The Classical Source of LOGH

I promised to write this article a long time ago, and I’m very happy to see it published.  Legend of Galactic Heroes has garnered many fans throughout its three decades of existence.  (The OVA itself needed nearly a decade to complete: 1988-1997.)  Part of the charm of this series is that it asks an eternal question: what is the best form of government?  Monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy?  The dress and cultures of our heroes reminds us of the First World War, and we recall that great cataclysm in the obscene casualty levels of each interstellar battle.  Yet, does the Empire really represent the Second Reich and the Free Planets Alliance the Allies?

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The question on the best form of government has its antecedent far before World War I: Herodotus’ Histories contains a scene where Persians debate over the best form of government for themselves.  In the end, they decide on monarchy, since they argue that aristocracy and democracy are too unstable.  They say that the natural course of affairs is for one person to gain all political power anyway; so, they might as well establish a monarchy!

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Yet, contrary to the events in Legend of Galactic Heroes, the Persian monarchy is defeated during their wars with the democratic Greeks.  There is another classical work which bears a closer resemblance to Legend of Galactic Heroes than the works of Herodotus: Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.  The similarities between the two works, especially in the great debate over democracy vs. monarchy, are striking enough that I feel sure that Yoshiki Tanaka, the author of Legend of Galactic Heroes novels, has some familiarity with it.  The Free Planets Alliance and Athens are easily similar in their democracy and willingness to punish unsuccessful generals or overly successful leaders.  The heavy militarism and monarchic government of the Empire reminds one of Sparta.  Just like in Thucydides, the single-minded monarchy of the Empire conquers a volatile, corrupt, and short-sighted democracy.

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Does this necessarily mean that a monarchy is better than a democracy–at least in times of war?  I would say no: actually democracies in the 20th century have more often bested enemy dictatorships.  Every form of government has trade-offs.  That’s why our Founding Fathers followed the Aristotelian ideal of creating a mixed government, combining kingly, aristocratic, and democratic elements.  Each branch contains methods for checking the others in order to prevent dictatorship, mob rule, or oligarchy.  Often, one branch of government gains ascendancy over the others for a short time, but energetic and principled politicians can usually prevent one part of government from subsuming all the power of the state.

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As for the comparison between democracy and monarchy, I have to side with democracy, because it’s what I know.  Sure, I would chose a constitutional monarchy over a democracy, but a constitutional monarchy is a mixed government.  I only want to compare rule of the people vs. rule of an autocrat!  It might be true that a majority can as easily oppress minority citizens as a monarch, but monarchy is subject to more extremes.  And, I suppose one is far more likely to be ruled by the worst man than by the best man.  So, my natural pessimism regarding human affairs inclines me towards democracy.

What would my dear readers prefer: being ruled by an absolute monarch or a parliament without checks on what it can legislate?

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12 comments on “The Classical Source of LOGH

  1. Luminas says:

    Depends. One thing I can tell you as this: In the history of man as far as I know, there have been very few progressive tyrants. Even the Communists, although theoretically patterning themselves off progressive ideals, tended to err on the side of controlling fascism and “popular will” rather than the unpopular ideal of the equality of all men. (In the U.S., for instance, we talk a lot about the equality of all men but seem to believe that some men are better than others, particularly if they’re better at acquiring money. There is a Darwinian aspect to pure capitalism…) All men, of any stripe, tend to be passingly interested in the idea of an absolute ruler who shares their vision of the future…But there has never been such a man for me. There has never been a ruler who would enforce the right of all to live happily (Even at the expense of what others have earned) on pain of death.

    So I tend toward the ideals of a constitutional, balanced government akin to those you describe. At least in those there’s a chance of my people’s survival: The survival of the marginalized and unwanted, of different races and genders and creeds than the majority. I tend to be akin to an amphibian of worlds, a bridge, a thing that “shouldn’t exist.” I’m a highly educated lawyer with a significant developmental disability, a person who has been both caregiver and cared for, a beautiful white woman (Or at least I have the potential to be) that knows stigma and discrimination, a person who believes in Christ and His sacrifice who cannot worship Him. So I guess I see both the point of those who say one should enjoy only what one has earned…And the point of those who say that no one really “earns” or “deserves” anything. That success is as much an accident of birth as hard work.

    So if there were a King that were of my kind, I’d imagine I’d prefer him over a system of majority rule. But since there is no such King, I fall in with you.

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    • Yeah, a constitutional government is the best framework for protecting the rights of minorities. An aristocracy can also do that…or it can become an oligarchy only concerned with the welfare of the elite and the competition between them. Though, an amusing thing about democracy is that it often fosters elites who then become opinion leaders, and the only way the Ancient Athenians had of counteracting their rising power was exiling the leading citizens from time to time. Kingships can vary all over the place depending on the quality of the ruler, and one of its worst defects is that a successful king is often followed by one far less apt at ruling who loses the gains made by his predecessor.

