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Quote of the Day

As a mark of respect for the birthday of our excellent editor, we revisit what John Wilkes was writing in The North Briton on this day 251 years ago, and are once again astonished by how little has changed in the nature of government:

“The mismanagement of the finances of this kingdom must give the deepest concern to every thinking man, who really loves his country. Such a man can not but ask the question, whether the late infamous job was the consequence of incapacity or villainy, or a mixture of both? Let it be either, it has ended in a manner equally fatal to the public…”

The North Briton, No. 43, March 26 1763.

Officially Meaningless

“[W]hole empires where the Roman Eagle never flew, have revered the name of England, and crouched to our lion,” wrote John Wilkes of the British Empire in 1762, reminding us that symbolic animals and whatnot have an ancient history as short-hand for national identities and the ideas which great republics and empires are supposed to represent. Twenty years later, Benjamin Franklin suggested that the new United States should be festooned with symbolic turkeys: one might imagine that Meleagris gallopavo is merely a large feathery thing, but according to Franklin it demonstrated various desirable characteristics and virtues, which just goes to show how even outwardly sane people can get caught up in this sorry stuff.

It is with resignation rather than surprise, therefore, that we belatedly approach the flag debate in New Zealand, where the formerly London-based Merrill Lynch forex guy who is now head of government has announced a referendum on changing the current design to something more relevant, or representative, or inclusive, or something, which will inevitably end up being some local bird or vegetable and look like the logo of a prominent export company or something from the letterhead of one of those ‘buy local’ quangos. That much goes without saying, but it is worth considering whether there would be any place at all in a Wilkite World for this habit of politicians and officials fretting over which little picture – or, god help us, which slogan – can be said to encapsulate the qualities of the millions of people of whom they consider themselves to be the governors. Read more


So it’s not just the Crimea: “Voting has begun in Venice and the surrounding region on whether to break away from Italy,” as the BBC has finally noticed. This is the culmination of a long-standing ambition of many people in the Veneto – which includes Treviso, Padua, Vicenza and other prosperous and famous cities as well as Venice itself – to recreate the Repubblica Veneta as an independent state in the north east of the Italian peninsula. Voting goes on all week, and although there will probably be a majority for secession it will certainly be ignored, with Rome slapping a label on it saying ‘unofficial’ and going back to lunch followed by a nice nap.

Still, we have a lively interest in the Veneto – quite apart from the fact that our esteemed editor was at the university in Venice many years ago, it would immediately be one of the wealthiest and most sophisticated countries in the world – and so we take this opportunity to revisit the history of the Most Serene Republic and to consider what lessons there may be for those who would recreate it in the modern world. Read more