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The Democracy Fetish

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Mindfire, Sep 15, 2012.

  1. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    The other day I was thinking about a possible situation where my characters discover a new civilization run by something like a democracy, and my characters marvel at how inefficient it is and how much the people squabble among themselves and convince them to get a king instead.

    Let's ignore the blindingly obvious fact that having a king won't instantly solve political infighting by ANY stretch of the imagination. It occurred to me that there is another issue here. If I ever put out a story like that, I'd be outright demonized. The media backlash for something like that woukd make your head spin.

    But why? Why do we fetishize democracy when really its just the least bad of several bad options, and one that I'm not sure is universally apllicable?

    I bring this up because one of the main criticisms of fantasy in general that I see (along with escapism bashing and accusations of racism) is condemning fantasy's lack of democracies and the predisposition toward kings, lords, noble warriors etc.

    Should fantasy have more democracy? Are we obliged to mirror society's real world political values?
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2012
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  2. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    Speaking as one of those people who dislike the prevalence of inherited power in fantasy, I’m still going to answer your last question with “no”.
    The opinions of characters in a novel don’t have to be the opinions the author endorses and even if they are, being allowed to voice opinions that differ from those of the majority is part of any free society.

    If your book gets well-known enough for this to happen, good for you. Everyone’s going to buy a copy and see for themselves if this guy is really proposing something so outrageous or not. ;)
    Honestly, I doubt that being anti-democracy will cause such an outcry though. I’m quite certain it wouldn’t do so in Europe, some countries still have their monarchies and I doubt anyone saying that the country would be better off if their royals had more power (instead of, for example, the EU) would get into serious trouble right away. Any British people here to answer this one? (Depends on the person who says it of course.)

    Generally, I prefer stories where the characters react to new situations in a way that makes sense according to their background no matter if those reactions are the same ones I’d show or not.
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    As a Brit I can't see anyone objecting to an anti-democracy story because we have a monarchy... The powers of the queen are so limited that they are only at best a mediating force on political ambitions - had to Google it but it was 1704 was the last time the Monarch [Queen Anne] vetoed the will of parliament and 1835 that Queen Victoria dissolved parliament. I think we like them as pretty but irrelevant people [sort of like a sports team that everyone can support].
    Just as I think that democracy is the worst best form of government, I think that a UK style Monarchy is the best worst form of national leader... I have no complaints about our current monarch, she even seems to be developing a sense of humour if the Olympics opening ceremony was anything to go by "Ah... Mr Bond..." and we have Wills and Harry to look forward to [and not forgetting Queen Kate].
    But for me it is a simple two fold answer to why fantasy is awash with Kings and Emperors. The first is that much of fantasy is still based in an dark age simulacrum of our world... there weren't many democracies in 7th Century Europe. The second is that a King can "Make it so" and the army marches... in a democracy there has to be lobbying and a debate and convincing arguments and the people think they have a right to be heard and then a vote...
    For story writing Dictators are easier and better...
  4. I doubt anyone will condemn you for portraying democracy as a less than perfectly efficient type of goverment when you have to be pretty damn naive not to notice that this is mostly true in real life as well. Democracies are nice to live in, but competent autocracies make the trains run on time.

    If anything, portraying democracy as some kind of perfect utopia where everyone is happy and satisified is going to strike most people as unrealistic, I think.

    Yeah, free publicity, pretty much. Still better than being ignored.
  5. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    No, Mindfire, I don't believe you would not be outright demonized and I don't foresee any media backlash. Off the top of my head, with all the SF/Fantasy novels out there, I cannot recall one political backlash/media. Why would there be one with your work?

    There are plenty of examples where novels, fantasy or SF, have other forms of ruling/government, and 'democracy' isn't held up front and center as the best way. In Harry Turtledove's World War series (SF), the invaders see many of the nations of the world as they invade during the height of WW II, and they call democracy basically ruling by counting snouts, and see it as ineffective/inefficient. In truth, there are not any true democracies in the world that I know of, as true democracy would be basically mob rule.

    As writers of fantasy, we develop the worlds, and how they're structured, including the forms of government or leadership. One doesn't need voting. It can be strongest rule, family/heritage, religious focus, god appointed, test of wisest or elder leadership, the person with the darkest hair in a group, or the tallest...doesn't matter. Whatever works. If it is logical within the context and scope of the story, the readers will accept it, or suspend disbelief.

