Bloody Shovel 3

We will drown and nobody shall save us


After refusing for years, I finally yielded to a friends's insistence that I watch Game of Thrones. And it's actually pretty good. Quite oversexed, you might say, but not comically so, as the infamous Rome series, which had Augustus fucking his elder sister, out of the blue. I have no trouble believing that a quarter or so of the medieval elite were oversexed whoremongers. We do have an unrealistic image of the Middle Ages as a time of piety and boredom and sheer peasant stagnation. Then again it does nag me to read that the author of the series, George R. R. Martin is an Obama supporter, and a Carter worshiper. Of all people. I wonder what Jimmy Carter would think if he watched the series, with all those naked women and guts spilling out of soldiers.

The fun point of the series is to see how power is grabbed, lost, used and fought about. It's mostly about petty disputes, personal dislikes and other middle-schoolish personal relations. Revenge as the ultimate human emotion. And if you know something about how Feudalism worked, it all does ring a bell somehow. You read in a book how this lord had this lover, or killed this man or whatever, and well that's just something you read. Seeing it on a movie though, and quite vividly, gives another impression. Which makes it all so much real. I've said before I am a great believer in the dictum that all politics are local. But local not as in town, but as in house. Or castle, or palace, or whatever it is. Politics is about the monkeysphere, or perhaps only the innermost circle of it.

When you think about it, monarchy is a pretty strange system. Why should one guy hold power over vast amounts of people he doesn't even know? And get to rule for life?  And he gets to do what he pleases, which is generally a bad thing for your character. In  fact many kings suffered of severe bad character. Many even sunk whole kingdoms, with millions of people,  just by being stupid, or greedy, or just an ass. Whatever you say about monarchy, it's pretty bad risk management.

Which is the economist way of thinking. Thankfully I don't think like that, I have the habit of thinking like a historian. A good one, that is. So I think of how a system such as monarchy might have come to be. And it's not that hard really. Lands are conquered through war. Armies need a commander, so when an army conquers a piece of land, the commander becomes king. He rules and collects taxes which he funnels to his war brothers, who become noblemen.

Then the king dies. What happens? Well different peoples had different systems to arrange for succession for a ruler. What would happen in most armies when the commander dies, is that the generals will get together and choose one of them as the successor, if the king didn't arrange for it himself. And that evolved into elective monarchy. Problem is it's hard to get people to agree to choose one king. The stakes are too damn high. So what you got was all the contenders gathering their armies in anticipation of the king's death, and total war among the elite every 10 years or so.

The solution which was most widely adopted was that of hereditary succession. The metaphor for the kingship changed, from that of commander of an army, to that of owner of property. Since time immemorial property of all kind has been inherited in the family; in patriarchal societies it would be inherited by the sons. And so most kingdoms eventually adopted the system of hereditary succession. The king dies, the son takes over.

What if there's more than one son? Well, the inheritance of property itself has two sorts of arrangements. To this day, some people divide their inheritance more or less equally onto their sons. And some give the whole estate to the eldest son, and screw the others. There are pros and cons to both approaches. Partible inheritance tends to break up the estates, which become ever smaller and smaller, and eventually not very profitable, which is bad for the family name, and makes them prone to be bought up or taken by richer, stronger people with bigger estates. Primogeniture ensures the estate doesn't shrink, and with it the family honor. But it creates a huge incentive for the younger brothers to kill the eldest.

Partible inheritance was popular in medieval Europe. But it eventually disappeared, for obvious reasons. If there's only one guy who doesn't do it, and keeps his big estate, he'll be able to field a larger army and take the small estates that your oh so egalitarian father left you. And so we see that on most of the world, primogeniture monarchy ended being the most widely adopted system.

But forget all I said. Imagine you don't have a historical mind, you don't track things to the beginning to see how they happened. No, you just see things as they are, and you ask yourself: why? Why is that guy over there the king? Because his father was king? How fair is that? His father was a good man, while he is an evil bastard. Why should he rule? It's not fair.

Of course it's not fair, but that's not how human societies are arranged. Human societies are organized over Schelling points. Primogeniture is a Schelling point. Monarchy is a Schelling point. And primogeniture monarchy is another Schelling point. Schelling points happen through trial and error. Lots of error really. And they don't assure there won't be any more error. But given the huge and numerous constraints which exist, this was the best arrangement possible.

