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High Fantasy Peasant Republic

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Eansur, Nov 23, 2021.

  1. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

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    Would they?

    What if they had developed a cultural view of themselves as a classless society - similar to modern America? Where classlessness is really a myth, but pretty much everyone considers themselves middle class.

    A "classless" society with a modern rationale for that belief may be a modern phenomena, but something similar happened over a millennium ago with the spread of Islam. The Persian Empire, for example: while it still had a ruling class, a soldier class, etc. in the medieval period, it also had a very wide middle class that pretty much everyone else saw themselves as part of. And a prevailing belief that thanks to Islam, which had become the mainstream religion by the ninth century CE, all were equal. It wasn't nearly as stratified as European society of the time.

    It doesn't really take a modern mindset to create that sort of "we're all equal" belief. Just a rationale that fits the culture. Probably some kind of revolution in the collective belief system would be necessary, but it doesn't have to be a primarily political revolution. Mass religious conversion could do it. Or, really, some influx of any kind of philosophy, as long as that philosophy promotes egalitarianism.
     
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    hmm...

    now that I think about it...I have a on and off subscription to 'Archaeology' magazine.

    Couple years ago, there was a longish article summing up the results of a series of long-term excavations in what is now Peru. What attracted my attention was a societal shift.

    The 'earlier' society had sort of a 'god king' motif - all powerful rulers, large aristocracy, evidence of monumental corruption, poverty, human sacrifice, and starvation.

    The archaeologists termed the successor culture the 'feast' society. Much more uniform; some sort of prosperous areas, some not so well off areas, but mostly middling. Big thing they pointed out was that each family/clan group in this culture had a daily feast, hence the name. This culture lasted for several hundred years, until changing climate rendered the area uninhabitable. Even more interestingly, both cultures - but especially the second - were mercantile, the centers of extensive trade networks that reached well into Central America. This trade network involved food because arable soil in that area was in short supply.
     
  3. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Maester

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    Sometimes we forget that a fantasy writer who sets a story in a pseudo-medieval world has no obligation to create systems of governance as they existed (or are perceived to have existed) in medieval societies. The thing that is important is to make sure that the deviations from real world medieval societies make sense within the context of that story.

    History is a good way of learning how societies have worked in the past but it should not become a millstone used to stifle creativity. For me, a major part of the appeal of fantasy is looking at the "what if" side of worldbuilding.

    What if there were peasant republics? How would such societies function? Would the meaning of "peasant" change over time in the same way that the definition of "worker" has changed within Marxism over the last 160-odd years? What elements of the society that preceded the peasant republic would be retained in full, modified or reformed, or abolished? And how would peasant republic society affect the actions, cultures, lifestyles and values of the characters?

    These are all intriguing questions that can help create a great story. However, making sure that these questions have plausible answers is critical if the story is to be a great one.
     
    skip.knox and Rosemary Tea like this.
  4. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    The "what if" part of a good SF or fantasy story is wonderful if done well. But in this case I think you'd be pushing your luck a bit. The reason I write that is because I feel that the idea of a "peasant" republic where everybody thinks themselves equal and have no desire to be better (whatever that means) than others ignores human nature. To me it doesn't seem plausible. And I write that as a Swede where the idea that we should all be the same has been a drivng force behind many poltical policies in the last fifty years or so - and where, from what I've seen, it hasn't worked.

    The idea of a country where the leader is elected by almost everyone is interesting in a fantasy setting. David Eddings skirted it a bit in the Belgariad, but he didn't develop the details. For example, how would an election work? If you can't national campaigns of the sort we see now, would candidates be elected on purely local issues? How do you develop a popular interest in country wide questions?

    The way this worked in Sweden was that the clan elected its representatives, and these were usually those who had experience or knowledge of wider issues. In short, those who worked as merchants, or those who had travelled widely. Sometimes those who had served or worked with the king, for example in a military campaign. Right there you can see that people weren't equal. Yes, sometimes a young person would be selected, but this was often deliberate with the aim of "training" someone who could take on the role fully as they got older. In short, you couldn't just elect anyone if you were to protect your clan interests, you had to pick the right people.
     
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    So, the original question was how would this work? Not how many faults can we find in the premise. I already posted a bit there, but this matter of equality has come up and I think it's worth addressing.