    My works have several forms of government/leadership. Sure, they've not been read by tens of thousands, but I've not had one reader comment or give me a hard time about having kings and the main character that serves one view what is another form of government (where representatives are voted upon) as not as very good of a way to make decisions, especially in time of conflict. Although not gone into in detail with some forms as others, depending on how/what the storyline never required, there are confederations, kingdoms and empires, blends of constitutional republics and theocracy, military rule/dictatorship, tribal chiefs and elders, theocracies, etc.

    So, in answer to the last question in the OP. No, we don't need to (obliged) mirror current society's real world political values. A writer can if they desire to, but certainly not required.
  6. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    Just for the benefit of all reading this (and for any law enforcement agency who might be reading) I am NOT anti-democracy. I just don't think it's quite as glorious as we (especially we in the USA) make it out to be. I think a dictatorship would be far superior IF it was run by perfectly wise, benevolent, and knowledgeable dictators. But since planet earth is fresh out of those, democracy it is.
  7. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

    The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind is pretty much propaganda for democracy. I HATED IT. I don't mind the concept of democracy itself, but I hated being reminded of the author's personal view on the subject. It wasn't even something you had to Inter Lineas Legite. He bludgeoned you with it with every page.

    I don't think modern democracy is effective. Actually, modern democracy isn't even a democracy. To have a true democracy with modern populations would be extremely cumbersome. /tangentover.

    I don't think you'll face backlash. I think that if you keep your personal viewpoints out of it, make it obvious that it is the characters' opinions, you'll be fine.
  8. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    A very wise move...:) just to be on the safe side...
  9. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    I agree with pretty much what's been said above. I'll add if you want to argue the merits of one being better than the other, be sure your presenting strong points for both sides. Otherwise it becomes a straw man argument and it'll feel like preaching.
  10. Agran Velion

    Agran Velion Minstrel

    If anyone is going object to your characters saying democracy is inefficient, I doubt they'll have read your book. Most people I've met who say things like "were totes a democracy and its the best' do not read much (and when they do, it isn't fantasy), whereas those who read are much more open to different ideas.

    However, I say the best thing you can do is (although I HATE regurgitating already well known advice) is to show us that the democracy is inefficient, and not tell us. Instead of having a character comment on how it isn't working out, have him/her sit in on a session and observe the mob of people arguing and not making any progress, just like a real Congress political group!

    So instead of

    "The whole democracy thing was foolish. The mob would never agree on something, it would be easier to simply put a king in place."


    "I say we lower taxes!"
    "No way, I earned that money fair and square"
    "But we need to help pay for the ships lost in the storm!"
    "Let them get a job and pay for those ships!"
    "I say my fresh wheel of cheese should be declared the town's diety!"
    "Shut up Bob!"

    Well...you get the idea.
  11. Thinking about it, what I would do is probably introduce a sense of urgency. Under normal circumstances a democracy wouldn't just up and quit and hand all executive power over to one dude just because they got sick of it all, because no matter how annoying it is to argue about stuff, nobody is going to want to surrender their own agenda. That's why they argue in the first place.

    On the other hand, if there is say a neighbouring nation getting ready to launch a massive invasion, the heroes can go: "Look, guys, you need to get your act together and you need to do it now. How about you put that one guy in charge and then focus on sorting this mess out? It's kind of an emergency."

    I also wouldn't make the change of goverment entirely positive, rather portray it as something they really needed at the time being but that they might come to regret further down the line. Maybe have the heroes look back at it all and go: "Dear God, what have we created? Maybe we were a bit naive about this?"
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Personally, I don't think there would be any backlash for this. As has been noted, there are all kinds of novels that take an approach that casts doubt on the way things are done in the U.S. Further, the default in Fantasy is the benevolent dictator and rule by a hereditary elite. There are non-fiction books that are outright against Democracy, and they don't get a big media storm and backlash, so I can't imagine that a fiction book (Fantasy no less) would warrant it. Can you think of any examples of this sort of thing where there has been backlash?
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2012
  13. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

    Zero backlash, I think.

    Some of the most respected works in human history (for instance, the Republic) amount to little more than a massive criticism of the problems of democracy.

