Our government is almost non-existent. Except not.

So three EDIT: several, major UK cabinet ministers have resigned: yes, the government is flailing and weak, and will almost certainly lose the next election, we know.

An interesting comment was made, apparently, by Nick Clegg, who said that at the moment “we don’t have a government, we have a void”.

What he means of course is that our government isn’t pushing forward with any very effective ‘changes’ and doesn’t have a clear ‘plan’ of what it will do to ‘save’ us from whatever. Clearly the police, civil service, NHS, etc. are all operating the same as before without being held up and inconvenienced by the lack of sufficient cabinet ministers.

And if they were, it would still be odd to say there was simply a ‘void’: being incompetently ruled and not being are hardly the same thing (we don’t tell a very bad hairdresser: ‘you’re not cutting my hair, you’re doing nothing!’).

What significance does it really have if the government isn’t governing very much? The endless laws and iniatives and new ideas often gives a political commentator the sense that if the government isn’t doing something new, introducing a new law or changing an old one, then things will break down and we’ll all be doomed (it also conversely helps us to suppose that when they are doing so, they have a significant effect on how society fares, which they often don’t).

Of course it’s not surprising for politicians overestimate how important their job is. But it reminded me of something Heidegger said, in pointing out part of what distinguishes a person from any other object: as soon as a person is nothing more, they are nothing at all. That is, the only time when we are ‘finished’, without more plans, future intentions, a whole array of ‘more’, stretching out busily into the future, is when we are nothing at all, i.e. dead. To not reach out into the future is, for a person, equivalent to not even occupying the present.

So is it that, as well as politicians thinking their jobs are simply more important than they maybe are, they’re also influenced by a sense of ‘shared personhood’, that ‘the government’ should resemble a person, which implies that to exist at all it must be planning, executing, acting – for it to be at all it must be something more to come?

Perhaps. But as I said, the laws are still being upheld, applied, and interpreted even without the government. But then, would laws exist if they were not? That is, do we sometimes suppose that they sort of ‘sit there’, imputing a static solidity to them, and to the whole state apparatus, which obscures the fact that they are by nature people doing something? Is this the same point as the one in the last paragraph, or a different one?

3 Responses to “Our government is almost non-existent. Except not.”

  1. Colm O'Connor Says:

    In 2007, Belgium spent 156 days without a government – http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2209988,00.html

    People did note that the sky did not fall in.

  2. Lindsay Says:

    Whoa! I had no idea any major political stuff was even going down in the UK. Why did all those people resign?

    And, if I remember right, the US government has also been shut down, in 1995, due to excessive budgetary wrangling.

    I was alive (though not very old, and certainly not paying attention to politics) in ’95, and don’t remember anarchy or even any infrastructure disruption.

  3. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    “I had no idea any major political stuff was even going down in the UK. Why did all those people resign?”
    They disagreed about the fundamental policy point of how successful their careers should be. The Prime Minister, in the august tradition of Semi-European eco-socialism, felt that all the cabinet ministers should have careers exactly as short as his, the shortness of which was confirmed by disastrous local election results. Many ministers, however, in the spirit of dissident neo-Trotskyite liberalism, felt that they should have the chance to try for a career that would outlast the party’s basically inevitable general election defeat later in the year.

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