Inspired by this
post in another thread, I started wondering about the
idea of “government by children” in a purely theoretical sense. Has it ever been tried? Could it possibly work? And what would it be like?
The word “gerontocracy” is used to mean “government by the old” but I couldn’t find a widespread word for “rule by the young.” A net
search revealed the words “paedocracy” and “ephebocracy” for this concept, but neither seems to be in common use. And why would they be? After
all, it is not a common (or perhaps even ultimately viable) form of government. At the end of the day, youth alone cannot rule; it makes no sense. The
older people in the population would never put up with it, for one. For another, children lack the adult capacity for cognitive and social skills, and
this ultimately makes complex tasks like governing impossible. When I look at most of the examples below, perhaps the common factor is failure and
half-measures. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be tried again, no?
The phenomena below are not exactly youth rule in a proper or pure sense, but rather are expamples of situations in history where the young have
wielded more-than-usual amounts of political or social power. The examples point to different facets of what aspects of child rule might be like.
Feel free to add your own, or anything else you want to say about the topic.
In many times and places, children have officially held the throne in many nations. Obviously in most cases they do no actual ruling, but are
figureheads controlled by regents or other adults. In some times and places, however, child monarchs may have held more power than commonly believed.
Ivan the terrible of Russia, for example, began his reign as a boy-monarch in a court riven by bloody disputes between competing power cliques.
Growing up in this atmosphere, a paranoid young Ivan learned to survive by playing the different power-blocs off against each other. In other times,
young leaders like ancient Egypt’s Akhenaten ( Amenhotep IV) used their youth to shake up hidebound cultural, social, and religious conventions.
The 60s Youth Culture
The baby boomers in the 1960s can’t really be said to have ruled, but they exerted a huge influence on the culture and politics of the Western world
simply by the weight of their sheer numbers. Youth protests and attitudes shocked elders and created a radical divide that threatened to undermine
state and cultural authority. Creating informal networks and short-lived experiments in communal living, many young hippies tried to create an
alternate society of the young, either by “dropping out” or resisting the system more actively.
The Third-World Baby Boom
Much as a huge demographic bubble in the Western world of the 1960s resulted in a shift of power and influence to the young, today the muscle of the
young is on the rise throughout Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East. In many of these nations, the majority is under 25, which has a huge effect
on the way things are done, even if it doesn’t constitute youth rule per se. Phenomenon like the recent “Arab spring” uprisings may be
considered examples of vast, youthful populations flexing their growing muscle, and I expect we will see future generational conflict in these parts
of the world as old systems struggle to process huge young populations.
The Children’s Crusade
The children’s crusade is a controversial event that may not have taken place the way it is said to have taken place. But according to tradition, in
the year 1212 there were two simultaneous popular movements of children seeking to re-take Jerusalem from the Muslims. One band was led by a German
boy named Nicholas, who took his band of children to the Mediterranean Sea with the expectation that it would part for them as the Red Sea did for
Moses, allowing them to walk to the Holy Land. Of course it didn’t quite work out like that. The other movement in the same year was supposedly
30,000 kids lead by a French Shepard named Stephan of Cloyes. Most of this large group of children ended up being sold into slavery or drowning at
sea, according to one telling.
Child Soldiers in Africa
The sad situation of child soldiers in Africa has been in the public mind of late, with the “Kony 2012” video about the LRA in Uganda. The LRA is
hardly the only child army to emerge in Africa in recent decades, however. Other notable examples include the RUF in Sierra Leone during the 1990s, as
well as child soldiers in Somalia and Liberia. The day-to-day operations of these groups are enforced by very young boys, who exercise a power and a
hazy political consciousness that could be said to be related to the idea of rule by the young – with disastrous and tragic consequences.
Mao’s Red Guards
During the late 1960s and 1970s, Chinese leader Mao Zed ong was feeling threatened by many of the officials under him. In a ploy to maintain his
power, he unleashed the so-called Cultural Revolution, encouraging the youth to rise up against the older Communist establishment. The Red Guards,
gangs of Mao-worshipping adolescents, proceeded to take over factories, schools, universities, and entire communities, often lynching, killing, and
torturing older authority figures who stood in their way. The Red Guards were a serious blow to China’s economy and society, and it took years for
the mayhem to fully settle down.
The idea of youth rule has been treated in many works of fiction, perhaps not surpringly, since it is an interesting idea but seems only possible in
fiction. A few examples that spring to mind with this type of theme are the book/movie Logan’s Run
and several short stories by Ray Bradbury
(such as The Children’s Hour
. The 1968 movie Wild in the Streets
(see vid clip above) took the idea to its logical, if chilling,
edit on 3/26/2012 by silent thunder because: (no reason given)