Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Benoni Strang's Grievances

If I had lived on Hermes in David Falkayn's time, then I would certainly have agreed with those who said that the Hermetian social system was long overdue for some radical reform, despite Falkayn's stated preference for aristocracy:

a head of state who must be elected from just one family by members of the other ruling families;

in other public affairs, a pyramidal social hierarchy with multiple votes at the apex, one vote each somewhere in the middle and no votes at the base!

Benoni Strang, a diaffected "Traver" (worker), has genuine grievances. I summarize his account (which may of course be one-sided):

he attended a crowded public school while Kindred children were individually tutored by the best Hermetian teachers;

all the valuable land and resources and key businesses belonged to the domains, the Kindred and their Followers, who opposed any change in case it challenged their privileges;

his fiancee's parents prevented their marriage "'...because a Traver son-in-law would hurt their social standing, would keep them from using her to make a fat alliance -'" (Poul Anderson, Mirkheim, London, 1978, p. 144).

Later, Falkayn comments on Strang:

"'And he's taking this chance to get revenge. Or to right old wrongs, he'd say. Same thing.'" (p. 167)

Not exactly the same thing, David. Whether Strang is motivated by personal resentments and whether his cause is just are two distinct questions. What Strang does do wrong, of course, is to try to enforce his social revolution from the top down and, even worse, to do it with the backing of the orbiting missiles of alien, Baburite, invaders.

It transpires that Strang, with his human co-conspirators, is manipulating the Baburites but this does not lessen the wrong that he does on Hermes. In fact, it means that he is not only oppressing his fellow Hermetians but also exploiting the otherwise inoffensive Baburites.

After all this, Anderson, whose sympathies cannot possibly be with Strang, does make the reader sympathize with him right at the end. Dying in Adzel's arms, he says:

"'Listen. Tell them. Why should you not tell them? You're not human, it's nothing to you. I brought everything about...I, from the first...for the sake of Hermes, only for the sake of Hermes. A new day on this world I love so much...Tell them. Don't let them forget. There will be other days.'" (p. 207)

And social reforms can no longer be halted after the civil war has been lost and won.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

And I still found the grievances of Strang far too petty to justify the means he used to "redress" them. Also, no mention is made of how Travers were exempted from taxes, which I think would go a long way to balancing the scales. By and large, I thought Hermetian society admirable in many ways.

Also, as a quasi hereditary elective monarchy, I had no objection to the Grand Duke or Duchess coming from the Tamarin family. Reminded me of how all the Holy Roman Emperors, except once, came from the Habsburg house after 1438. After all, power was not concentrated in the throne, but dispersed. Like Poul Anderson, I favor small, limited government, whatever its form.


Paul Shackley said...

Thank you, Sean. I knew I could rely on you for a Conservative perspective on Hermetian society! Anderson's fictitious societies are so complex and authentic, that we can imagine ourselves living there and adopting different political responses to existing institutions.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Thanks! After all, by and large, Hermes WORKS. Why have drastic surgery of the kind Story/Strang wanted when it was so unlikely to bring about anything better? Reform, if needed, should be peaceful, gradual, cautious, and based on CONSENSUS, not arbitrarily imposed by a small, fanatical faction.

If I was British, I would now be more likely to back UKIP because more and more the mainstream Tories seems to have betrayed the most basic ideas and beliefs of conservatism.


Paul Shackley said...

We are agreed that a small, fanatical faction arbitrarily imposing reforms is a solution worse than the problem!

But, hey, UKIP have become pretty xenophobic.

ndrosen said...

I would also regard the Hermetian social system as ripe for reform, although my perspective is rather different from yours. Even short of Strang's kind of actions, though, there's the question of how to reform it, and whether attempts at radical change will make things better or worse.

I remember not liking the Shah of Iran, and arguing with my uncle about it; he's a petroleum geologist who worked in Iran at times. I was a child in a college town, and I saw Iranian students demonstrating and passing out leaflets, masked so that the Shah's police couldn't identify them. (Give Sandra Tamarin and the Kindred credit; at least there's no evidence that Christa Broderick and her followers are liable to be disappeared into torture chambers by a Hermetian version of SAVAK.) Then came the Iranian revolution, and the Ayatollah Khomeini turned out to be worse than the Shah.

We aren't given details on the Hermetian tax system, but it might be regarded as Physiocratic or semi-Georgist. Henry George advocated a single tax on the value of land (not improvements, incomes, sales, etc.). If only the people who own the land pay taxes, the system on Hermes might not be too far from that, although Henry George did not advocate aristocracy. I would like to see the Travers given political rights, and equal rights to become landholders, and everyone taxed on the basis of the land value he uses. I would not confiscate their improvements and capital from the Kindred and Followers.

On the other hand, I could imagine a Hermetian conservative saying, "No one is forced to come here and be a Traver. You can stay on Earth, or try one of the other colonies. Or if you're already born here, you aren't particularly oppressed, and you can always try immigrating to some more congenial planet. There are democratic planets like Vixen and Ramanujan that are worse places to live, from several perspectives."

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Nicholas!

Good example, how Shah Mohammed Pahlavi, for all his faults, turned out to have been far better than Khomeini and the other mullahs who held power after him.

And the Marxists who seized power from poor old Emperor Haile Selassie in Ethiopian were even more gruesomely bad rulers. So, yes, far more often than not, attempts at drastic reform turns out be bloody failures.

And there was a reason why Grand Duchess Sandra did not have anything like the kind of ruthless secret police Story/Strang set up: she and the Thousand Families believed in STRICTLY limited gov't.

It's been a bit too long since I last read MIRKHEIM, but what I recall was most taxes were paid by the Thousand Families, so they had a good sound motive for a small gov't, it would tax them less! And if something like what you suggested came about, as regards taxes and the franchise, it would necessarily lead to more and higher taxes and steadily intrusive gov't.

So, I remain skeptical of the value of drastic and sweeping "reform" in most cases.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Good, that we agree that small fanatical factions imposing their wills on us is a bad thing.

I'm by no means an expert on UK politics, but my understanding is that the stubborn refusal of mainstream Tories to both honor their avowed beliefs and pay heed to the wishes and fears of their base is what is driving so many of them to UKIP. If "respectable" leaders won't heed their followers, the followers will turn to new leaders, some of whom will be both good and bad.

The way things seem to be going in the UK, the impression I get is that UKIP might end up displacing the "mainstream" Tories as one of the two or three major parties. UKIP did come in third in the recent local elections in the UK.


Paul Shackley said...

Wow. this is the sort of discussion, both of real and fictitious history, that Anderson's works warrant.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Exactly! It reminds me of the discussions I see in John Wright's blog, in which I sometimes take part myself.