All Hail the King!

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Being a Prince is not all beer and skittles — or even champagne and polo. It can be downright dangerous, as Prince Virgillio can attest. He and his sons have been convicted of fraud.

Prior to his ascendancy to royalty, Prince Virgillio was just plain Virgillio Rigoli. He lived in northern Victoria, in Australia, and was sick and tired of paying taxes to the Commonwealth of Australia, probably because that country’s Department of Agriculture had bulldozed his fruit crop, claiming it was infested with some sort of insect. In other words, it had used his own (tax) money to destroy his own crop, for its own reasons. So he erected a fence around his property — comprising some 24 hectares — and built a moat. The enclosed territory was declared independent on July 4, 1994, and given the name Principality of Ponderosa. A passport was required of anyone entering or leaving. Virgillio’s two sons, Philip, and Little Joe, also elevated to royal status, joined their father. "I do not recognize nor will I ever recognize the government of Australia," wrote His Royal Highness, Little Joseph Rigoli.

Australian authorities took a dim view of all this. "The accused had decided that they were not going to pay taxation to the Commonwealth of Australia and had gone to the trouble of setting up an independent municipality — to distance themselves from the laws of Australia," declared crown prosecutor Gavin Silbert. Unthinkable! And, indeed, to most people the best that could be said of Prince Virgillio is that he is a kook. Who could take seriously his claim that his land was, well, his, and a sovereign state to boot? Obviously, his claim couldn’t be taken seriously. Why not? For one thing, he hadn’t killed, threatened, or expelled anybody.

Captain Cook arrived in Australia in 1770. He claimed the land for his King, George III. Nobody seemed to think it peculiar that an island, heretofore unknown, should, by the declaration of the sailor who happened across it, become the property of an Englishman thousands of miles away. The actual arrival of the English began in 1788, with a shipment of prisoners. Prior to the American revolution, England had sent its prisoners to America, but now Australia merited that honor.

Of course, there were already people living there — for about 50,000 years, in fact. Whatever they may have thought about having their homeland suddenly declared the property of a foreigner, and themselves subject to his whims and fancies, made no difference. I have seen the word "genocide" used to describe the relationship of Crown to aborigine, and as recently as the 20th century, the children of aborigines were taken from their parents and put into institutions to acclimate them into white society. Is there a certain resemblance to the actions of Prince Virgillio? In some respects. Those very officials who now decry his actions, and have convicted him of a crime, did virtually the same thing in 1788: declared themselves master of "their" land, and everyone living there subject to them. But with one difference: they were armed and dangerous, and supported by the military might of a powerful nation. Poor Prince Virgillio had just himself and his two sons. No army, no backers in high places, no legislature to write laws, and no courts to solemnly declare those laws to be proper and binding. Obviously, the establishment of a nation involves not merely a noble principle: "We Want To Be Free!" — but principle supported by a power: financial, legal, and military.

Today the idea of founding a new, free, country still appeals. Some recommend finding a suitable island to establish this new land. Others advocate a migration of like-minded freedom-loving individuals to a small town, where they can, by quite normal and accepted means, gain control and form a nucleus of a new, free, society. Let such as these ponder the fate of Prince Virgillio. You can give your piece of land a name that pleases you: The Sovereign Nation of (insert name). You can even design and wear a royal raiment, with crown and scepter. You can pass laws ad infinitum regarding the conduct of people in your kingdom. No one will care, although you will be regarded as demented, and deserving of treatment for your disordered behavior. But should that behavior progress to the point of challenging the authority of those who actually rule, you will quickly learn who wields the power. If you deny the de facto rulers the tribute they demand, you may find yourself regarding life through bars.

The biggest bully is boss. If you challenge his "right" to determine your life via his "laws," be prepared for a fight, which you almost certainly will lose. If, incredibly, you should triumph, you face a greater danger: that you will, in turn, become the bully who orders others to do, or not do, what you decree.

It may be possible to be free, but not by simply declaring yourself so, and almost certainly not by fighting. The trick is to find the tyrant’s Achilles’ heel, and attack it.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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