Canada for a summer, my friend Ned and I longed for the satisfaction of founding a nation on our own principles. As we finished the book and continued our nightly discussions, this pleasant notion of ours grew almost into a kind of obsession. We desired nothing more than to rule jointly over our own small dominion, making it a model to the world of wise government and a well-ordered polity.
As we commonly did with all our projects, we began our endeavors with research. Having looked in more than three encyclopedias and a free world map from Medecins Sans Frontieres, I discovered that the requirements for founding a nation-state in the modern world are really quite simple. One needs only a plot of land, a certain number of willing inhabitants, and the approval of the United Nations.
The first requirement was not hard to meet. Ned’s house was next door to mine, and his family’s property was contiguous to ours. The two lots together would make an admirable territory for our new nation, at least until our military was strong enough to conquer more.
As for the willing inhabitants, that presented more of a problem. Ned’s father often expressed dissatisfaction with the current government, and when he had been drinking was likely to approve of any scheme for its overthrow. I cannot recall Ned’s ever having had a mother, so we could consider Ned’s half of the nation to be solidly behind the idea. My own parents, however, were unimaginative and complacent; indeed, I had once heard my mother say in so many words that she thought the government was doing a pretty good job considering what it had to work with. As for my father, I knew he would fall in line with whatever my mother decided; so it was my mother’s lack of ambition I would have to address.
Although I had little confidence in the result, I decided that my first attempt would be merely to put the case to my mother straightforwardly, and make a strong appeal to her reason.
“Mother,” I said to her as she chopped beets in the kitchen, “may Ned and I found a small independent nation on Platonic principles?”
“As long as you’re home before supper,” my mother answered.
That had been easier than I expected.
We were still left with the third requirement. Here, however, I had some confidence of success. I had often heard Ned’s father, in his more inebriated moments, explain that the United Nations was secretly controlled by a cabal of bankers and oil executives, who manipulated world events to their own advantage. Since there was a branch of the Merchants & Usurers State Bank not more than five blocks away from our houses, Ned and I determined on a course of action. We should ingratiate ourselves with one of the vice-presidents at that august institution, and he in turn would manipulate the United Nations into approving membership for our new ideal kingdom.
The next afternoon, therefore, Mr. Anderson Van Killdeer III was quite surprised (I imagine) to find, when he emerged from the bank office at 4:30, a pair of boys vigorously scrubbing his De Soto. After a moment’s consideration, he asked us how much we wanted for the car wash; but we told him that we had merely done it out of regard for him, and could not possibly be induced to accept payment for what had given us so much pleasure. That evening we mowed his lawn; the next morning, while he was still dressing, we washed his windows; at noon we delivered homemade sandwiches to his office, and, while his attention was momentarily diverted, took his jacket to the dry cleaner’s for a one-hour cleaning and pressing. At 4:30 in the afternoon, he emerged again to find us just finishing changing the oil in the De Soto.
“What is it you boys want from me?” Mr. Van Killdeer asked; in fact, he demanded it in a loud voice, showing how immensely grateful he was for the many small services we had rendered him.
Now we knew we had properly ingratiated ourselves. We explained our desires straightforwardly, and he smiled knowingly.
“Is that all? Well, of course, being a member of the cabal in good standing, I can put in a good word for you at the Security Council. Two ambitious young boys such as yourselves ought to be quite good at running a nation. But are you sure you’re being ambitious enough?”
We asked him what he meant by that, and he explained in some detail.
“A small nation provides but limited scope for your ambitions. Would you not prefer to join the cabal and control, not a tiny principality, but all the nations of the globe?”
This, we confessed, was an option we had not considered. We consulted between ourselves for a moment; then Ned and I answered a hearty affirmative.
Since that time we have frequently attended meetings of the cabal, which are usually held in either Brussels or Zurich; and every August, when the other members take their vacation, Ned and I are permitted to run the world ourselves, carefully pulling strings to make our master plan appear to be a series of random events. We have learned a great deal from the unusual degree of responsibility that has been granted us; and I say to parents of boys everywhere, There is no better education for a boy, or more fruitful source of experience, than absolute power.