All Commentary
Friday, October 1, 1965

Gulliver and the Planners

Mr. Smith recently has returned to the United States with his family after many years as a businessman in Argentina.

United Nations officials, military men, and sundry world govern­ment advocates, have at times recommended an extraterrestrial police force. Such an international force, sanctified by good inten­tions, would circle the globe either on a man-made satellite or a mili­tary moon base, armed with the only atomic weapons available to mankind. With their infallibility guaranteed by national impartial­ity, these god-like astronauts would maintain a stern vigil over ambitious individuals, nations, or power groups which might seek to grasp more than their quota of worldly wealth or power. Once judged guilty of aggression, such troublemakers would be blown to smithereens. Thus would world peace, freedom, and prosperity be maintained forever.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, Jonathan Swift, the world’s greatest political satirist, devised a similar plan. His hero, Gulliver, on his third trip to strange lands, was cast up on the island of Balni­barbi. This large island was ruled by a king who lived with his court on a flying island called Laputa. This second island was about four and a half miles in diameter, and could be raised, lowered, or propelled by force of attraction or repulsion imposed by an adjustable lode stone or magnet attached to the under side of the island.

The king, like all kings, was in­fallible and had divine rights. In case of insurrection on the part of any town or city in his domain of Balnibarbi, he had a number of recourses. He could station his flying island over the offending city, cutting it off from rain or sunshine to the detriment of crops and the economy. If the rebellion persisted, large rocks would be dropped on the inhabitants and their dwellings destroyed. As a final punishment, the king might order his island to plop down on the wayward metropolis, flatten­ing it completely and killing all its inhabitants. This last extreme was seldom used, since the king’s ministers usually had property in each town, as did the king. Fur­thermore, there was some danger of destroying his floating home and vantage point.

In addition to maintaining law and order by this unique method, the king and his court controlled the economy of the main island through rule by expert.

Gulliver spent some time on the floating island and later descended to the main kingdom where he was befriended by a lord who was out of favor at court. This lord took him on a tour of the kingdom which was in a sad state of dis­order brought about by hair-brained schemes of the govern­ment planners. However, this lord’s own lands were prosperous and well tended by using proven methods. His failure to adopt gov­ernment procedures had caused his fall from favor. Gulliver de­scribes the lord’s account of con­ditions as follows:

That about forty years ago certain persons went up to Laputa, either upon business or diversion, and after five months continuance, came back with a very little smattering in mathematics, but full of volatile spirits acquired in that airy region. That these persons upon their return began to dislike the management of everything below, and fell into schemes of putting all arts, sciences, languages, and mechanics upon a new foot. To this end they procured a royal patent for erecting an Acad­emy of Projectors [planners] in Lagado [the capital city]; and the humour prevailed so strongly among the people, that there is not a town of any consequence in the kingdom without such an academy. In these colleges the professors contrive new rules and methods of agriculture and building, and new instruments and tools for all trades and manufac­tures, whereby, as they undertake, one man shall do the work of ten; a palace may be built in a week, of materials so durable as to last for ever without repairing. All the fruits of the earth shall come to maturity at whatever season we think fit to choose, and increase an hundred fold more than they do at present, with innumerable other happy proposals. The only inconvenience is, that none of these projects are yet brought to perfection, and in the mean time, the whole country lies miserably waste, the houses in ruins, and the people without food or clothes. By all which, instead of being dis­couraged, they are fifty times more violently bent upon prosecuting their schemes, driven equally on by hope and despair; that as for himself [the conservative lord], being not of an enterprising spirit, he was content to go on in the old forms, to live in the houses his ancestors had built, and act as they did in every part of life without innovation. That some few other persons of quality and gentry had done the same, but were looked on with an eye of contempt and as enemies to art, ig­norant, and ill commonwealth’s-men, preferring their own ease and sloth before the general improvement of their country.

By this last, Swift did not mean to imply that he was against true progress. As the giant king of Brobdingnag had said to Gull­iver on an earlier voyage: “Who­ever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.”

Finally, Gulliver admits to the reader rather sheepishly that at one time in his youth he, too, had been a planner. Anxious to visit the planning academies of Balnibarbi, he takes leave of his friend the lord which he relates as follows:

In a few days we came back to town, and his Excellency, consider­ing the bad character he had in the Academy, would not go with me him­self, but recommended me to a friend of his to bear me company thither. My lord was pleased to represent me as a great admirer of projects, and a person of much curiosity and easy belief; which indeed was not without truth, for I had myself been a sort of projector in my younger days.

Thus, we see that similar men­talities are still with us: that the mind which would rule the world with an international satellite-based police force, is the same mind which would plan our daily lives.

While it cannot be said that the United States has as yet lost out to the “projectors,” much of our planet “lies miserably waste,” with strangulated and languishing economies, as can be found in parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America, all vic­tims of state planning.