Schelling points are fixed in place not because of an explicit understanding of their origin and importance. They just stumble upon existence, after which the people involved come up with some bullshit that sounds right. Or may I rephrase, people see Schelling points and come up with elaborated post-rationalizations to justify them. How do you justify that some kid, who has done nothing of merit in his life, who is ugly, dumb, clumsy  and of bad character, becomes king just because his father was? Well I don't know. But it's always been like that, so if sons have a right to the kingship... well, it must be about blood. Yes, the bloodline. That's it. It is of utmost importance that all the kings must be of the same blood as the previous king, as this is the blood of the founder, which was awesome. We can't afford losing this awesome blood. It doesn't matter that the lawful heir of this bloodline is ugly, dumb, clumsy and of bad character. That's... uh... the fault of his teachers. Yes, bad teachers. The kid shares the bloodline so he must be king.

On the face of it the theory is quite stupid. Let's assume blood alone makes you awesome. Even if you keep the father's line, sons have mothers too, so the 'bloodline' gets diluted each time. By the 5th generation the new king shares very few genes with the great founder. And that's if you are lucky and you don't have a slutty queen who fucks someone else and fathers his children. Surely someone must have noticed this fact, but of course the solution to it is even worse. You keep using women from inside the family to avoid diluting the precious bloodline, and what you get is a monster. So you gotta worship the bloodline while doing all you can to dilute it. Hypocrisy is by no means an innovation of our times.

Dynasties in most of the world changed quite often, especially in Europe. So the common rationalization for the legitimacy of kings was not so much the bloodline, as simply the law. There are inheritance laws that say who has titles, and sometimes kings agree to leave the crown to some guy. And law is sacred. Most of the time anyway, European history is full of succession wars where people didn't quite agree on the sacredness of laws, and everybody with a big army always found a plausible legal claim to the throne they wanted. But the emphasis was still in the law, which is a funny thing to take as sacred. Surely there are more important things that some agreement reached at some point of time, in some state of mind, by some old guy who didn't really know what he was doing. But hey, another Schelling point, can't touch that. Perhaps the famous legalism of Europeans, which is quite distinct to other civilizations, comes from the fact that we had no other concept in which to base our politics.

Other places took monarchy more seriously. See for example Japan. The Japanese imperial family has officially ruled Japan for 125 generations. The first emperor was the grandson of the Sun goddess, came to Japan in 660 BC, and ever since, the same bloodline has ruled the Japanese islands. Of course the date, and the number of emperor don't make any sense; archeology tells us that in 660 BC the Japanese didn't even have agriculture. Not much is known of the early stages of the Japanese monarchy, but there is reliable historical evidence of a  Yamato clan around the 6th century AD. And again all evidence says that the patrilineal succession has continued, uninterrupted, to this day. That's still very impressive, and if you count from then, you still get around 100 emperors. From the same family.

How did that happen? How does a family get to rule for 100 generations? That's some rock-solid Schelling point there. Except it isn't. The Japanese imperial family didn't actually rule for that long. Actually it didn't rule for very long at all. From a very early stage, the big clans of Japan, the Soga, the Fujiwara, etc. fought for influence over the imperial house, and they settled on a very straightforward system. You marry the emperor's heir to a high rank girl from your clan. Then you get the emperor to appoint you Supreme General in Charge of Everything. If the Emperor disagreed, you kill or exile the bastard, and appoint  yourself Regent until his son, i.e. your grandson comes of age. Still the patrilineal line continued, even if actual power was transmitted through the maternal line. Hey, it's still blood.

Eventually, around the 12th century the centralized state based on the imperial house collapsed, and Japan fell into Samurai feudalism. Still there was no Odoacer who killed the emperor and took his place. The empire had collapsed, feudal lords were taking land for themselves and fighting each other without regard to imperial edicts, but the emperor was left in his palace, pretty much undisturbed. They even stopped calling him Emperor. He became the "Mikado", i.e. the holy gate. The gate of the imperial palace, that is. So while a new military based polity grew out of Samurai bands 500 kilometers in the East, the old majestic Emperor was just "that guy in the palace". Still the Shogun did get out of his way to get the emperor to name him "Great Shogun".

