back to

How do we connect ideology to time?


The Economist has published an interesting article that looks at time as a medium to express power. Fiddling with time has a surprisingly long history, going back to Roman times, when months in the calendar were named after Julius and Augustus Caesar (July and August, respectively). The report in partial below.

North Korea will go back in time on August 15th, turning back its clocks by half an hour to establish its own time zone. It seems appropriate for a country that venerates its past: the hermit kingdom already has its own calendar, with years counted from 1912, the birth year of its founder and “eternal president”, Kim Il Sung. Its time-travelling is the latest example of a long tradition of expressing political power by adjusting clocks and calendars. Doing so alters a fundamental aspect of daily life, literally at a stroke. And what better illustration could there be of a ruler’s might than control over time itself?

Not all such changes stand the test of time: think of France’s failed attempt to introduce a ten-hour clock and an entirely new calendar after the revolution of 1789, to emphasise the break with its monarchist past, or the Soviet Union’s experiments with five- and six-day weeks during the 1930s. But those changes that do persist can memorialise past rulers more effectively than any physical monument. By order of the Roman Senate, the month of July was so named in honour of Julius Caesar, when he reorganised the calendar starting in 45BC (709AUC, in the Roman calendar); August was later named after Augustus Caesar, which required the lengths of several months to be adjusted to ensure August was no shorter than July. Their empires are lost to history, but their names remain.

In the modern era, measurement of time provides a way to underline the clout of central government: both India and China, despite their size, have a single time zone, which keeps everyone marching in step with the capital. It also offers an opportunity for emphasising independence and non-conformity. Hugo Chávez turned the clocks back by half an hour in 2007 to move Venezuela into its own time zone—supposedly to allow a “fairer distribution of the sunrise” but also ensuring that the socialist republic did not have to share a time zone with the United States.

Western Australia has defied the rest of the country by voting against the adoption of daylight-saving time in four referendums. The Navajo Nation observes daylight-saving time, even though the rest of Arizona (including the Hopi Reservation, which is entirely enclosed by the Navajo Nation) doesn’t. Perhaps the strangest example is that of Turkmenistan under President Saparmurat Niyazov, who renamed all the months and most of the days of the week in 2002, even renaming April after his mother. The changes were reversed only in 2008, two years after Niyazov’s death. For its part, North Korea is shifting its time zone this week to reverse the imposition of Tokyo time by “wicked Japanese imperialists” in 1912.

*Image of Kim Jong-un courtesy citizentv