Friday, April 20, 2012

The Search for Unity

The endless electioneering battle reminded me that I have no memories of elections taking place in my childhood in Hungary. To be sure, I arrived roughly in the middle of a period when Hungary was titularly a kingdom, ruled by a regent, 1920-1946. But there was a diet in that time, and it held regular elections—indeed eight times in that period. Some 14 parties ran for office in 1920. The winner was a lash-up of interests, thus the Christian, Christian Farmer’s, Smallholders’, and Citizens’ Party. The name was a bit cumbersome; the party operated under various names until settling for Unity Party. This party also managed to win every other national parliamentary election after that—until Hungary’s Nazi party, called Nyilas or Arrow Party, took over as the country was under German occupation. And I saw that occupation, too, from the third-floor living room window of a tall corner building, standing there on a sunny morning with my Mother, and the German army was moving down the main artery of a city then called Szabadka. A green-white public toilet occupied one corner of the intersection, and soldiers were breaking away from the column to enter it. I didn’t know the purpose of that structure, and asked my Mother why they were going in there, and why only some… But that was later.

Unity had become very desirable by 1920. In the wake of World War I, the Communist Red Terror captured the state and, in its four-month rule, managed to bring both of my grandfathers in genuine physical danger by the gangs that enforced its will. This led to the regency of Admiral Miklós Horthy, and I spent my childhood under a royal regent—who had powers to call forth and to close the diet and to appoint the prime ministers. Elections, therefore, were not of much interest to a military family.

As I was looking recalling all of this, a vague memory did surface—particularly of those “smallholders.” Language evidently interested me from childhood on. When we lived in Minnesota the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) was dominant almost across the board—and that was the last time I remembered Hungary’s Unity Party and its farmers and smallholders.

Politics is ultimately sublimated war. The rhetoric on both sides (and on each side during primaries) is strongly marked by words of conflict. They fight, fight, fight for us. Defeat of the candidate or party is, in every case, the end of civilization. But in efforts to involves us, virtual warriors benefits by exaggerating the role of politics in our life. For me it amounted to, this year, about four hours spent in communing with the IRS with TurboTax by my side. When the sublimation fails, as it has in Syria, politics takes off its mask. But even combat without real casualties (assassinations aside), when institutionalized and heightened in intensity (end of civilization, etc.), can slip down the slippery slope. In our case majorities rarely much exceed 51 percent; elections thus produce victories for half and mark the other half as losers. The wise convention that after the elections we should all be united and, friendly in every way, pursue our real lives—that convention is looking ever more like a Ghost of Elections Past.

Genuine monarchies have advantages. The next ruler is largely selected by the dice-throw of genetic succession; where elected bodies help to frame the laws, their elections tend to be of less moment, thus a notch lower down. The inevitable wars also tend to be on a smaller scale. And, in general, such regimes tend to leave us, the smallholders, more or less in peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment