The Formality of Democracy
It was not to far past noon one Mellday, and Harold and his niece were in the alleyway just outside their tenement. The sun was beating down, but the alleyway was so narrow that barely any of the light entered. It was enough for Harold to work by, however, and he was tightening the back wheel of his steam bike. He held out his hand behind him and said, "Hand my the larger wrench."
His niece, Annabelle, a reedy girl of almost-ten, put the requested tool into his hand. "Here." She sighed. "I still don't get it."
Harold bent over his work. "What don't you get?"
Annabelle fidgeted with the hem of her dress. "So you and Papa and Mama and Auntie Marie-Claudette keep going to those meetings, right?"
Harold frowned. "You haven't told anybody, have you?"
Annabelle shook her head. "Of course not. But why do you keep going if it's so dangerous?"
"Because we want to make Antiford better," Harold answered. "Hand me the other wrench again."
Annabelle picked up the wrench from here he'd tossed it aside and placed it in his outstretched hand. "But better how?" Annabelle asked.
Harold thought for a minute, trying to find the right words to explain. "Well, you know how there's a king, right?"
"Harold the third," Annabelle said. "Like you."
Harold smiled. "I was named after his father, who was king before him. Anyway, there are the nobles that rule specific regions on his behalf, and there are two other groups of people who help the king rule."
"The House of Commons and the House of Engineers," Annabelle said. "I know all this."
"Then you know that we vote for the members of the House of Commons, right?" Harold left the steambike and sat down in the dust facing Annabelle.
"You vote," Annabelle said, pouting.
Harold smiled. "You'll get your chance soon enough," he told her. "But the House of Commons needs to have the power to act."
"But they share power with the King and the House of Engineers, right?" Annabelle asked. "I mean the king's the king, but..."
"The king isn't the problem," Harold cut her off. "We wouldn't be the Kingdom of Antiford without the king." He considered. "Well, maybe this king is a problem, but he shouldn't...Anyone with half a brain could see that King Harold, this Harold, not his father, was the least fit to be king of all the Princes. And if the House of Commons had the power to speak out, to put him on trial...If the nobility knew that they could loose their places if they were cruel or incompetent, those nobles who abuse power would have to tone things down, and..."
"But you said the king," Annabelle pointed out. "Not nobles."
"Is the king not a noble?" Harold asked.
Annabelle thought for a minute. "So your theory is that if the House of Commons could make sure that bad people didn't get titles and have power, then Antiford would be better off."
"Among other things, yes," Harold said. "The House of Commons also needs to be able to pass laws without the House of Engineers shutting them down."
"But doesn't the House of Engineers..." Annabelle paused and thought for a moment. "I mean, shouldn't the House of Engineers also be able to pass laws without the House of Commons shutting them down. At least about tech stuff."
Harold sighed. "The House of Engineers already has entirely too much power," Harold argued. "Plus which, they aren't beholden to the people the way the members of the House of Common are and..." He sighed. "I'm not sure that the House of Engineers should exist."
Annabelle looked up at him. "Why not? Isn't it a good idea to have the smartest people running stuff?"
Harold thought for a moment. "I suppose it has it's merits in theory, but...just because people can build a machine or run a mill doesn't mean they can make a country work. It takes more than raw intelligence to rule effectively. You also have to want what's best for the people and strive toward it, even if that means using less efficient methods, and a lot of the members of the House of Engineers don't understand that." He looked at Annabelle. "Do you understand now?"
"Kind of," Annabelle said.
"You two are talking politics?" A voice said from the entrance to the alley. The two of them spun to see a tall, slender dark-skinned woman standing there with a chubby toddler perched on her hip.
Harold hopped up and said, "Guilty as charged." He took a step forward and wrapped his arms around the woman, kissing her cheek.
The woman, who was his wife, Marie-Claudette, sighed and pushed him back slightly. "Here, take your son." She turned to Annabelle. "Your mother is looking for you by the way."
Annabelle scowled. "She probably expects me to help with dinner." She crossed her arms and stomped off.
Harold looked after her. "You know, Annabelle is smart, and very perceptive for her age. She's going to do well for herself."
Marie-Claudette sighed. "If the future of this country lets her," she said. "There's a war, and the house of Engineers might stage a coup any day now."
Harold adjusted his son on his hip and pulled his wife close, kissing her cheek. "You worry too much."