The old Schelling point that said: "the king must rule because he has royal blood" lost effective power, but not so much that you could go and kill the emperor and take his place. Not like the emperor didn't ask for it, as he more than once raise an army to battle the Samurais, only to be defeated. But he was never harmed, at worst he was forced to surrender his place to a brother. The imperial blood was still holy, and was the source of legal sovereignty. He had lost power, but he was kept in his place. The Schelling point stood. Quite similar to the way that the Abbasid caliphs were kept in their Baghdad palaces while his Empire fell to every kind of Turk. Or the way European constitutional monarchies left the Kings as sovereignty symbols while stripping them of any legal power. Eventually Hulagu Khan killed the last caliph, and republicans keep trying to abolish the ceremonial monarchies of Europe.

Nothing like that happened in Japan though. The imperial palace in Kyoto kept this sort of august aura, this Schelling charm that made every power holder wanted to be close to it. Of course it has to do with the fact that Japan wasn't invaded by Hulagu Khan, or Wilsonian State Department apparatchiks. The Schelling point had evolved into saying: whoever gets appointed by the guy in the palace as Great Shogun, wins. And so we get the Ōnin war, and the subsequent Warring States period, where all the warlords in Japan go in a fighting spree to see who's first to invade Kyoto and force the emperor to say he's the awesomest Samurai in the world. Kinda ridiculous in the face of it, and it was. Getting to Kyoto didn't stop Oda Nobunaga from getting killed. And in the end the big winner of the Warring States period, and final reunifier were the Tokugawa, based in the eastern plains where Tokyo is today. He overturned the Schelling point through the old trick of having the biggest army.

Still even the great Tokugawa didn't go as far as getting rid of the guy in the palace. Again he kept him there, well fed, tightly controlled through a bureaucratic agency setup for the purpose. Tokugawa even went as far as make himself called 大御所 "big holy palace", which is obviously bigger than the name for the emperor, 御所 "holy palace". So it's not like he was full of reverence towards the holy blood of the imperial family. For the most part the Tokugawa's didn't give a shit about the emperors, and didn't even bother to force the emperors to marry their daughters (they tried once at the beginning, didn't work out).

In doing so the Tokugawa shoguns made a big mistake. You can respect a Schelling point, or you can break a Schelling point, trying to bring a new one into place. But you don't ignore a Schelling point. You don't just close your eyes and wait for it to disappear. For chances are it won't.

The Tokugawa inaugurated the rebirth of the Japanese nation. It reunified the state, closed the borders, promoting native industry and agriculture, and the suppression of Buddhist sects created a new secular popular culture which evolved into most of what we recognize as Japanese today. The Tokugawa shogunate was a strong state, but it wasn't without enemies. The shogunate run a very peculiar form of territorial control, a sort of finely bureaucratized feudalism. Most of the old Samurai bands of the warring states period were granted a fief, to be ruled at their pleasure. Lords who had been friendly to the Tokugawa during the war, were given big fiefs, hostile lords were given smaller fiefs, far from the center. Taxes were paid according to the rice production of the fiefs, and lords were to spend every other year in the capital, where their wives and children were held hostage permanently.

The big fiefs themselves contained smaller fiefs for junior lords. And this patchwork of feudal fiefdoms was controlled by a central bureaucracy, who could anytime they wanted strip a lord of his title, take away his land or move him to somewhere else. All in all it was a very smart, surprisingly modern system, and clearly the reason why it lasted so long. But while it kept the Samurais peaceful, it didn't make them happy. In made a lot of them real pissed with the government. With war being out of the question, the opposition started looking for some good rationalization for their hating the government. They needed something to converge upon, a rallying point. Or should I say, a Schelling point. Conveniently there was a guy in a palace in Kyoto who was the perfect candidate. The imperial house had been suffering decline for several centuries already, but something was about to change.

The Tokugawa era, the Great Peace as it was called back then, had produced this very funny society, in which all Samurais, friendly or hostile, had nothing to do. They had their legal status as 武士, warriors, and they could, actually had to carry their fine katanas all the time with them. But there was no war to be fought. Yes there was a lord to defend, but nothing to defend him from. Still they couldn't just grab a piece of land and grow food, or start a shop in the nearest town; even if they could go stand the thought of downward mobility, there were laws against that. There were 4 castes, warrior, artisan, peasant and merchant, and they had to respect their jobs. So what's a warrior, millions of them, to do when there's no war? They did like any other politically-connected class do. They manned the civil service. Oh, and the schools. Sounds familiar? Yes, the Samurais had their own mini Cathedral going on back then. They became a clerk-class, which means literate, and when a lot of people became highly literate, interesting ideas are bound to come out.