    Equality has various parameters--economic, social, legal, among others--but equality is rarely universal, even in principle. So, the Peasant Republic of Scribes (hereafter, PRS) might have legal equality among all its members, but there would always be resident aliens. Merchants, but also representatives of foreign powers in one form or another, even resident foreign students. It might be worth the OP considering how those would be handled. Such law cases can become incredibly complex.

    Social equality is far more difficult to prescribe, though it's easy enough to proclaim. We humans have a tendency to sort ourselves into cliques and clans, and these vie for positions of influence. A really dedicated PRS would have processes and institutions in place to watch for this tendency and with the power to correct and adjust. Even so, this tendency reaches down into marriage (he's not good enough for you!), socializing (who gets invited to the big dance), public festivals (who marches first, second, third), and even private events (who threw the best parties).

    That is linked to but is not dictated by economics. Accumulation of wealth can be adjusted, by custom or decree. But equal isn't always equal. For example, if everyone is to have the same amount of land, do they have the same access to water? Does your farm have a stand of trees while mine does not? Can I hunt my rabbit onto your land, or are all rabbits communal property?

    To add more complexity, your farm is "equal" to mine. Fine. You have two kids, I have ten. Now your inheritance is still supportable, but mine isn't. Our farms are no longer equal, at least not across generations. And so on.

    But, if the common ethic is to maintain a rough equality, to adjust where possible, then the PRS becomes feasible, at least in a story telling way, if not in a political science or historical way. It at least opens up storytelling possibilities, particular on the system going out of whack and getting it back in line.

    And one comment, unrequested but offered anyway: as a reader, I only ask the author to do their homework. It's fine if the social dynamics, economic relations, political systems, stretch believability. Where authors lose me is when it's obvious they haven't bothered to consider these factors. You've thought about it and this is your solution--great! But at least think about it.
     
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  6. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

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    Same and equal aren't the same thing. Not being familiar with the Swedish political policies you're referring to, I don't know whether they're really based on the idea that we should be the same, or that we should be equal. And, of course, policies can have different results in practice from on paper. What seems like a good policy in theory can completely fail in implementation.

    Furthermore, a desire to be better doesn't necessarily have to mean merchants and craftsmen see themselves as better than farmers and laborers. The idea that it does is a cultural construct right there. What if this fictional culture had a concept of self betterment that did not rely on getting a "better" job?

    That sounds like equality to me. Who got to be a representative was based on their skills and abilities, not on an accident of birth.

    That's not sameness - many people would have no chance of being selected as representatives because they don't have the right skills - but if qualified people aren't shut out of the running just because of who they are, that meets the criteria for equality.

    If, in this fictional peasant republic, representative selection works similarly, and the young people selected to train for the role could just as easily be laborers' children as merchants' or craftsmen's children, that's egalitarian enough.
     
  7. pmmg

    pmmg Istar

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    Well. I am also highly dubious such a society could last a long time but does not mean it cant be in a story. I thinking is would be somewhat similar to the way pirates organized during their golden age. They were more or less a democracy—though, of course, piratey.
     
  8. Well, there is the United States of America, they fit the description pretty well actually and they have been around for a while now.

    Just think about it: a country where anyone gets a vote and is equal in the eyes of the law. They overthrew a autoritarian king / nobility they didn't like in a pretty massive rebellion. And the only requirement you need to become leader of said country is that you were born inside their borders.

    Other examples you can look at are the French revolution, which is sort of similar. Though they didn't last all that long because Napoleon came along. You could also still use the Romans, who did something similar, except that they were more strickt in who could vote and run for office. Both republics with some form of equality that did pretty well for themselves until some guy decided he wanted to be the one in charge.

    Another example is the Netherlands in 1588. They won their independence from Spain (ruled by a king at that time) in a pretty bloody war and formed a republic which lasted some 250 years. And they did it not by staying unnoticed and forgotten during that time. They fought 3 wars with England (of which they lost one, won one and one was probably a draw), Germany, Spain, France and Sweden. They were one of the wealthiest and militaristically powerful nations on earth for 50 of those years, colonizing large parts of Asia and the Pacific.
     
  9. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

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    Actually, you don't have to be born inside the borders to qualify, you have to be born a U.S. citizen. There are two ways that can happen: be born in the U.S., or have at least one parent who's a U.S. citizen as of the time of your birth. If you're born in the U.S., you're a citizen by birth even if neither parent is a citizen, and if you're born to U.S. citizen parents, you're a citizen by birth even if you're born outside the U.S.

