A ship with two captains runs aground


The European Council and Commission face serious challenges in foreign affairs, migration, the banking union and energy but must overcome their throttling duality: confederation or federation? 

The sinologist Simon Leys became known for an essay he wrote in the 1970s entitled “The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution”, in which he described the terrible acts perpetrated during the Cultural Revolution, chilling the enthusiasm of European intellectual circles towards the policies of the “Great Leader, Great Teacher, Great Supreme Commander, Great Helmsman”. In a short novel, published many years later in 2003, entitled The Wreck of the Batavia, the Belgian scholar provided an account of the “anatomy of a massacre”. In 1629, the ship Batavia, flying the flag of the Dutch East India Company, ran aground off the coast of Australia. The crew suddenly fell hostage to a psychopath who killed hundreds of its members and passengers, one by one, with the help of a few disciples. Responsibility for the shipwreck and the massacre was partly pinned on the diarchal governance of Dutch cargo ships during the Dutch Golden Age. The leader on the ship was not a seaman but a land-based administrator representing the ship’s owner, known as the opperkoopman in Dutch. The man in charge of steering the vessel through the stormy Pacific Ocean waters was a powerless captain (schipper). For Ley, the Batavia story provides a metaphor of how democracy can unravel into chaos and dictatorship. But perhaps the diarchy governing Dutch ships in the 17th century can also stand as a metaphor for our current European institutional framework.

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