The Edo period saw the birth of the Kokugaku, the national studies, which saw many breakthroughs in philology, history and political theory. They deciphered the old classical texts, started to read them, and found that the imperial family actually was pretty damn awesome. Hey, did you know they descend form the Sun Goddess? That's what this book commissioned by the imperial house in the 8th century says anyway. The knowledge of the ancient past of the country spread quickly, even to the imperial palace, who had forgotten itself. The Kokaku emperor in the 1800s found out that he wasn't just the Guy in the Palace. He was the Emperor, or in the original Japanese, 天皇 the Heavenly Sovereign. That has a different ring to it. So he restored the title, mostly unused for a whopping 900 years.

The reappraisal of the awesomeness of the Unbroken Imperial Line was of course a loaded weapon in the hands of hostile Samurai fiefs, which found it made a good rallying point for opposition to those perfid Tokugawas in the capital. We should overthrow those bastards, not because they took away half our land in the 1600s. No, it has nothing to do with that. They must be overthrown because they are not nice to the great Emperor in Kyoto, the real sovereign. How's that for a Schelling point? Suddenly all opposition to the government had a very strong rationale. It didn't help that the Tokugawas had adopted Neoconfucianism, of the Zhu Xi variety, as their official ideology, taught in the official schools. Confucianism teaching basically tell you to obey to the real King, and it happens that the Tokugawas were nominally just a military commander appointed by the King, and in reality they were just a bunch of stationary bandits which had seized the capital centuries before.

So it's not surprise that that guy in Kyoto, who had no army, little land, and had wielded no real power for almost a millennium, suddenly found himself being held as the greatest King of all time. The only unbroken line of kings in the world. "Japan is the real Middle Kingdom", said some overenthusiastic scholar. If legitimacy is about blood, the Japanese Emperor is the most legitimate ruler there has ever been. The Tokugawa regime stood fast, but when the going went tough, after the American pirate Matthew Perry forced the Shogun to open the countries ports to American ships, the opposition very soon started rallying around the emperor and overthrew the shogunate in 1868. The Meiji Restoration. 

Suddenly that poor old family that lived off the ancient capital accumulated by their ancestors in the form of a small, tiny, yet firm Schelling point, was now the effective ruler of the country. Or was he? The Meiji Constitution sure put him as the Lord of the country, commander of the armed forces, son of the Goddess and source of everything fine and nice. Yet we know that the Meiji Emperor, despite his very kingly looks, didn't have much input at all in the real works of government. And he certainly didn't lead his army in the wars against China and Russia. Nor he decided to go to war. The actual power dynamics were controlled by the old Samurais from Satsuma and Choshu, who manned the armies which overthrew the Shogunate. It was their armies who put the Emperor in his new Tokyo throne. Sure, the Emperor made a fine Schelling point for the Samurais to rally upon. Much better to say "we are joining this war to restore the Sacred Monarchy" than to say "we are joining this war led by these two peripheral fiefdoms who have held a grudge against the Shogun for 270 years". But there's a long way from saying "Hail our King, descendant of the Goddess", to actually giving command of your armies and your money to that guy from the palace.

I remember reading about an English advisor, or perhaps it was the ambassador of the time, who told the Meiji government people to tone down with the deification of the emperor, that it was a bunch of crap and they know it. And the Japanese minister answered saying basically that oh they know it's crap, but it gives strength to the masses, and what's wrong with that? I'd give a leg to find the quote, but I read that before Google, and I just can't remember the names.

There's this quote in Game of Thrones, "power resides where people believe it does". I'm sure the author took it from somewhere else, and there's quite a point to it. It doesn't matter if the king is naked if everybody believes he is finely clothed. Mao Zedong had a better quote: power resides in the bottom of a gun barrel. But there's lots of guns out there, and power resides in the ability to make them do your bid. So in the battle between the pen and the sword? Who wins? Surely it is neither. It is not faith where power resides, but loyalty. And loyalty is much harder to earn than faith. It takes a whole lot of Schelling points to get large scale loyalty. And it takes massive resources to force it into the populace. Faith is orders of magnitude easier to achieve. Christians were many in the 5th century. People loyal to the Roman Emperor... not so many.

