“Amnesty, n. The state’s magnanimity to those offenders whom it would be too expensive to punish.”
Brethren and Sistren,
Our reading today is from the first chapter of the Devil’s Dictionary. Americans commonly prattle on about God-given rights. There is another, cynical, view. Rights are those things which are too expensive to wrest from the people. Switzerland had the right not to be invaded in 1940 because the cost was high and the profit low.
Before the Persian invasion of Greece the Greeks had developed an effective infantry. It was proof against the Great Kings best, but all those ill-bred hoplites felt that they had a say in running their city. And, damn their eyes, they were needed. Such a situation led to democracy. The Roman legions similarly were able to demand a vote in their republic. Even after Rome slid down to dictatorship, no one could be dictator against the will of the troops. Hence Imperator. The tribune of the plebs was sacred by ancient tradition. If one traces the tradition of sanctity back, one finds a time when all the plebians swore to kill anyone who would harm their tribune. Thus did they make him sacred.
The Middle Ages were more normal. An armored knight needed a small village to equip what was the finest fighting method of the day. So the common people were put in their usual place below their lords.
After Berthold Schwarz invented the gun things changed again. Any peasant with a rifle had a chance against the finest knight. Good guns led to the common people demanding their respect. And the lower classes got uppity. Learning the sword took a lifetime. A good swordsman was remarkably safe from a bad swordsman. But those lower life forms with firearms could demand respect.
There has not been a historical time without violent conflict. [After church I will make book on those times before history.] But when weapons are cheap and effective the upper classes don’t ride their horses over the peasants. Sometimes the upper classes even fade away.
One great example was the Boer War. The modern rifle had achieved a high state of evolution. A few Boers with bolt action rifles held of the British Empire for quite some time. The Boers were not moral or political paragons, but they could shoot.
In terrain that doesn’t favor aircraft or armor, the Afghans have stymied the Russians and the Americans. This bodes ill for empire, but it is a good omen for democracy.
A cynic might say that the only way to achieve temporal forgiveness is to be too expensive to punish.