1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 22
Gretchen was paying close attention, now. She’d had so many clashes with Gunther over the past year that she’d half-forgotten how shrewd the man could be. There was a reason he was the undisputed leader of the largest CoC in the world, located in the heart of the powerful new nation which the CoCs had played an important role in creating.
“I’m not quite following you, Gunther,” said Eduard Gottschalk.
Achterhof frowned. The expression was not one of irritation but simply concentration. The sort of half-scowl a man gets on his face when he is trying to figure out how to explain something for the first time.
“Let me use the Schardius and Burckardt case to make my point,” he said. “We almost intervened directly, especially after that terrible killing when the steam crane blew up.”
Gretchen had heard about that incident. A horrible accident on a construction site. Dozens of men had been killed. But she hadn’t realized it was connected to a murder investigation.
“But we didn’t.” He looked around the table. They were meeting in the kitchen of one of the apartments in the building that Gretchen and her husband had purchased with the money they’d gained — completely to their surprise — by David Bartley’s speculations on their behalf in the stock market. The apartment building doubled as the informal headquarters of the capital’s Committee of Correspondence.
“Why?” he continued. “We were certainly tempted. But we had enough sense to realize that if we pushed the police aside to handle it ourselves there’d never be an end to it. And did we really want to be a police force? Spending half our time and energy — not to mention funds — investigating robberies and such that had no political importance whatsoever.”
He leaned back in his chair. “No. We helped the police when they asked for it but we let them handle it. And that’s the lesson, comrades. We can either be a political movement or an official government body but if we try to be both at the same time we’ll do neither well and we’ll lose our effectiveness.”
He let that sink in, for a moment. Gretchen, who had been uncertain herself as to the course of action they should pursue in Saxony, found his arguments persuasive.
Galiena spoke up again. “But if we agree to have Gretchen run for officeâ€¦” Her troubled expression suddenly cleared up. “Ah. I see. She does not run as a representative of the Committee of Correspondence in Saxony. She simply runs as — asâ€¦”
Her voice trailed off. “As what, exactly? Just herself?”
“That depends on what sort of republican system we want,” said Gottschalk. “Parliamentary or presidential — or perhaps I should say, gubernatorial. If we want Saxony to have a gubernatorial system, Gretchen can run just as herself, as an individual candidate for the office of governor.”
Before he’d even finished, every head around the table — including Gretchen’s — was being shaken.
“No, no, we don’t want that,” said Hubert Amsel. “We want a parliamentary system. It’s more democratic.”
Gretchen had the same reaction, although she knew both her husband and most other Americans would have been puzzled by it. The up-timers, as a rule — Mike Stearns was one of the few exceptions — tended to prefer presidential systems since it was what they had been accustomed to. Because they had so much influence in the region, the State of Thuringia-Franconia had adopted a presidential structure, as had the New United States which preceded it.
But most down-timers, at least those drawn to the CoCs, felt differently about the matter. To them, a “president” and a “governor” were hard to distinguish from a king and a duke. Granted, the posts were elective, not hereditary — but the same was true of any number of institutions which reeked of their medieval origins. The Holy Roman Emperor had been elected, too. That didn’t make him any less of a tyrant, did it?
So, everyone at the table shared Amsel’s attitude — but Gretchen was by no means the only one who saw the immediate problem.
“If it’s a parliamentary system, then Gretchen has to run as part of a party,” said Galiena. “Which party? Or are we going to turn ourselves into one?”
“No!” exclaimed Gunther, barely beating out the “nos!” coming from Gretchen herself and Eduard Gottschalk. “Mixing up our movement with a party would be almost as bad a mistake as mixing ourselves up with a government body.”
That was Gretchen’s assessment also. She glanced around the room and saw that there was clearly general agreement on this point.
That left simplyâ€¦
“There are two choices,” she said. “And only two, practically speaking. I either join the Fourth of July Party and run as one of its members, or we create an entirely new party.”
Amsel shook his head. “Which would simply be the Committees of Correspondence wearing a disguise everyone would see through immediately. No, I think the only practical choice is for Gretchen to join the FOJs.” He pronounced the name as spelled-out letters — F, O, J — not as an acronym.
Gretchen almost laughed, seeing the slight moues of distaste on everyone’s mouths. She was pretty sure her own lips were pursed in the same manner.
Why? There was really no clear reason. Doctrinally speaking, the FoJ Party and the CoCs were very close on almost all important matters. But that still left a definite if hard-to-specify distinction between the two.