In the end yes, Monarchy was restored in Japan. Except that it wasn't. A broad oligarchy ruled the place, then the military, then the bureaucrats, then McArthur, then the bureaucrats again. The King didn't do shit, his descendants didn't do shit, and even though he was a very strong spiritual symbol (the Japanese troops in WW2 are famous for running to their deaths at the shout of "Long Live the Emperor"), His Majesty never had much input in the actual works of government, besides what his advisors found convenient to tell him, which wasn't much. In the end it was a good thing, for he could avoid taking responsibility for starting WW2, and so USG did not depose the Unbroken Imperial Line, which would have been tragic for the cultural continuity of the country. The Emperor was left where it is, and the new constitution, in a quite unprecedented bout of honesty, names him the "Symbol of the nation". Not head of state, mind you. Symbol of the nation. Might as well called him Schelling point.

There is an old division in linguistics, older than the field really, between the prescriptivists, who focus on deciding what is correct language, and fix the standard, and the descriptivists, who analyze language as it is actually spoken by the often not very correct speakers. You probably can guess than in the old days prescriptivists were multitude, while today the majority are descriptivists who deride the very concept of 'correct'. Humans are moral, moreso in the old days, so it's not surprise that people were more preoccupied with what is right, instead of what is real.

Ironically our political science is still stuck in the old prescriptivist paradigm, where all we care about is what are the right policies, what is good government, what should we do to have better rulers. Compared to that, very little attention is put to describing how power really works, how the powerful get where they are, and what are the mechanisms that make the whole thing work. The prescriptivists are legion, and they disagree with our ideas. It is perhaps the better strategy to go descriptivist for a while. James Goulding promised to do so months ago (never to be seen again). Nydwracu is toying with the idea lately. I shall strive to do my best too.


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  • Symbol of the nation. Might as well called him Schelling point.

    'Schelling point' would be not a useful description; few people will or are supposed to act on the basis that the emperor decides something or behaves in a particular way. Overuse of that concept would render it trivial.

    The symbolic role of monarchs is important. In the development of the Nazi and Soviet tyrannies, ordinary folk had peculiar beliefs about their 'leaders'; they would denounce the Nazis but hail Hitler, or celebrate the revolution whilst wishing for the Tsar to be reinstated. Evidently, we have inherited a belief that we live in packs with a definite, sanctified leader, and in the democratic era it is important for this desire of the masses to be sated or soaked up in harmless diversions. The weakness of Russia's provisional government in 1917, or the Weimar government, was exacerbated by their lack of compelling authority symbols that would command reverence. Any parliament lacks the imagery, solemnity and individuality to impress our sense of status.

    Today, there seems to be almost a surfeit of such symbols. Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, Posh & Becks etc. Since these are quite easily manufactured, a good reason for liberals not to throw out the symbolic baby with the bathwater of arbitrary rule is no longer quite so compelling.

    I've been wondering recently about God in this connection. God is a high status presence we need in our social lives, consciences and solemn occasions, but unlike political leaders he lacks a worthy replacement.

    • The symbolic role of monarchs is important.

      How important is it if Posh & Becks are a suitable replacement? It might be marginally useful, but surely not enough to give the monarchs any real power.

      Robin Hanson used to say that the point of God is that he's a Super High Status person you can associate with, thus sharing his status.

      • Pop culture is very important to progressivism. Take 'Game of Thrones'. Why do we habitually consume children's entertainment, even without self-awareness?

        One feature of the mainstream media that seems odd to me are the 'blurred lines' between bilge, mediocrity, and art that would fully stimulate a typical New York Times reader. Fellini and 'GTA 5' both get an exegesis. Maybe progressivism recognises that in the democratic era, it is unsafe when the masses feel excluded from humanity's great striving.

        I can sympathise with that. However, the level of infantilisation is also beyond necessity. James Kalb has a word, 'sensitisation', that expresses the type of person progressives are trying to mould. Progressives want to take the edges off the personalities--especially masculine, pious or discriminating--whose attraction poses a threat to the type of culture they can administer.

        I wouldn't underestimate the importance of things like football and celebrity to a lot of people. But us, we have not only to dodge the stultifying package of Romer, Pinker and open borders (which all mislead us more in an instrumental than epistemic sense) but hang onto some gravitas.

