Does It Really Matter Who Sits on the Throne?

Organisation or personality

There have been recent elections in numerous principalities. The constellations by which governments — the outward and visible signs of obscured and conspiratorial power — have been formed since 2020 are not in themselves unique but have occurred with an intensity — I like here the German term Verdichtung, i.e. thickening or coagulation — perhaps unlike anything since the financial coup d‘etat that inaugurated the Great Depression (as it was called in the US).

In fact, one could date this phenomenon to the unpredicted victory of Mr Donald Trump in 2016 over the repulsive partner of presidential philanderer William J. Clinton. As I wrote at the time, no later than the inauguration of Donald Trump, it should have been apparent that the last pretenses of a diverse media had evaporated. The catastrophe of 2020 ought not to have surprised anyone.

Amidst the verbal streams, I hesitate to call them a debate, as to the significance of the current janitor in the US executive mansion, aka White House, we can observe the same impoverished thought that characterizes the choice of athletic footwear, meanwhile the universal equivalent to denim trousers for all but the princely functions. Certainly there are criticisms that point to the superficiality of the bourgeois electoral systems, whether in the US or its vassal states. They are valid as far as they go. Then there is the criticism which I certainly share that voters — real or virtual — are far too influenced by corrupt mass media. Although I am actually tired of repeating it, I will again iterate that the Press and the journalistic “profession” was created for commercial propaganda and not for education of the population. It is to paraphrase George Carlin, “a cute idea” that journalism has duty to inform, but that is all it is. If journalists inform the public it is despite journalism and not because of it. One only needs to examine the history of this profession to recognize that it was conceived as prostitution and most of its practitioners have wittingly or unwittingly followed the strip.

Underlying all these distractions is a legitimate complexity of ancient quality. That is the difficulty of distinguishing between the person, the personality and the organization. In conventional circumstances, e.g. intimate human contact, the terms are person, character and relationship. So a marriage is seen as a relationship conditioned by the persons with their families and histories perhaps and the characters of those persons in the conditions under which the marriage’s inception and experience. In the greater format of the world of which many people are only conscious through electronic media, this complexity is even harder to describe than that of marriage (which anyone who has been involved in matrimonial affairs can admit is complex enough).

The model for understanding this problem, in the West at least, is Latin Christendom. To illustrate the problem in the simplest manner I can imagine I have to draw on an anecdote. Many years ago, as a young man educated in a Latin household — although not strictly — I had a “revelation” that I should apply myself to the priesthood. As a youth I did not believe in God or the saints. However I did not have to believe in the Church. It was there. I could see it and all those who constituted it with their clothes, rituals, buildings and special language. In fact, one would have to be an idiot not to believe in the Church at the empirical frontier of Western life (I almost wrote civilization but by Gandhi corrected).

So one fine day I entered the reception of the Latin seminary in a German city where I lived at the time. The priest who interviewed me upon my request to be accepted for study to join the clergy asked me first: would I tell him about my personal relationship to Jesus Christ? I was quite shocked by the question. Trying to hide my surprise, I replied that when I was raised as a member of the Latin Catholic Church such a question was never raised. One did not have a personal relationship to the lord and king. There was the Church and its ruler and we were subjects. This answer did not satisfy my interlocutor. He was quite perfunctory and told me to come back when I had a better answer to the question.

At the time I thought, this was a question any evangelical Protestant might ask but surely not a Latin priest. With time I began to see the problem in another light. The Latin Church, the DNA of Western life (although this cliché is also suspect like Francis Crick’s whole essentialist model of human genetics), created the person of Jesus to attract the individual with the idea that the deity was recognizable in human life — incarnate. However Christ the King was the dominant form in which this personality was propagated. So personal subjugation became internalized through an image of the human who was nonetheless a character in the organizational language and explanation of the Church hierarchy.

When people feel compelled to talk about how and who a particular courtier is elected or appointed to high office, e.g. POTUS, they are caught in the sleight of hand that presents a persona as a person. The individual Jesus is not the founder of the Church. The persona of Jesus (or any other individual in another religious constellation) is not the same as a historical individual. He, she or it is a mere manifestation of an organization/explanation which expresses power through the representation of personae as if they were real, flesh and blood human beings.

It is not easy to distinguish people from the personae they adopt — or by which they are created — in the organizations they serve. However it is necessary to understand the scope of organizations in human life in order to even begin to recognize the discrepancy between our needs at the empirical frontier and the actions of organizations fundamentally antagonistic to them.

Dr T.P. Wilkinson writes, teaches History and English, directs theatre and coaches cricket between the cradles of Heine and Saramago. He is author of Unbecoming American: A War Memoir and also Church Clothes, Land, Mission and the End of Apartheid in South Africa. Read other articles by T.P..