Percy Shelley, or if not Shelley, someone a lot like him, once said, “Writers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” The fact Shelly tried spreading such an outrageous rumor partly accounts for the reputation we writers have as the foremost self-righteous fatheads on earth.
Al Capone never had to tell anyone he was an unacknowledged legislator, Cardinal Richelieu never had to say it, no one in the Trilateral Commision, or the Diamond Cartel or a Dan Brown novel ever comes out with something like that. So it looks fishy when Shelley says it; it’s like tooting your own horn.
It’s pretty unlikely that some conspiracy nut will ever finger a secret cabal of writers as the real power behind the powers that be; “You know the grassy knoll? The disappearance of Elvis? Those fake moon rocks? You know who’s really behind all that stuff? John Updike!”
Lots of professions could make better claims than writers for global legislative power. Plumbers might also feel themselves fairly unacknowledged, world wide legislation-wise. Plumbers don’t write about plumbing, of course; they only plumb, and so their significance in the arena of global government gets not as much attention as it deserves. Even Alice Walker’s most ardent fan does not look forward her next poem with the same urgency as someone standing ankle deep in fecal matter awaiting the arrival of the big van with the happy-face plunger on the side.
Moreover, plumbers, three-year-olds, and others in positions of tyrannical authority have the good sense not to mope about it. Usually a writer who comes out with a line like being an unacknowledged legislator one moment, will begin whining about how little writers earn the next. This makes us seem not only delusional, but bratty. Look, you’re either a world ruler or a yuppie looking to make a payment on the Volvo; you can’t be both.
Imagine meeting someone who says he’s an Unacknowledged World Legislator. Certain that at any moment someone will pop from the shrubbery with a tranquilizer gun and a strait jacket, you play for time. “Very impressive,” you remark, sidling away from him.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he mutters, “but I don’t have a dental plan.”
Imagine that: a megalomaniac on the verge of striking for higher wages.
I’ll leave legislation, acknowledged or otherwise, to Congress. The great world and wide has taught me my place. I’m not complaining. I don’t want to legislate in an unacknowledged or any other capacity. I’m happy with my lot in life. And I suspect that in whatever Star Chamber the true unacknowledged legislators of the world meet, they turn with a sigh from setting the price of petroleum, fixing all the presidential races, and determining library fines for the next millennium, and imagine, just for a moment, how glorious existence would be – if only they could write.