Saturday, 11 June 2016

More Than Gold

One of my hobbyhorses is the difference between leaders and rulers. This is relevant to Poul Anderson's War Of The Gods so please bear with me. Society has always had and will always have leaders. It has not always had and need not always have rulers.

Moral leadership: a queue of people at a bus stop witness an act of cruelty to a child or animal across a busy street as their bus approaches. They hesitate to miss their bus, cross the street in the traffic and confront the perpetrator. One of them steps forward. A few follow the one. More follow the few. The rest follow the more. The single perp is outnumbered and surrounded. The one gave a lead and took several risks, the main risk being that no one would follow his lead. He had no power to rule that others go into danger while he remained safe.

Political leadership: someone who organizes a demonstration outside a legislative assembly gives a lead. Social leaders are not just those who sit in the assembly.

In the viking era, Anderson's character, Hadding, had to join a fleet and give a lead in order to gain the support that would win him his Kingship. At that time, even someone who had merely inherited the kingdom had to give a lead in order to keep it against other claimants and contenders. When Hadding and a small group of his followers have lost a battle and have become fugitives in the wilderness, he displays qualities of leadership that many Kings would have lacked. He heartens each man, addressing him by name, then teaches them wilderness survival skills, doing much of the work himself, setting an example but also instructing and inspiring the others:

"'By Ull the Hunter,' swore Eyolf, 'here's a lord with more than gold to give his men!'"
-Poul Anderson, War Of The Gods (Tor Books, New York, 1999), p. 128.

More than (plundered) gold! Exactly.

7 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I have to disagree with this bit from your piece here: "It [society] has not always have and need not always have rulers." I would define a "ruler" as a leader holding formal powers accorded to him by the laws and customs of a society. It's my view that all organized societies will have to have rulers--and such leaders will hold office either for life, or a time limited term, and they came to office either by election or hereditary succession (or, unfortunately, by means of coups or usurpations). I fail to see how any large scale, complex society can avoid the need for formalized leadership.

    Sean

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  2. Sean,
    However, if the formalized leaders are not only elected and mandated but also instantly recallable, then they no longer rule in the sense of imposing their individual wills on others by the threat or use of force. Force has to be applied by a body of armed men obeying a ruler or ruling group. A society that arms and organizes itself for defense and security no longer has a body of armed men distinct from society and controlled by a ruler or ruling group. One historical example is the Paris Commune.
    Paul.

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    Replies
    1. Kaor, Paul!

      The problem with instantly recallable leaders is that they would have no SECURITY of office for doing unpopular things that NEEDS or allegedly needs to be done. Not when any act they command, no matter how legal and necessary, can cause them to be quickly deposed. The end result is anarchy and chaos. I would not want even Barack Obama, a man I have only contempt for, to be ousted merely due to a passing whim of popular passion. The US Constitution mandates a complex and difficult procedure for removing officials precisely in order to make ousting them a difficult last recourse and only after careful consideration.

      If what I recall about the Paris Commune is correct, I agree with your example. It SEEMS to have started simply as an improvised militia during the Siege of Paris in the Franco/Prussian War which then seized power and then became a brutal if short lived dictatorship.

      Sean

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    2. Sean,
      There would indeed be much chaos during and immediately after a total reorganization of society but I trust people then to settle down and to exercise their collective power responsibly especially if many present causes of conflict have receded into the past. (If enough houses are built, then no one is homeless, therefore no one is complaining that immigrants were housed before he was. Etc.)
      Paul.

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    3. Sean,
      Was the Paris Commune a minority dictating to a majority or a majority exercising self-government?
      Paul.

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    4. Kaor, Paul!

      Replying to both your notes here.

      I'm sorry, but I quite simply don't BELIEVE that is what would happen. Always, always, always thru out human history some kind of fairly ordinary state or government of the kinds we see how, republic, monarchy, despotism, dictatorship, etc., have arisen to restore some kind of order. I do NOT believe the kind of "collective" set up you prefer is possible or even desirable. And there will ALWAYS be causes of conflict because all human beings are imperfect.

      As for HOUSES, you can darn well bet SOME will be dissatisfied because "Jones house is bigger than mine." Or, "I don't like Smith's house, the color he used for painting it is ugly!" And so on and on.

      What I recalled is the so called Commune of Paris seized power and started executing or massacring its enemies (one of the victims of the purge being the Archbishop of Paris). And that it HAD tyrannically. And refused to surrender to the Provisional Government of France.

      Sean

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    5. Kaor, Paul!

      Another point I forgot to make was that the Paris Commune was indeed a minority: a SINGLE city arrogantly claiming the right to dictate laws, decrees, and edicts to the rest of FRANCE. It's no surprise that troops raised by the Provisional Government from a mostly Catholic and conservative France rejected the claims of the Commune and relentlessly crushed it.

      Sean

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