The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore, based once in Oxford, then Sibiu, always neo-bankrupt, now closed for business: atavistic and very analogue, its musings and misspells on books and stuff.
In the Romanian mountains not so long ago I stopped at the roadside to taste melons the size of Goliath’s testicles and wild red berries sold by peasants. Then at table I was presented with food cropped locally. The milk was fresh and warm from the udder, the cheese glowing a bit like the stuff glaziers use to tighten window frames, its modus operandi to be rolled in your hands with salt before being eaten: such relief from the pasteurized plastic for sale in English supermarkets. So whilst reflecting on the tough time these Lebensraum countries have had at the mercy of German and then Russian oppression in the last century, I asked myself if E-numbers and food preservative – so lacking in my experience of Romanian table fare and so beloved by us Brits with our Tesco manners – serve actually as scarecrow to dictatorship. It would explain why we export democracy like a supremacist religion and then offer McDonald and BurgerKing in its wake as culinary gendarmerie.
I am never sure why we seek to export democracy, why whenever some nationality dips into chaos we feel the urge to step in to save the day. Well of course there is the prospect of exporting coronary burgers and raping another land of its wealth by stealth. But there seems to be continuity in Russian history, for instance: Tsardom, Lenin, Stalin, Putin’s criminal cabal, in fact oligarchy rules OK, a continuum of democratic suppression and perhaps meaning not too much to the sheep farmer on the Steppes, the folk in the Obshchina. I know the oppressive shock waves that infested Russia – Romania too for that matter, Tunisia, Egypt, wherever else – had an afterlife of civic concussion, but I am not aware this has ever been cured by a democratic paracetamol.
British temperament is fairly anodyne. We rarely court disturbance for it interrupts tea and biscuits mid-afternoon; we have the rain rather than assassination to interrupt Wimbledon (though if Cliff Richard karaokes Centre Court again, I am all for immediate insurrection). Our one effort at revolution in the 1640s was, by European standards, only a Morris dance with muskets and soon to be corrected by the Restoration and Dutch non-melodrama (William III had only one mistress for goodness sake!). So a land of vicarage lawns, shove ha’penny boards, Pontefract cake, the Archers and Jane Austen is hardly rife for revolution. We’ve grown up with democracy, not had to fight too hard for it really and Whig historians can plot its wax on a graph even: 1215, 1688, 1832, so on. But it is only a system a government, no more, no less, and it works for us because we allow it to, no more, no less. Moreover we seem fairly haphazard and dilute it often, recently with either Tory governments or Tony Blair, less recently the EU.
So I’m not raising necessarily a clarion call for insurrection and anarchy, not necessarily. It’s just that I can’t be tempted to think that democracy, the people’s favourite hamburger, is the ultimate answer to anything. Any system of government has to allow first for ethical and farsighted thinking: would you support without reservation a system of government that elects Tony Blair (that peacemaker manqué who took us to war with Iraq at the behest of others), that can’t cost ahead or plan effectively against destructive climate change, that allows for the bins to be noisily emptied earliest in sink housing estates before streets with posh post codes? These days I hear scorn galore for Christianity, all its historic and philosophic frailties listed, and all and sundry follow the Beatles’ pilgrimage to the East. So why does Christianity take a hit and not democracy? They are both matters of belief after all, nothing certain about either of them.