        • I wouldn't let my children watch Game of Thrones, or even read it. Not that is the Iliad, but still.

          I do agree that there's a sort of never-ending adolescence that our modern culture enforces worldwide.

          I don't see how this relates to anything on this post though.

      • This:

        I’ve been wondering recently about God in this connection. God is a high status presence we need in our social lives, consciences and solemn occasions, but unlike political leaders he lacks a worthy replacement.

        and this:

        I remember reading about an English advisor, or perhaps it was the ambassador of the time, who told the Meiji government people to tone down with the deification of the emperor, that it was a bunch of crap and they know it. And the Japanese minister answered saying basically that oh they know it’s crap, but it gives strength to the masses, and what’s wrong with that?

        remind me of the ending in DeLillo's White Noise where the main character encounters a few nuns and is horrified to find out that even they do not actually believe in God, but instead carry on the pretense of believing for the benefit of the society around them, and explicitly telling him that people don't necessarily need to believe in God, but they need to believe that someone believes.

        ''Our presence is a dedication,'' she responds. ''As belief shrinks from the world, people find it more necessary than ever that someone believe... Nuns in black... Fools, children. We surrender our lives to make your nonbelief possible."

        I'm still not convinced that defining the divine right monarcy or the idea of God in general as a Schelling point actually adds any explanatory power, and may stretch the term more than is prudent. On the other hand, I don't completely grok the concept of a Schelling point so I might be way off here.

        • In game theory, a focal point (also called Schelling point) is a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication, because it seems natural, special or relevant to them.

          So say a band of warriors conquers a piece of land. What do they do afterwards?

          Well they name their leader "King" of the place. And why would they do that?

          Because it seems natural, special or relevant to them.

          Say today, a band of white warriors go to war and defeat some third world dictator. What do they do afterwards?

          Well they name a provisional government and set up a schedule for general elections.

          I acknowledge is somewhat of a stretch, but no so much really. I do accept suggestions of an alternative term for "social arrangements deemed sacred beyond their actual utility".

          • Nash equilibrium of the power grab game.

            Just to reiterate what I said in earlier comment: social structure is not optimized for order and efficiency. It is the net result of competitive selfish profitability.

  • The difficulty with going descriptivist, especially if all politics is hyper-local (and I'm becoming convinced that it is), is that you must be in inner circles of the powerful if you want to observe power. Sure, you might see the occasional "tell-all" memoir (which probably tells no more than what the author wants us to hear), but most people at the tip-top of the pyramid are smart enough to keep their mouths shut.

    • That is a good point. But the inner circles of the upper echelons is not all the power there is. There is lots of power working in middle ranges of the bureaucracy, and other not so secretive parts of the power structure. All that is pretty accessible.

      And in the end what's really important is not to know precisely what's going on in the smoking room. What we must do is break the illusion about the political process as a rational battleground of interests. And also to know just to what extent politics are local, and to what extent ideas, i.e. Schelling points apply, and how they are formed.

      Smoking rooms don't explain feminism, diversity or other Schelling points which frame the beliefs of the chattering classes. They might explain how they came to be, but some ideas catch on better than others.

    • I find neoreaction often ignores the basic assumptions that make progressivism such a good sell. Jim Kalb is good at pointing them out.

  • Excellent article. I think the quote from the British advisor you mentioned is from the memoirs of Sir Rutherford Alcock - or maybe those of A. B. Mitford. As you can see, I too read them long ago and no longer remember the exact provenance. But both books are online and amenable to quick search. One minor quibble: Odoacer didn't kill the deposed emperor. Romulus Augustulus was sent to a luxurious villa where he spent the rest of his life in peace. He didn't live long, though.

  • Brilliant post.

    "What we must do is break the illusion about the political process as a rational battleground of interests. "

    Those are words to act on. Absolutely. The spell of the priesthood must be broken.

  • > It is perhaps the better strategy to go descriptivist for a while.

    That's a large part of what Moldbug did, I think, and what we most value his output for. His prescriptive stuff is, frankly, more often retarded than otherwise.

    > And loyalty is much harder to earn than faith.

    And much easier to lose than to earn, I might add.