Her husband Jeff Higgins had once expressed it with an Americanism: Over here, we have the student council advocating all the right things. Over there, we have the roughnecks in their black leather jackets with cigarettes dangling from their lips agreeing with almost everything the student council says but sneering that they’re a bunch of wimps and goody two-shoes.
That was a silly way of putting it, butâ€¦ there was some truth to the witticism.
“I’ll join the Fourth of July Party tomorrow,” she announced. “I’m meeting with Rebecca Abrabanel before my audience with the emperor so I’ll do it then.”
She paused, looking around the table to see if anyone had any objection. Seeing none, she moved to the next item on the agenda.
“We can be certain that Gustav Adolf is going to raise the issue of an established church — not just in Saxony but in WÃ¼rttemberg and Mecklenburg also.”
“Not in the Oberpfalz?” asked Galiena.
“It’s possible, but I doubt it. What should our stance be?”
“No compromise!” said Gunther forcefully. “We insist on freedom of religion in all republican provinces!”
It was oddly relaxing, Gretchen found, to have Achterhof back in his normal role.
“I disagree,” she said. “Here are my reasonsâ€¦”
After the meeting was over, she waited in the courtyard to speak to Spartacus.
“You never said a word in the meeting, Joachim — not one. Why?”
Joachim von Thierbach — who used the public identity of “Spartacus” as his non-de-plume — shook his head. “I’m considered the intellectual in this bunch. The ‘theoretician,’ they call me, when they agree with something I say. But they’re always a bit suspicious of me, at least here in the capital.”
Gretchen chuckled. It was a very dry sound. “Yes, I know. The Magdeburg CoC takes its cue from Gunther and he’sâ€¦ how to put it? If he were a pastor, the Americans would call him a fundamentalist.”
Von Thierbach’s chuckle had more real humor in it. “Of what they call the ‘fire and brimstone’ persuasion!” He shrugged. “I thought it was important that they come to the conclusion they did on their own. And then when Gunther agreed with your proposal — right away; I was quite startled! — I saw no purpose in my adding anything.”
Gretchen nodded. “So you agree, then? Yes, I know you voted in favor, but I want to be sure the vote wasn’t a grudging one.”
“It wasn’t at all.” He paused for a moment and looked aside, at nothing in particular, just as a way of collecting his thoughts.
“Please keep this confidential, but Rebecca Abrabanel has asked me to read her manuscript as she’s been preparing it, in order to provide her with my reactions. In effect, she’s using me as a sounding board for the CoCs as a whole.”
“Yes? And what do you think?”
“Have you read Alessandro Scaglia’s Political Methods and the Laws of Nations?”
Feeling a bit guilty, Gretchen shook her head. “No, not yet. I own it, butâ€¦” She made a vague gesture indicating the many tasks and burdens she had on her shoulders — which, in fact, she did.
“Take the time to read it, Gretchen. In essence, Rebecca’s book is a response to Scaglia. Some of her argument is polemical in nature but much of it is agreeable to Scaglia’s main premise — which I would summarize as his advocacy of reaching the same end point that existed in the Americans’ universe but doing it without the chaos and destruction of a series of violent revolutions.”
Gretchen made a face. “A fine sentiment — but try getting Europe’s kings and noblemen to agree.”
“Exactly Rebecca’s point. You might say that where Scaglia argues for a long, slow glide to what he calls ‘the soft landing,’ Rebecca believes that so-called ‘glide’ will never land at all without a great deal of what she calls ‘encouragement from below.’
He chuckled again, with unmistakable humor this time. “They’re both calling for the same end result — well, more or less — but they differ rather drastically on the proper pace and the mix of political forces required. To get back to the point, though, one of the things Rebecca stresses is the need for the representatives of the lower classes to get their hands directly on the levers of power. Being a ‘movement’ is fine. It’s always where it starts. But in the end, the goal is to move society. Not just call for doing so. Not just demand that it be done. Do it.”
He made a little bow. When his head came back up he was grinning. “So. Since you don’t like ‘president’ or ‘governor,’ what title would you prefer? How about ‘dominatrix’?”
“Very funny. I was thinking about ‘chancellor,’ maybe.”
“Oh, that’s so — so — what the up-timers call ‘white bread.'”
“I like white bread.”
“Sure. Everybody does. How about ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’?”
“See? It’s the perfect title.”