Final Word

Alliance is really a marriage of convenience

Marriage.jpg

Alliance season – sorry, I actually mean political election season – has come into full bloom in South Africa, bringing the possibility of political marriages of convenience with it.

Expect to hear the word ‘alliance’ bandied around quite a bit in the next few months in the build-up to the municipal elections scheduled for the 3rd of August.

For starters, the government of the day at national level and the majority of local governments are in the hands of the ANC-led alliance and the status of ‘official opposition’ belongs to the Democratic Alliance. Word is that a number of other parties might enter into alliances – during campaign time or after the election – as a matter of convenience, to grab a share of political power.

Origin of alliances

All of this made us curious about the origin and roots of the term ‘alliance’.  What we discovered, was that political power and marriages of convenience have much in common.

In fact, the word ‘alliance’ arrived in English during the early 14th century as the term for a “bond of marriage between ruling houses or noble families from the Modern French aliier”.

By the late 14th century its meaning has broadened to include “a bond or treaty” between rulers – often still backed up with a marriage between key members of the ruling families in the states involved.

Over time its use was further broadened to include: a formal agreement or treaty between two or more nations to cooperate for specific purposes; a merging of efforts or interests by persons, families, states, or organisations, like, for instance, an alliance between church and state; and more figuratively as in the notion of an alliance between logic and metaphysics.

In modern dictionaries the definition of ‘alliance’, as a noun is generally given as “a relationship forged between two or more individuals or groups that works as a positive for both parties involved, more symbolically, or ‘a written agreement between two or more parties in order to forge a bond, and/or work together to serve both sides’ interests”.

Final word in political context

When it comes to the use of the term in political context, I suspect that the majority of readers would prefer the definition given by Ambrose Bierce in his 1993 The Devil’s Dictionary: “Alliance, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other’s pocket that they cannot separately plunder a third.”

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

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