‘The people are the heroes now, behemoth pulls the peasants’ plow.’
So sings the chorus at the start of John Adam’s opera Nixon in China.
But who are the ‘people’? Who speaks for them? Who decides what their interests are?
In practice, the more mention that’s made of the ‘people’ in a political system, the fewer the rights possessed by the individual. ‘The people’ is rarely the collective will of any group of individuals. In reality the term stands for those with political power. ‘The people’ and the ‘individual’ usually have very different interests.
Two pictures from China illustrate this. I saw the second in a news report last week, and it reminded me starkly of the first.
Apparently the owner of the house has the legal right to receive compensation that satisfies him (see House in the way) and ,as yet, it doesn’t.
But the pictures are only superficially similar.
The first illustrates the courage of an individual standing up to the brutal crackdown on legitimate protest. It isn’t clear what happened to the young man. Some say he was shot, some say he is alive and well. But the ‘people’ surely know.
The second merely illustrates the weakness of the Chinese legal system. We may not like it, but governments all over the world exercise powers to put the public interest first, and in most countries a compulsory purchase order would be issued to remove a house that stands in the way of a motorway, at a price independently and fairly arrived at.
It wouldn’t be fair to see both as equally illustrative of brutality