Sunday, December 13, 2009

Against Contarianism on Palpatine

Matt Yglesias says that a lesson of Star Wars is that "the idea of a galaxy-spanning Republic is just hopelessly naïve." He's responding to a pro-Palpatine (sort of) post from Jamelle. Matt cites Kant; I'll respond with Arendt, and I promise I won't go into anything as dull as European Central Banks (not that there's anything wrong with that; we're lucky we have policy bloggers who care about such things, and at least it's not Canadian Central Bank).

First...well, I'm not going to try to dredge up the argument, but Arendt is against one-world government more or less because she doesn't think that democracy is possible on that scale. It's more complicated than that, but hell if I'm going to remember it well enough to explain it for a blog post on Star Wars.

But back to the original post: Jamelle says:
All of that said, I’m not so certain that the operating philosophy behind the Galactic Empire — that despotism is necessary to maintaining the peaceful cohesion of a galaxy-spanning empire –is entirely wrong...[T]he Galactic Republic — collapsed largely because it was too large to be effective. The Republic didn’t even possess the strength or legitimacy to handle a trade dispute on a minor core world, much less an existential threat like the Clone Wars.
[S]uccessful galactic dominion requires the kind of cruelty and brute force that we see on display in the movies. Otherwise the whole thing will collapse into petty-infighting and jealousy.
Surely, that's completely wrong. The Republic wasn't defeated because it couldn't handle a trade dispute or the Clone Wars; it fell because it was the victim of a monstrous conspiracy by Palpatine. From what we see in the movies (and that's all I'm working from -- if I've ever read any of the books, I won't admit to it), all of the things cited here -- the trade dispute, the clone wars, even the petty infighting and jealousy -- were all just part of Palpatine's plan. In other words, the Republic is vulnerable to a massively powerful Sith Lord. Especially a Sith Lord with the ability to disguise himself from the Jedi, a power that the Jedi apparently don't realize can exist. I suppose that's a weakness of any government in a universe that has massively powerful Sith Lords, but it's not exactly a solution to, you know, turn the whole enterprise over to one.

At any rate, Obi-Wan says that the Republic lasted for over a thousand generations. The Empire didn't last for one. I don't think that's convincing evidence that it takes an Empire to get stability in the Star Wars universe. Actually, Palpatine's insane drive to bankrupt the Empire (although see Seth's post too) with easily destroyable superweapons is a great example of what actually happens with unchecked personal power.

I guess I can add one other thing...our concepts come from places, and have baggage that comes with them. Our idea of a republic contains within it the danger that republics will degenerate into empires, because a "republic" is a system of government invented by Rome, and the Roman Republic became an empire. That's why the political systems of Star Wars make intuitive sense to us, even when they aren't necessarily very well explained or internal coherent. The idea of "republic" does most of Lucas's work for him.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?