13 October 2009

Perhaps it's time to crown an Emperor Norton II.

Many years ago, I heard of the colorful 19th Century character known as "Emperor Norton" and his decree abolishing Congress for thwarting the will of the people. When I moved to the (greater) San Francisco Bay Area, I heard his name mentioned here and there, usually as evidence of the City's abiding love for the avant garde. I can't say that I knew much about Emperor Norton beyond this until the Popehat bloggers' tremendous Blawg Review #233 this week.

While Norton was indeed a comical figure at times, he was not made a target of ridicule by the people of San Francisco; instead, he was treated with respect and courtesy wherever he traveled in the city. As the Popehatters point out, "To the extent his subjects respected his orders, they did so because it amused them to do so, or... because they were moral and made sense. In short, Norton was that rarest of creatures: a sovereign who truly ruled with the consent of the governed."

Why this was so — whether because he was a charming person (something of a progenitor of the modern celebrity), because people generally feel a sense of personal satisfaction when extending charity to a worthy person, or because his actions were genuinely appreciated by those whom he encountered — is not entirely clear. What is clear, particularly so after reading this Blawg Review, is that Norton's words and deeds are worth considering on their merits, regardless of the Emperor's own grasp on reality.

Apart from a very insightful examination of the substance of Emperor Norton's decree, Blawg Review #233 covers the best recent legal blogging, including discussions of the lines between church and state, between bureaucracy and free speech, and between disclosure and censorship. Blawg Review Sherpa Victoria Pynchon hosts next week at her Settle It Now Negotiation Blog site.

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