Saturday, May 18, 2002

The Empire... good or bad?

John Betts is surprised at my comments about Star Wars' Galactic Empire, and he has a long critical dissection of Jonathan Last's piece which I linked to below. I'm just going to make a couple of remarks here.

First, I want to explain why I'm even dealing with this; someone might ask, "Why waste your time commenting on the policies of a government in a science fiction movie?" I'm not sure if John would agree or not, but I'm doing so because fiction is often used to explain reality. In this case, Lucas' vision of a republic which turns into a dictatorial empire provides interesting fodder for a discussion about the direction modern Western democracies could go.

Second, I'd like to point out that my questions below were just that... questions. John wonders how Last and I reach our conclusions, but on my own part, I haven't done so... I merely raised some questions about the actions of the late Republic-Empire.

Contra Last, John argues that democracies/republics have the right to prevent secession from themselves, and he points to the most obvious example: our own Civil War. John quotes extensively from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address, wherein our former president lays out the case for preventing the South from leaving the Union. Personally, I've been thinking a lot about this over the last several months. On the one hand, I'm certainly glad the North won the war. But on the other hand, I'm not so sure that the North's argumentation against secession is a strong as I've thought, and I'm hoping that someone might be able to make the case for me in favor of preventing secession. The argument Lincoln lays out in the address John quotes and links seems to hinge on the notion that the Union is more than just an association of States; that the US is "a government proper". Is this completely the case? (That's a real question, not a rhetorical one.) It seems to me that if I agree with a group of others to band together and -- while retaining our individuality -- to form a common government, I should retain the right to leave that group, should I so choose. Am I wrong?

John also addresses the issue of the inept nature of the Galactic Senate. Before explaining how I think his remarks are right on, I want to point out that Last was not pointing to this aspect of the Republic to argue in favor of the Palpatine's dictatorship, but to explain/justify the separatists' actions. Having said that, I agree with John that Hitler and Lenin used similar comments to gain power in their countries, and one of my major concerns relating to the outcome of the Culture War is that we as Americans might reach a point at which we are so tired of chaos and disorder that we, too, would trade the chains of for those of totalitarianism. I'm reminded of John Paul II's concerns for modern democracies... that if moral order does not return, the inevitable resulting chaos will lead us to make exactly that "trade".

John doubts the possibility of a "benign dictator". What about the absolute monarchs a couple of centuries ago? Were not some of them benign dictators? No, I'm not arguing for a return to absolute monarchies; I'm just devil's advocating a bit.

In closing, I want to reiterate that I do not think the Empire is "good"; my initial questions were raised to lead to some discussion, which it has, at least with one fellow blogger. I'd take the USA and its government over the Republic and the Empire any day.

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