      The Communists did foster a kind of equality, though it was the equality of everyone being equally replaceable–as shown by the democide of a hundred million people in the last century. The main problem with utopian theories of government, in which I lump together communism, fascism, and socialism, is that there is always a group of people who, according to the rulers, prevent the promised utopia from coming about. (Marx’s philosophy was practically Messianic with its promise of a paradise on earth after the destruction of the bourgeoisie and capitalists.) Under socialism, dissenters are ostracized, fined, or jailed for their deviancy; under communism or fascism, they are imprisoned or killed. We can take steps to alleviating suffering and want in society, but one must be suspicious of any ideology which claims: “If only you put my system in place, all society’s ills will be solved!”

      The West has promulgated the idea of equality a lot, but if you press the idea of equality further than the American Founding Fathers intended, one runs into trouble. They mostly proposed “negative rights,” that the government can’t interfere with one and that one is free to act as long as one’s actions do not impinge on another person’s freedom. To say that one has “positive rights,” such as the government having the duty to secure your material well-being or even equality of success, brings about a whole load of problems. Much of the debate these days is over positive rights versus negative rights.

      I can’t deny that capitalism has a Darwinian aspect to it–especially when the heads of international companies have no connection to their employees and only make decisions based on profit and loss. Capitalism works best when there are many capitalists rather than a few, people act within a moral framework, and management enjoys a close connection to those they employ. The stock company has never been a popular institution in the English speaking world for the very reason that it does portray the worst excesses of capitalism and tends to undermine the important moral foundation for capitalism to function fairly. From what I understand, Adam Smith was very critical of stock companies, and 18th century Americans closely regulated the existence of them.

      Thank you for your comments, Luminas! Though I cannot see your physical beauty, your beauty of soul always shines through.

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  2. Gaheret says:

    I would prefer a monarch. I would choose the rule of one man over the rule of the multitude, if I had no more alternatives.

    This is because I believe that in a democracy (especially an “unbound” democracy) 1) it’s simply too easy to manipulate using massive lies and propaganda, 2) likely tends more to radicalization of its ways, 3) resorts almost inherently massive social pressure, and these aspects all aggravate in the age of mass media. For me the first option is the mixed government formula, second an aristocracy, then a monarch, then a popular government.

    I also disagree about the extremes: I would say, as Luminas, that the institutionalized monarch tends to be conservative (if nothing more, to preserve his power). I see this as a virtue. Demagogues, on the other hand, tend to be radical and revolutionary, as their power is based on flattering, strong emotions and big promises. Democracies are always searching for “the true, full government of the people” which has not yet come, and tends to confrontation between the majority and social elites of any kind, which always exists. Aristotle said that a government ruled by the many and poor (without boundaries, one could say) is likely to oppress the few and rich: this is also dangerous and leads to social conflict just as much as plutocracy does. I also see in democratic regimes a delusion about their own moral superiority which may be a consequence of the mentioned flattering or perhaps the present ideological frame, and which leads almost inevitably to imposition. Therefore, Totalitarian regimes (the absolutely worst form of government, in my view) always justify themselves using democratic concepts.
    Between the typical King (say, Charles IV of Spain, Henry II of England, Wilhelm I of Prussia) and the typical democratic President (say, Jimmy Carter, Jacques Chirac or my own, Mariano Rajoy), the first ones seem to focus in the long run and institutions and have sort of an ethic approach to politics (at least in principle, however biased, hypocritical or soon forgotten may that be); the second ones are more centered in the short run, the immediate results and the surveys, and tend to adopt the measures with the explicit what-people-will-like standard, preparing their reelection while in office. This is no absolute rule, but a tendency I see in each regime, and I find the first approach more beneficial. I would point to the recent Middle East conflicts and the development of the French Revolution, for example.

    Coming to the worst, I can find myself governed by a monster like Henry VIII, and I would wish there was some legal remedy to dethrone him without assassination or revolution. But that kind of tyrants seem to be relatively few: sometimes you’re ruled by the best man, sometimes by the worst, typically by someone in the middle. Revolutionary rage, social engineering and hostility among factions, on the other hand, seem to never lose their attractive.

    I think that the delusion I mentioned is an anesthesia in the face of mortal danger. And I can’t help but think that Europe wouldn’t be in the road for extinction in its luxurious and fortified Welfare State for damaging families and natality if it had had any other form of government…

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    • Yeah, a monarchy has definite benefits to it. As you say, the public is often fickle and apt to be mislead by a demagogue. But, kings have also been unduly influenced by mistresses or favorites into taking bad courses of action. A king’s lack of maturity in age or temperament has been the downfall of many kingdoms. The example of how aristocrats mismanaged England under King Henry VI, both during his minority and his majority, comes to mind.

