I think most of you know the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” by Hans Christian Andersen. Here is a link to the whole story, if you’re not familiar with it:
Or here’s a synopsis: The emperor was vain and foolish. He loved fancy clothing, and some swindlers conned him into buying a very unusual outfit: It supposedly had amazing beautiful colors, but it was only visible to wise people; it was invisible to fools. No one in the court — including the emperor — wanted to admit that they couldn’t see the clothing. The emperor went on parade, all of his royal personage visible to everyone. And here is how Andersen’s version ends:
“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people.
That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist.
A different last paragraph seems obvious to me. I suspect this is what Andersen really had in mind, but he could not write it for fear of reprisal. Here it is:
The people realized that their emperor was a fool, and an unnecessary expense. When enough of them realized this, they rose up and overthrew him, and set up a democracy. (Perhaps they had to fight a fierce battle against the emperor’s troops, or perhaps they met no resistance at all; history does not tell us about that.)
And of course, in our own time, “emperor” is a symbol standing in for oligarchy. In real life, our own nation and all modern nations are ruled by oligarchies thinly disguised as democracies. The oligarchy can only continue with the acquiescence of the people. If only the public would see past the illusion, we would overthrow the oligarchs and create a true democracy. So pass the word along: “Pssst! The empire has no clothes!”
Version of 2020 Feb 17. (Original version 2019 Jan 27.)