    John McCain and Mitt Romney, who both ran for president but did not win, meet the second qualification: they were both born outside the U.S. to American parents. But there was never any fuss about that, all the "he's not really a citizen" rumors were about Barack Obama, who they ran against. And he meets both qualifications.

    As for anyone gets a vote and is equal in the eyes of the law... in theory, that's so. In practice, it's much more complicated. There's been a big push for years, particularly coming from the right wing elements, to stop the "wrong" people from voting, and most of it's happened through the passage of dubious laws. So it's legal. And then, yes, everyone's supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law, but the criminal justice system tells a somewhat different story. You're a lot more equal if you're white and well to do than if you're not one or both of those things.

    But America does have a lot in common with this peasant republic, in that it's theoretically egalitarian, leaders are elected, they can theoretically come from any socioeconomic background (though realistically, to run a successful campaign, you need a lot of money, and it has to come from somewhere), and having shared power instead of a monarchy is the premise it was built on.[/QUOTE][/QUOTE]
     
  10. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    No, you don't understand, and that may be my fault for not trying to explain more fully. There is a special Swedish word for the idea that everyone is equal and that no-one is or should be better than anyone else: jantelagen. And you can sum the idea up in ten sentences:
    1. You're not to think you are anything special.
    2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
    3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
    4. You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.
    5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
    6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
    7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
    8. You're not to laugh at us.
    9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
    10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.
    It has become a truly awful social attitude of disapproval towards expressions of individuality and personal success. Yes, there is this idea of equality in Sweden. But in reality, jantelagen ensures that there is nothing like as much innovation and forward thinking as there might otherwise be in society. Conformism is the order of the day. Trying to break into this society as a refugee or immigrant is almost impossible. It isn't racism, but it has the same effect. Jantelagen is something I think my fellow countrymen should be ashamed of.

    It's not equality, it's a form of meritiocracy. But it assumes that everyone has an equal chance at the start of their lives. In reality, life wasn't quite like that and the identity and relative wealth of your parents made a difference. You could advance in society, but you had to work hard and very often it was your children who benefited rather than you (this was particualry true of freed thralls and their descendants).
     
  11. Eansur

    Eansur Acolyte

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    I'm so thankful for all the replies and opinions. Sorry I haven't been as active but life does make it hard to have time to post. Especially around the Christmas season.

    All your responses are great and have given me a lot to think about. To reply to some of them and expand on my thoughts.

    1. To answer slip.knox. This country doesn't matter that much to the plot itself. In fact it won't appear in this story. But, the main character is from this country and one of the order of Knights that goes out to act as a sort of knight-errant for the common people of the rest of the world. And my desire to worldbuild the country itself is born both out of an interest in worldbuilding and to help me frame his outlook and perception of the world about him.

    2. I think you're right in that a pure belief in equality might not be possible as people always value certain skills and those who hold them more highly. Would a shared sense of community and communal support be easier? That 'we have to look out for each other' sense of common interest. There would be yearly renewals of vows to defend each other along with organized festivals and feasts meant to make sure the communities keep interacting with each other and ideally remain friendly.

    3. Would religion be a good unifier into rebellion against aristocratic feudal landholders? Say the region once had a polytheistic pantheon of gods and goddesses worshipped until at one point a new god/goddess was introduced from foreign parts. A minor one whose domain/purview had to deal with community/family and whose adherents promoted more communal tendencies and the power of common people working together. Combined with a long period of feudal misrule and the worship of this minor deity and its adherents beliefs growing more and more popular on the discontent of the people. From there, the desire to overthrow the misrule of might inspire people to actually do so?
     
  12. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    It might, but you'd need some sort of leader to create and maintain that inspiration - it doesn't come from a group. Such a group would also run the risk of group think, and anyone deviating from the goup values or group behavioural norms would be siwftly and ruthlessly excluded (at best - at worst they'd be killed).

    Yes, that could work. But, what you'd get would be a religious war along the lines of the Crusades or the Thirty Years War in Europe. The nobles would seek (and get) religious support for their attempt to crush the new republic, and the peasants too would seek (and get) religious support for their cause. It wouldn't be pretty.
     
  13. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

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    Out of curiosity, what's the Swedish word for equality? Would you say jantelagen for that? Or is it something else?

    Jantelagen sounds like extreme conformism, not equality at all.

    How you worded it up thread, plus your explanation, sounded to me like you were saying the only options in a society are for craftsmen and merchants to consider themselves better than laborers, or jantelagen. If that's not what you meant, then I missed your point. If it is, well, there's plenty of room in humanity for a worldview that isn't either of those things.

