The Tyranny of Neptune

Craig LennoxFounding Editor

Gover­nance is but gov­ern­ment on land. The ver­i­ty of this fact is so ap­par­ent that it chron­i­cal­ly es­capes our note: a na­tion’s sovereign­ty runs to her shal­lows on­ly. Though her pow­er be pro­ject­ed in­to the bo­som of the sea, nev­er does it there arise.

It was not the dis­cov­ery of a new con­ti­nent be­tween Europe and Asia which de­mol­ished the me­dieval or­der and com­menced the Modern Age. Rather, the mon­stros­i­ty of our oceans, and cor­re­spond­ing im­po­tence of hu­man law over four-fifths of the globe, forced a new and un­wel­come reap­praisal of the lim­its of tem­po­ral pow­er.

Iron ships have mean­time in their mul­ti­tude plowed ev­ery acre of ceruleum, yet left no sin­gle fur­row dug for civ­i­liza­tion’s ten­der root. Nei­ther flag nor cus­tom, reg­u­la­tion or con­sti­tu­tion there does flow­er; no less than medicines, mu­ni­tions, and meat they must be freight­ed at dock suf­fi­cient for the voy­age or done with­out. Moder­ni­ty’s grand en­ter­prise, the glob­al com­mon­wealth, has tri­umphed all but in Earth’s largest king­dom, which sur­rounds it and di­vides it, and where pi­rate-sav­age, as much prince as out­law, con­founds the comi­ty of law­ful na­tions and ex­tracts cru­el trib­ute from their mer­can­tile en­voys.

Such is the tyran­ny of Nep­tune, that we re­main so be­sieged at his fron­tier. Even on land, we suf­fer pun­ish­ing hur­ri­canes, tsunamis, tidal bores, and count­less oth­er af­fronts. Ero­sion eats at our coastal bor­ders, de­stroy­ing prop­er­ty and threat­en­ing liveli­hoods. And, as if all of these were not provo­ca­tion enough, some sci­en­tif­ic da­ta sug­gests that the ocean lev­el may be ris­ing. How much more shall we tol­er­ate?