Monday, February 27, 2012

First-World Parliaments

The oldest parliament (or place of parley) in the First World was held in the shadow of a huge black basaltic slab on the west face of the Thingvellir, the 'Valley of the Thing', in Iceland. Sources generally agree that this democratic assembly of all the local people, the Althing, started around AD 930 and has been in existence therefore for more than a thousand years. That span takes into account the periods of anarchy and times of war that disrupted the Althing and scattered the assembly. To this day, a thing is an object to be agreed upon.

But the longest continually-running democratic institution in the world is probably found a bit further south, on Britain's Isle of Man. There, the local assembly or Tynwald has been meeting regularly since AD 979, and this is its 1033rd year of existence.

These are true First World parliaments, the first ancestors of various assemblies that spread throughout the North Atlantic region, and eventually culminated in the Westminster Parliament at London, which some call the mother of all modern parliaments. The big difference is that at Westminster, those who meet represent a majority or plurality of their constituents, but sometimes not even half of those they claim to serve.

A First-World parliament thus became one at which the laws of the realm are fully and freely debated not by all those bound by such laws, the laws of the commonwealth of the people, but by their representatives. This is of course somewhat necessary as states get larger, but one also has to wonder about what has been transacted without the full, free knowledge of the people.

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