Sunday, August 21, 2005

Efficiency and evil

Theres an interesting rumination up over at Fran Porreto's place today: Our Secret Wish

Most of this was left as a comment on the post, but I thought I'd start a discussion here as well.
"The wise and gentle king had the best interests of his sbuject at heart; he levied just taxes, and dispensed justice with a firm but fair hand. All prospered throuought the land in his reign, and he fathered many children to continue his legacy..."
Theres an old saw: Rule by the perfect man is all well and good; but what does one do when the perfect man gets a bellyache.

The perfect man syndrome is so ripe throughout fiction that it is a joke cliche at this point. This is even more true in SF and Fantasy; to the point where actual scholarly papers have been written on the subject.

Sometimes it isn't a single perfect man, it's a race of them (Jedi, "the elves", the worm riders in Dune etc...). But it almost always comes down to a "benevolent dictatorship" of an elite class.

This is both because it is an excellent storytellers device (it does away with a lot of necessary but tedious explanations of political structure and whatnot.. i.e. "because the king commands it"); and because the "ruling elite" are interesting to write about.

Some authors, philosophers, political scientists etc.. extoll the vitrues of said dictatorship, because it is efficient. Assuming one is able to select the apropriate "perfect man" then all force of the state can be directed appropriately.

Of course the perfect man would need to have infinite time, infinite attention, and infinite memory; else the formation of beurocracies (which are the true enduring legacy of absolute monarchy). Beurocracy was created to ease a kings burden, and to excercise political control. In fact, the absolute monarchy almost inevitably became the absolute beurocracy in short order (at least for the smaller things like public works, civil courts etc...) thus to a large degree negating the single advantage the absolute ruler has.

This of course becomes an instrument of corruption, and hastens the decay of society... but that leaves out the bigger problem: There is no such thing as benevolent dictatorship. The condition of rule by one man over another is inherently corrosive to the soul of both.

Men can not be ruled by other than themselves without evil. It may be a small evil, a necessary evil, but evil it be nonetheless. The only exception to this is god, should ones philosophy allow for it.