      Concerning modern Europe and the ill effects of democracy there, a saying comes to mind: “A democracy can only last as long as people realize that they can’t vote money for themselves.” That’s precisely what Europeans realized, and it’s proven rather bad for them–that, as well as certain crazy progressive trends of thought. That most monarchs do tend toward conservatism has much to say in favor of that system.

      But, all the commentators here agree that a mixed government formula or constitutional government is best shows that the other three forms of government hold the possibility of very undesirable outcomes. It’s a good mental exercise to consider which of the three has the least cons and most pros attached to them. I almost argued for monarchy myself, but my long experience with democracy makes me lean towards it despite democracy’s flaws.

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    • Luminas says:

      Aristotle probably has a point there, although I think that he speaks with an unavoidable element of bias. In his time only rich or well-known men had any literacy or perspective, and so he was literally surrounded by the ignorant. In his mind, the many ruling over the few and rich would have been a disaster. George Orwell appears to suffer from the same problem—- He was only just leaving a relatively similar age and time. But our modern era is not similar. Now the flow of information is free and infinite. It is now possible for nearly anyone living in the developed world to know anything they’d like to know (Except China).

      In this world, would it actually be a problem if the rich were accountable for the welfare of the poor? Not a single democracy or socialist government has forced that scenario. Why? Because it violates the principle within human beings which says one’s family and kin should own what they have earned, rather than have strangers own it.

      People talk a great deal about “welfare states,” but they have never truly created one. At best their “welfare states” are begrudging and forced, rather than anything truly like a national ethic which promotes well-being as a human right.

      Then again, I imagine— As most do— That this is impossible for a rather more spiritual than material reason.

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      • Gaheret says:

        Yours it´s an interesting point of view, Luminas. But I think I can´t agree with you about Aristotle´s Athens. Their democracy was the government of the “citizens”, which were all adult males who didn´t had to work with their hands (as manual work was typically handed to slaves), and I personally wouldn´t deem them as ignorant: at least in Spain, it´s not frequent to met a person who could participate in Plato´s dialogs, much less to find a literary work as Antigona or the Orestiad, or to actually meet a philosopher. Public debate, public discourse and even demagoges are very low-leveled compared to those of the Greeks. In fact, I would argue we have some of the worst kind of ignorants around: those who don´t even have or aknowledge the wisdom of old age, hard work or tradition, but behave and think as perpetual teenagers who think they know anything if they can google it (perhaps I sound like some old man, but I´m actually 23). It´s safe to say that 50% or more of my people is addicted to Internet pornography (I understand you have a similar problem in the United States), and almost all them are massive consumers and more apt to mass manipulation by a plethora of efficient techniques than perhaps any other human group in History: a ruler who can manipulate Google can change almost literally the world his or her people see. Our Spanish politicians behave as actors who put up a show and play to retain the attention of their public. The “pensiero debole” approach to knowledge makes people immune even to logic and common sense in argumentation. I agree that in the age of Internet, every man has the means to become a thinker. But in my society, little do. They likely choose to become addicts instead, shielded in their comfort zones.

        Aristotle argued in his “Politica” that the poor tended to apply an equalitarian measure of distribution and the rich a proportional measure of distribution, and that it would be better to choose the standard taking into account the nature of the distribution and what is being distributed (a rule of reason). The unbounded government of the poor could potentially be worst because of their “revolutionary” or destructive nature, which can undermine previous institutions and means of human coordination. A plutocracy is almost as bad (I´m thinking in the British Empire), but at least it tends to self-preservation and therefore avoids the temptation to ‘kill the Goose that laid the Golden Eggs’.

        I agree the poor, the rejected, the fragile and the unlucky must be helped in any society. But in my Welfare State system I lack the public values of austerity, sacrifice, hard work, independence, responsibility, sobriety and temperance, sustainability, long term thinking and respect for the environment and future generations. The material typically comes first to the spiritual, so in the long term we won´t help the poor, but are damaging childs and families. Maybe it´s the combination with the “consumer mind” or hedonistic ideas, and not a necessary parte of the Welfare State. But we Europeans are facing extinction both as a civilization and as a people. Not that this is dramatic (the world and the Church go on anyway), but I feel it was avoidable. Not sure if it still is.

