Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Prehistoric Politics

In Poul Anderson's Conan The Rebel (New York, 1981), Conan suggests that the serfs could fight, preferring freedom or death to continued servitude. He mentions not only "'...their overlords...' " but also, specifically, "'...the state...' " as oppressing them (pp. 67-68). Quite advanced political thinking for a prehistoric barbarian?

Otanis replies that " '...that would bring the end of civilisation!' " (p. 68) My reply would be, "Not necessarily," but Conan cheerfully agrees. Otanis continues that a serf rebellion would abolish learning, art and refinement for "'...those beasts of burden...' " (p. 68).

My reply to this would be that no human being is a beast and that liberation of serfs need not mean abolition of learning etc. Conan's reply is that the price of civilisation, " '...having a state...' " is "'...always...too high.' " (p. 68) Really? I do not agree with this. I prefer a civilised state to barbarism and also hope that civilisation will transcend the need for states but to say that is to take the political discussion to a later era - later than ours, not just than Conan's.

Otanis concludes, " 'Best we not discuss politics...' " (p. 68). Indeed. Conan and Otanis are characters in a sword and sorcery novel which is not the sort of text in which the issue of the state is usually discussed! Soon, Conan must return to the more straightforward business of simply fighting the agents of the local oppressive state.

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