    That said, I don't buy the idea that a monarchy is the counter to democracy. The Greeks, by-and-large and for example, preferred democracy over monarchy but saw both of them as inferior to an aristocratic oligarchy. There are exceptions to that rule, of course (Sparta was a blended oligarchy/monarchy), but that's a good rule of thumb.
  14. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    When people fight to conquer an evil, they tend to stick with the political system they know. I believe most overthrown monarchs were replaced with another person of royal blood, rather then empower commoners to guide the people.

    You over throw one king to replace him with another power hungry royal, that will be nearly as bad in years to come.

    Look at todays revolutions, the people leading the revolt expect to be the elite ruler when it is over. Very few have visions of a goverment of, by, and for the people. They tend to abuse those that abused their people, and in many ways become what they overthrew.

    Democracy/Republics are not easy to maintain. The people tend to want their leader in power, while opposing the others leaders, and usually polarize. If the people are violent, the goverment will be under constant fighting/killing for power.
    Monarchs, dictators can simply pay for massive militarys to support them, and kill all who show the least opposition.
    Politicians must win the hearts or bribe them with special programs to keep them happy. Which is very expensive.
  15. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    I think it is a common sentiment that a "benevolent dictator" is one of the best forms of government, the issue is that the dictator either doesn't stay benevolent or when the dictator dies/transfers power. Democracies frequently have the advantage for a transfer of power, although coups can happen.
  16. First off to answer the question I think we need to get an understanding of what is being asked.

    First is this a republican form of democracy or true democracy. Also if this is republican then are we talking about a unicameral (or one house) system like is used in the UK, yes I know they have the house of Lords but they don't have much real power, or are we talking about a multi-house system where the houses are equal in power but separate (like the US). To further complicate the issue we have to consider whether or not this is a federalist system, (multiple semi-soveriegn entities with one supremely sovereign government), unitary (one sovereign government), or a confederation (multiple sovereign states, kind of like the UN or the initial failed US government the Articles of Confederation). Then we have to consider the powers of the executive (if there is one) and how is he elected (people, legislature, or some other system). Does this nation have a separation in powers/check and balances? What about the judicial branch. Do they have a written constitution (US) or is it a tradition (like the UK). Once these questions are answered we could really start to show where the problems are. From the problems the heroes can show that a monarch is better. Then of course there are other questions to consider from there but let's leave it at the above for now.
  17. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    I should probably note that this plot idea has long been abandoned. This is just a general discussion about autocracy vs democracy in fantasy.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2012
  18. Either way the questions still apply. There are advantages and disadvantages to these many different systems to be considered. Would it be best to assume a system structured just like the US as opposed to another system?
  19. Legal Rose

    Legal Rose Scribe

    There's a great series of documentaries called Why Democracy? where some of the films deal with these sorts of questions.

    For instance, one documentary follows a man running for the National Diet in Japan, who has literally no political experience or qualifications. But simply because he is endorsed by the Prime Minister, he wins in a landslide. So the films are basically questioning why we believe that democracy is always the best form of government.
  20. It's more accurate, as Churchill put it, to say that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Which is his way of saying that humans suck and the best we can do is to have a system that tries to moderate the madness.

    The "benevolent dictator" scenario is brought up as something that can be better than democracy; the obvious counterpoint, as was mentioned, is to ask what happens when your dictator leaves power. The next guy might be a psychopath, or just inept.

    But I would ask, where's the evidence that a benevolent dictatorship produces better results than democracy? I'm not aware of many benevolent dictatorships that actually existed in the real world, let alone dictatorships that gave us better results than modern democracies.

    Even if we ignore the evident lack of evidence, there's still the fact that even a wise, benevolent dictator can't efficiently allocate resources in markets consisting of millions of people–the wisdom of crowds and all that. Centrally-planned economies, as I understand it, almost invariably suck. It has nothing to do with how good or smart he is; it's just that such things are beyond the capacity of any single human (or even a small group). Efficient allocation involves all the actors participating in the market.

    To me, it's self-evident at this point that though Churchill was right, there's plenty we can do to improve things, such as mandating that political campaign spending–and the behavior of corporate entities–can be regulated without limit. (Heck, I'd be in favor of randomly assigning people to elected positions, to obviate campaigning entirely.)

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