        Concerning medievalotaku responses, I agree about misleaded Kings. As you say, is a matter of pros and cons. I also find accurate and very interesting your remarks concerning Capitalism: 1) many capitalists, 2) strong moral framework, 3) close manager-worker connection, 4) a cautious approach to the stock company. I have an ongoing debate with one of my fellows on that subject, perhaps there is a book or a thinker who could help me deepen such approach? I think that modern Capitalism needs a “moral” reform which can preserve it´s better values while changing some others, some contemporary, some present since the Industrial Revolution. For example, I always thought that the manager-worker connection is very deep, almost feudal in nature, and needs to distance itself from the “human resources” approach and to take into account the element of loyalty, leadership and being responsible of one´s own men. I also think that we need guardians of the moral framework, not only among burochrats, but among fellow agents of the industry who understand it firstly as a service and only secondly as a mean of profit; I would resurrect that aspect of the old Guilds. Another concept I would like to reintroduce is austerity in production and in consuming, and human-natural rythms of work, production and rest as opposed to artificial and industrial rythms.

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  3. Gaheret says:

    Ahem. I must have been half-asleep when I wrote that: I meant “anesthesia” instead of “anthesis”.

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    • Long and detailed comments are seldom without typos. 🙂 I took the liberty of editing what you pointed out.

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      • Luminas says:

        “Their democracy was the government of the “citizens”, which were all adult males who didn´t had to work with their hands (as manual work was typically handed to slaves), and I personally wouldn´t deem them as ignorant”

        Ah, but that’s just it. An adult male citizen of Athens had to also: (1) Own land (2) Have been born there (3) Not be a slave. But this was, at most, only a fifth of the population of Athens at any given time. Furthermore, not all of these people actually participated in the government. Calculating this out, it’s not hard to argue that only middle class and rich men, all of whom could read, participated in Athens’ government. Basically…”learned” people. Would women, slaves, and metics’ concerns have seemed worthy of attention to this group of people? Not particularly, and that’s the problem.

        “In fact, I would argue we have some of the worst kind of ignorants around: those who don´t even have or aknowledge the wisdom of old age, hard work or tradition, but behave and think as perpetual teenagers who think they know anything if they can google it (perhaps I sound like some old man, but I´m actually 23)”

        Ah, but that’s just it: They CAN know anything if they Google it. It’s just that truly knowing something is much harder work than getting a cursory knowledge of it via the Internet. They would have to search for hours and read numerous opinions and books on the subject to get any real comprehension. And they still wouldn’t know as much as someone who has devoted years of their life to understanding it.

        But none of that has anything to do with “old age” or “tradition.” I know United States law (In fact apparently more than I thought I knew) because I studied it for three straight years of my life and I’m a lawyer. I am immersed in it. But I am twenty-seven, so I don’t know nearly as much as Daniel Goldstein, an older mentor I admire. Old age has more to do with “Time devoted to knowing something” than it does to any inherent wisdom of the old.

        “I agree the poor, the rejected, the fragile and the unlucky must be helped in any society. But in my Welfare State system I lack the public values of austerity, sacrifice, hard work, independence, responsibility, sobriety and temperance, sustainability, long term thinking and respect for the environment and future generations.”

        I think that these values would still be cultivated in a system where the rich were forced to actually give enough of their wealth to support those below them. Again, my main point is that there’s basically no society that actually does this, European “Welfare States” or otherwise. A true “Welfare State” would have a universal basic income for all, drawn from the income of those making millions of dollars per year. And if that universal basic income were exactly at the nation’s poverty line, and slowly dropped away when you started making a sufficient amount on your own…it wouldn’t discourage hard work at all. Because to consume anything of any value you’d have to make more than that.

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  4. Luminas says:

    But all of this is to go very far beyond the point of Medieval’s post. As for your points on capitalism, I find that…very interesting, actually! For personal reasons. I work for a small nonprofit organization with only seven full time employees. We work right next to two other small offices. Such a structure naturally lends itself to a fairer hierarchy: Everyone knows everybody personally. There actually is an element of obligation and loyalty in this, enough for me to reject a higher-paying job simply because I would lose those connections.

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    • Gaheret says:

      I agree with your remarks about Athens. My point was that one-fifth “democracy” of people who could read and were able to spoke in the Agora and choose by vote was precisely what Aristotle called “government of the (comparatively) poor”, and not the government of the ignorant and the miserable, which would probably have deemed as unthinkable. That one-fifth were the “poor” or the “not-so-rich” as opposed to aristochrats or public figures, and his point was that they were likely to outvote them, apply radical policies against them and ignore the reasons for a proportional measure of distribution, which I believe necessary sometimes. Coincidentially, I´m also a lawyer in Spain too (now, more accurately, an apprentice). Yours is an interesting model of bussiness, and as I said, I believe that some of its virtues and principles are needed in bigger organizations which have lost sight of this need for human connection and human-centered structure. You´re right, the Welfare State debate could take us very far from the post and from LOGH, which for me felt, in a sense, a historic (as opposed to mythic) take on Star Wars material (rebel Galactic Democracy versus autocratic Galactic Empire) from a Japanese and not American point of view, kind of a revisionist work in which the feeling of “historical development” of events and characters was the main point. Thank you very much!

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