  • you should read the books Spandrell, way better (though admittedly the show is fun). The books also go into more detail regarding the Targaryen past and the circumstances around Robert's Rebellion.

    and here's a fantastic (and mostly spoiler-free) analysis of the first six episdoes by , a website of, well, super ASOIAF nerds. I think it touches on some of what we're describing with the traditionalist and more ceremonial aspects of monarchy:

    "However, in all the effort to keep the present action front-and-center, there is something that is largely missing from the series’ first six episodes: the tragic romanticism—in the classical sense (a description of what GRRM means when he says he’s a romantic can be found here)—with which the past is depicted in the novel. There is an elegiac quality whenever A Game of Thrones turns the clock back to the events just before and during the war, a sense that Westeros as a whole lost something in that conflict, a loss of certainty and innocence that has shaped the lives of some of the central characters of the overall narrative (Ned and Robert, certainly; Jaime as well, and Viserys and Daenerys it goes without saying). This subtext is very rarely touched upon in the TV series, largely because it does lie in interior monologues from Eddard Stark and Daenerys Targaryen.

    Let’s take a simple example: the Kingsguard. In the novels, they were once a “shining example to the world”, but no longer. What does that mean? Why would someone say that? It reveals a great deal of the mindset of the character, yes, but also the society, that any small group of men could be held in such regard. They’re not just famous swordsmen who protect the king. They’re a symbol of chivalry, of fealty and honor, who are held up as an ideal to strive for.

    But in the show, there’s no sense of the wonder in which they were once held, or how very greatly they are seen to have fallen (all because of one man, the Kingslayer). They’re just noble guardsmen, famous men perhaps, but one notes that at this time there’s no sense that this is a chivalric order, open only to knights. It’s just ... a job, from what little is gotten across about them. The storied history is gone, the reasons for why they were great and now no longer are, and (more importantly) the psychology of the characters in the novel who could find the Kingsguard such an inspiration and such a tragedy. Even Barristan Selmy is lightly sketched—a great and respected warrior, but there’s little of the color, of the way he’s a living legend of whom the smallfolk speak in the same breath as they speak of Prince Aemon the Dragonknight or Ser Ryam Redwyne (we hasten to add that we like Ian McElhinney’s performance; there is a gentlemanly quality his performance, a sense that he lives and breathes chivalry)..

    We believe that the events of the past, and the mystique of it, figure in some of the central to the themes (and the story, of course) of the novel. The story elements remain largely in place, as such things go, although certain aspects have been downplayed so far. But the theme… It’s one of those things that reminds us that Martin does tend to romanticism (it’s something easily lost in all the tragedy and “grittiness” of the action) and that that romanticism is strongest in those sections about the past. While Martin also subverts the romanticism as the story goes on—and indeed, there’s a great scene in the 6th episode in which one character angrily questions the fixation on the past by King Robert—it doesn’t take away the fact that the bittersweet, romantic image of the past looms very large in the way many characters see their world and what’s going on in the novels."

          • Heh. In contrast to "Game of Thrones", LoTR is not written either for cynics or by a cynic, it's written for children and for adults who want a respite from cynicism.

      • oh, the books have their fair share (Arguably more than the show) of nastiness. the descriptions of some of the ravages visited upon the common folk in particular are hard to read at times.

        but there is a sense that all of this "falling apart" has occurred in large part due to the fall of the stability of the legitimist Targaryen regime. One can't help but think "yes, the Targaryens weren't great, and that last one in particular was quite mad and awful, but given the events and devastation that followed, they were preferable."

        similar to say, Churchill talking about how preferable a peace with Germany in 1917 would have been as opposed to what actually happened. or Disillusioned French Revolutionaries realizing too late what they had done.

        Basically, the Targaryens, for all their flaws, were a very powerful and useful Schelling point that kept the stability and peace of the Kingdom (s).

  • Some questions:

    1. The Tokugawas held the women and children of the samurai as leverage; during the Meiji Restoration, how was this obstacle overcome.

    2. You told Jim that Asians don't volunteer for Leftist causes on their own but how then did the Communist Party rise to power without dedicated volunteers?

    3. Wasn't another reason that the Japanese Emperors lacked real power that as High Priests their time was taken up interceding to the gods in the shrines on behalf of the people? Or were time-consuming priestly duties given to the Emperor after power went elsewhere? Either way, could the refusal of the Shoguns to make themselves Emperors be motivated in part by avoidance of time-consuming etiquette?

