“The past is prologue.” William Shakespeare
“What ruined my country, and drove me from my home, was the introduction—into the Army, of all places—of your theory of Political Dichotomy!
“Shall I trouble you too much,” I said, “if I ask you to explain what you mean by the ‘Theory of Political Dichotomy’?”
“No trouble at all!” was Mein Herr’s most courteous reply. “I quite enjoy talking, when I get so good a listener. What started the thing, with us, was the report brought to us, by one of our most eminent statesmen, who had stayed some time in England, of the way affairs were managed there. It was a political necessity (so he assured us, and we believed him, though we had never discovered it till that moment) that there should be two parties, in every affair and on every subject. In Politics, the two Parties, which you had found it necessary to institute, were called, he told us, ‘Whigs’ and ‘Tories’.”
“That must have been some time ago?” I remarked.
“It was some time ago,” he admitted. “And this was the way the affairs of the British Nation were managed. (You will correct me if I misrepresent it. I do but repeat what our traveler told us.) These two Parties—which were in chronic hostility to each other—took turns in conducting the Government; and the Party, that happened not to be in power, was called the ‘Opposition’, I believe?”
“That is the right name,” I said. “There have always been, so long as we have had a Parliament at all, two Parties, one ‘in’, and one ‘out’.”
“Well, the functions of the ‘Ins’ (if I may so call them) was to do the best they could for the national welfare—in such things as making war or peace, commercial treaties, and so forth?”
“Undoubtedly,” I said.
“And the function of the ‘Outs’ was (so our traveler assured us, though we were very incredulous at first) to prevent the ‘Ins’ from succeeding in any of these things?”
“To criticize and to amend their proceedings,” I corrected him. “It would be unpatriotic to hinder the Government in doing what was for the good of the Nation! We have always held a Patriot to be the greatest of heroes, and an unpatriotic spirit to be one of the worst of human ills!”
“Excuse me for a moment,” the old gentleman courteously replied, taking out his pocket-book. “I have a few memoranda here, of a correspondence I had with our tourist, and, if you will allow me, I’ll just refresh my memory—although I quite agree with you—it is, as you say, one of the worst of human ills.”
“It is exactly as my friend told me,” he resumed, after conning over various papers. Unpatriotic is the very word I had used, in writing to him, and hinder is the very word he used in his reply! Allow me to read you a portion of his letter:
“ ‘I can assure you,’ he writes, ‘that, unpatriotic as you may think it, the recognized function of the ‘Opposition’ is to hinder in every manner not forbidden by the law, the action of the Government. This process is called ‘Legitimate Obstruction’: and the greatest triumph the ‘Opposition’ can ever enjoy, is when they are able to point out that, owing to their ‘Obstruction’, the Government have failed in everything they have tried to do for the good of the Nation.’ ”
“Your friend has not put it quite correctly,” I said. “The Opposition would no doubt be glad to point out that the Government had failed through their own fault; but not that they had failed on account of Obstruction!”
“You think so?” he gently replied. “Allow me now to read to you this newspaper-cutting, which my friend enclosed in his letter. It is part of the report of a public speech, made by a Statesman who was at the time a member of the ‘Opposition’:
“ ‘At the close of the Session, he thought they had no reason to be discontented with the fortunes of the campaign. The had routed the enemy at every point. But the pursuit must be continued. They had only to follow up a disordered and dispirited foe. ’”
“Now to what portion of your national history would you guess that the speaker was referring?”
“Really, the number of successful wars we have waged during the last century”, I replied, with a glow of British pride, “is far too great for me to guess, with any chance of success, which it was we were then engaged in. However, I will name India as the most probable. The Mutiny was no doubt, all but crushed, at the time that speech was made. What a fine, manly, patriotic speech it must have been!” I exclaimed in an outburst of enthusiasm.
“You think so?” he replied, in a tone of gentle pity. “Yet my friend tells me that the disordered and dispirited foe simply meant the Statesman who happened to be in power at the moment; that the ‘pursuit’ simply meant ‘Obstruction’; and that the words ‘they had routed the enemy’ simply meant that the ‘Opposition’ had succeeded in hindering the Government from doing any of the work which the Nation had empowered them to do!”
I thought it best to say nothing.
“It seemed queer to us, just at first, “ he resumed, after courteously waiting a minute for me to speak: “but, when once we had mastered your idea, our respect for your Nation was so great that we carried into every department of life! It was ‘the beginning of the end’ with us. My country never held up its head again!” And the poor old gentleman sighed deeply.
“Let us change the subject,” I said. “Do not distress yourself, I beg!”
“No, no!” he said, with an effort to recover himself. “I had rather finish my story! The next step (after reducing our Government to impotence, and putting a stop to all useful legislation, which did not take us long to do) was to introduce what we called ‘the glorious British Principle of Dichotomy’ into Agriculture. We persuaded many of the well-to-do farmers to divide their staff of labourers into two Parties, and to set them one against the other. They were called, like our political Parties, the ‘Ins’ and the ‘Outs’: the business of the ‘Ins’ was to do as much of ploughing, sowing, or whatever might be needed, as they could manage in a day, and at night they were paid according to the amount they had done: the business of the ‘Outs’ was to hinder them, and they were paid for the amount they hindered. The farmers found they had to pay only half as much wages as they did before, and they didn’t observe that the amount of work done was only a quarter as much as was done before: so they took it up quite enthusiastically, at first.
“And afterwards—?” I enquired.
“Well, afterwards they didn’t like it quite so well. In a very short time, things settled down into a regular routine. No work at all was done. So the ‘Ins’ got no wages, and the ‘Outs’ got full pay. And the farmers never discovered, till most of them were ruined, that the rascals had agreed to manage it so, and had shared the pay between them! While the thing lasted, there were funny sights to be seen! Why, I’ve often watched a ploughman, with two horses harnessed to the plough, doing his best to get it forwards; while the opposition-ploughman, with three donkeys harnessed at the other end, was doing his best to get it backwards! And the plough never moving an inch, either way!”
“But we never did anything like that!” I exclaimed.
“Simply because you were less logical than we were,” replied Mein Herr. “There is sometimes an advantage in being a donk—Excuse me! No personal allusion intended. All this happened long ago, you know.”
“Did the Dichotomy-Principle succeed in any direction?” I enquired.
“In none,” Mein Herr candidly confessed. “It had a very short trial in Commerce. The shop-keepers wouldn’t take it up, after once trying the plan of having half the attendants busy in folding up and carrying away the goods which the other half were trying to spread out upon the counters. They said the Public didn’t like it.
“I don’t wonder at it.” I remarked.
“Well, we tried ‘the British Principle’ for some years. And the end of it all was—” His voice suddenly dropped, almost to a whisper; and large tears began to roll down his cheeks. “—the end was that we got involved in a war; and there was a great battle, in which we far out-numbered the enemy. But what could one expect, when only half of our soldiers were fighting, and the other half pulling them back? It ended in a crushing defeat—an utter route. This caused a Revolution; and most of the Government were banished. I myself was accused of Treason, for so having so strongly advocated ‘the British Principle’. My property was all forfeited, and—and—I was driven into exile! ‘Now the mischief’s done,’ they said, ‘perhaps you’ll kindly leave the country? It nearly broke my heart, but I had to go.”
This is an excerpt from the Lewis Carroll book, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded, published in 1889.