: fantasy monarchies

Jacob Proffitt Jacob at Proffitt.com
Mon Feb 3 23:10:44 EST 2003

---Original Message From: Robyn Starkey
> Jon wrote some interesting stuff about monarchy:
> >My own feeling is that in the end it comes down to the essentially 
> >"fascist" nature of the genre - I topic I will try to avoid 
> this time 
> >round.
> This is thought-provoking.
> My own view is heavily influenced by Chomsky (eg 
> Manufacturing Consent); 
> that democracies function through the use of propaganda by elites to 
> control the general populace. Since many fantasies have technological 
> settings in which there is no printing press or other mass 
> media, democracy 
> is not viable, because it relies on the easy flow of information 
> (controlled or not) to manufacture opinion. People can't vote 
> if they don't 
> know who the candidates are, for example. So it might work in 
> city-states 
> in medievalist fantasies, but whole countries without mass 
> communications 
> have to be ruled from a top-down heirarchy (which is more or less 
> educated), because otherwise they would just be anarchies. Or 
> you have 
> wizards in charge who have magical access to information and instant 
> communications.
> Because democracy is so reliant on mass communications and 
> the manipulation 
> of same it is hard to see how a "good guy" democracy could 
> work in such a 
> setting. Politicians who have to campaign are, I think, 
> likely to look evil 
> and rather like the villain from Dark Lord of Derkholm. The 
> closest you can 
> get is a benign oligarchy, where the educated elite vote for 
> one another. 
> Mercedes Lackey's herald books are an example of this type of 
> government; 
> although they have a nominal monarch, they are in effect 
> ruled by the whole 
> group of heralds who are 'elected' by their companions.

I think it is simpler than all that.  The very best possible form of
government is a benevolent dictator.  (S)He has the power to do a *lot* of
good and doesn't have to dink around with opinion polls.  The problem is,
benevolent dictatorships are fragile in real life and convert *real* easy
into a malevolent dictatorship and that is the *worst* possible form of

Representative Democracies, on the other hand, are merely the least awful
form of government.  People generally get a better government than they
deserve with a representative democracy.  They're stable in that they're
hard to take over because the government is so weak.  And they're complex
with the power distributed so widely.  And since they are so weak,
protagonists will have a hard time changing them at all, no matter how hard
they try and (let's face it) working a compromise through committee after a
threatened filibuster just isn't very glamorous.

So if you want miserable, oppressed people to be saved by the actions of an
individual (or even a small group of individuals), you're structurally
looking at a dictatorship/monarchy.  You just can't move a democracy far
enough, fast enough to make the story payoff.

Jacob Proffitt

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