    • 1. The hostage system was abandoned in 1862, by then the Tokugawas had lost most of its authority.

      2. The Communist Party was set up by a Soviet apparatchik, and was basically a rebel army. A rebel army of course attracts intellectuals, i.e. potential bureaucrats. Not to say that the early CCP didn't have its share of messianic volunteers, but not that many.

      3. I'm not an expert on the Japanese court, but that sounds quite chicken-and-egg. Why did the rituals take up so much time and energy? Augustus named himself Pontifex Maximus, but that didn't affect his real military power.

      It seems quite trivial really. I think there was some movement arguing towards deposing the emperor back in Kamakura times, but it didn't work out. Paradoxically the early Minamoto shoguns were all descended from the imperial line, so they had a plausible claim. I guess it has more to do with the fact that the Shogun's power base was in the East. Moving to Kyoto would have deprived them from it, the alternative of razing it and setting a capital in the East must have sounded quite sacrilegious. So they let him be, time passes, and the dual power situation becomes tradition.

  • Very interesting article. Japan fascinates me but most of my reading has been about trade like the book "Blindside" by Eamonn Fingleton. I read another interesting book called,"Japan's Secret War: Japan's Race Against Time to Build Its Own Atomic Bomb ". The author claims that Japan built nuclear weapons. He had interviews with Japanese that said they were part of the project and were there. There being in North Korea where the the uranium separation and the bomb was built at a large hydroelectric dam. He said that they only had enough material for one bomb which was tested a week or so before Hiroshima was bombed. If true could this tie into the kamikaze attacks? Also there was a show on a huge Japanese submarine that had bombers in it.

    Lots of talk about how the submarine bomber made no sense economically due to the tremendous resources put into it to make it work. But with a nuke it suddenly changes into a valuable strategic weapon.

  • Thrones is a grand series. The ending of the fourth episode of series 3, where the Aryan lass gets her incendiary comeuppance against the conniving Jew, though he's not depicted as a Jew in the series, was the best, most satisfying closing scene in TV history.

  • This was fantastic and educational. Of course it makes me think: could a restoration ever occur in Europe or America? We do have a lot of old monarchs sitting around which could provide a nice Schelling point for a legitimate opposition...

    • In Europe? Perhaps if the right prince defied the democratic norms imposed on royalty and aligned himself with a far-right movement at the right time. But America? The American Revolution cut America off from the British monarchy. If America ever became a monarchy, the monarch would formally be the highest-ranking civil servant in the Republic like in the Roman Empire and current dictatorships in the present.

  • Re-read this when it showed up at Isegoria's.

    I wonder how a female primogeniture monarchy would work. Keep all the patriarchal marriage stuff - permanence, single-point-of-consent, and so on, but have the property go to the daughter instead. The queen would then essentially have one duty: pick a husband, who would then administer until his death.

    It would isolate the violence-prone male line from being able to violently elect themselves, for example. Similarly, perhaps the vulnerability to peer pressure would be a feature.

    You'd want to start with a small-scale test. Have say a medium-scale grocery chain try it. The first few generations will be a mess, but then grandma will be around to advise/pressure the young mistress to pick someone worth picking.

    The Queen's sons would all get estates of their own, most likely, through marriage. Downward mobility makes people posh, you know. The Queen's non-inheriting daughters won't care that much because their own wealth doesn't factor into their gene's assessment of their reproductive chances.

    It would be something different, at least.

    • Sociobiology tell us the heiress would marry a bad boy who gave her gina tingles, losing her property very fast.

      There's a reason evolution gave us patriarchy.

    • That is basically matrilineality (not matriarchy), which did exist in human history.

        • 姓 originally denotes matrilineal bloodline (hence its 女 radical) and later become patrilineal. A 氏 is a subbranch of 姓, which usually based on locality; when a bloodline spread to different locations, they may adopt different 氏.

          Modern feminism have the wrong idea that ancient human society was matriarchal (where female hold the power), when actually it was matrilineal (where female maintain the property and bloodline and male usually hold the power). I think matrilineality gave way to patriarchy when wealth can be accumulated and society is more organized. It was much easier to maintain control with a line of males rather than hoping for the daughter to marry a good administrator from another family to look after the family interest.

    • Speaking of Game of Thrones, I suspect you'd get to Targaryn incest customs fairly quick, as ambitions brothers do what it takes to take power.

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