    True, meritocracy. And true, everyone doesn't have an equal start in their lives, no matter how society is structured. Societies can smooth the inequalities to some degree, perhaps, but not get rid of them entirely.
     
  14. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

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    Imagine a modern American plunked down in a very class conscious, monarchical nineteenth century Europe. How would the cultural attitudes clash?

    For someone coming from the peasant republic, which apparently has chucked out a lot of class consciousness, the response would surely be similar.
    Sounds about as meaningful as the Pledge of Allegiance. Do schoolchildren saying, "One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all" day after day really create liberty and justice for all throughout the USA?

    That promotes the ideal, but in and of itself doesn't really do anything to make it reality.
     
  15. Eansur

    Eansur Acolyte

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    True, though I imagine that would mostly be a ceremonial and legal thing. A formal get together to reassert the old agreements. That in itself wouldn't do much to form any strong kinship between regions.

    But I imagine it would also serve as a chance for the local communities to get together and celebrate/integrate more informally with feasts and daces and such. Bards and theater troupes regaling the story of the country's founding or heroic epics about common born heroes and heroines who win the day and show up the aristocratic and feudal adversaries. Things such as that.

    Could such gatherings involve matchmaking? Marriages and such between men and women from different towns/cities/villages? That might bind locales together as well by adding familial ties together.
     
  16. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

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    The get together and party bit is what would keep the alliance going. People usually feel favorably about people they see when they're having fun.

    Matchmaking at the gatherings sounds like a great idea. Intermarriage would really cement the alliances. It would also be a way to put some diversity into the gene pool, so might be especially desirable for that reason.
     
  17. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    The Swedish for equality is jämställdhet and its a little broader in meaning than just equality. Jantelagen is often (but not always) used in the negative as a form of criticism. It can be seen as a form of social conditioning, a way of getting people to conform and (effectively) do as they're told, which is why the term is often used in the negative.

    In the sort of peasant republic described in the OP there would be a real risk of something like jantelagen developing, as a way of maintaining the idea that everyone is equal. It might not be intentional from the start, but that might be the way it developed. Anyone rebelling against the idea (getting uppity as it might be phrased) would find themselves either squashed or exiled.

    The thing is that most craftsmen and craftswomen are very proud of their trade and their skills. They do see themselves as better, becasue thats what they've worked for. Same thing with really skilled ploughmen and farmers. It was a matter of extreme pride for my great grandfather that he could plough a dead straight furrow with a constant depth in any weather conditions on any soil over a distance of about half a kilometer using a horse drawn plough. And yes, he did regard himself as better than an unskilled labourer, because his skills as a farmer earned the family money and meant his grandchildren could go to university (the first ones to do so). It's a very natural thing for a human being, because its a part of their identity, its what they are. Thats partly why guilds developed.
     
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  18. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Archmage

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    That's a much more nuanced kind of better than I initially interpreted your comments as meaning.

    Still, and correct me if I'm wrong, what I'm seeing in this is something of an "I'm better than those people" attitude. Like, a carpenter considering himself better than a woodcutter, because he's a skilled carpenter while the other guy is just a lowly laborer... while completely ignoring the fact that the woodcutter is the very person who makes his own job possible. Where would the carpenter be if no one were cutting wood?

    That's not the same as people taking pride in their own accomplishments. A skilled craftsperson or farmer can be very proud of what they can do, and what they've worked for, without looking down on others.
     
  19. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    It isn't so much about looking down as about being proud of what you can do, and that brings with it both an identity as a particular type of craftsman,and a set of common interests amongst those craftsmen (which is why trade guilds formed). As a master craftsman you know you are better at what you do than others, because thats what being a master craftsman means. Most sklilled craftsmen respect one another even when they have different trades, simply because they all know how much work it takes to become a master craftsman. But, their pride as cratfsmen can cause resentment in others who are less skilled, which often leads to conflicts. Thats especially true in an environment or society where trades guilds have a special standing in the local power structure (for example, in selecting a town mayor). You always get someone who mutters about privileges without themselves wanting to work to earn those privileges.
     
  20. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

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    I think that Mad SwedeMad Swede has some interesting notions about Sweden, not wrong per necessity in all points, but interesting from the perspective of another Swede, in this case myself. I agree with a bit and disagree with more, as a I think I recognize Mad Swede's rhetoric to be from the political right to which I have little sympathy myself.
     
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