You may or may not have noticed that since 10 June - for over five months - the people of Belgium have struggled on without a government.
Well, we say “struggled on”. The political deadlock in the country has been a factor in declining “consumer confidence” apparently (does this mean people are spending less on things they don't need, and borrowing less money that they can't pay back?), but otherwise the people of Belgium have managed to keep breathing, eating, feeding themselves and their families, and generally running their own lives. Of course, there is a government in Belgium - a “caretaker” administration keeping the machinery of state ticking over. What is the “machinery of state”? There is a classic answer, delivered in inimitable style by the anarchist thinker Pierre- Joseph Proudhon: “To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied upon, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded, all by creatures that have neither the right nor wisdom nor virtue.” Is that all? No. “To be governed means that at every move, operation, or transaction, one is noted, registered, entered in a census, taxed, stamped, priced, assessed, patented, licensed, authorised, recommended, admonished, prevented, reformed, set right, corrected.” Furthermore, “Government means to be subjected to tribute, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolised, extorted, pressured, mystified, robbed, all in the name of public utility and the general good.” And what if you don't like this? “Then at the first sign of resistance or word of complaint, one is repressed, despised, vexed, pursued, hustled, beaten up, garrotted, imprisoned, shot, judged, sentenced, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to cap it all, ridiculed, mocked, outraged, and dishonoured.” According to Proudhon, “That is government, this is its justice and morality!” But that was in 1851. All different now. Belgian firsts Incidentally, Belgium was the first country to stop producing landmines (1990), the first country to ban cluster bombs (March 2006), and the first country to ban depleted uranium (March 2007). This will stop the US and other countries from transporting such dangerous materials across Belgian territory, or through Belgian air or sea ports. “Plucky”? Courageous.