Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Flandry's Theoretical Understanding

In A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows, Chunderban Desai expounds to Dominic Flandry a theory of history that the latter has never heard before. In the next novel, A Stone In Heaven, Flandry has mastered the theory and uses some of its terminology that Desai had not mentioned.

In his youth, Flandry supported the legitimate Emperor, however abominable, because, without legitimacy, the Empire is a convenience at best, force at worst. In his old age, the Empire is force. The Usurper tried but failed to restore the legitimacy of Imperial institutions which, however, have retained too little trust or loyalty.

Now power is claimed by strength, not by right. Fear makes the rulers oppressive but this increases unhappiness and motivates the ambitious. These are symptoms of the interregnum between the principate and dominate phases of the Empire and this interregnum is a critical stage of Imperial decline. Since speaking to Desai, whom he does not name here, Flandry has also spoken to other historians, psychodynamicists, philosophers and nonhuman observers, has read and meditated, and now expounds the theory that he had heard from Desai.

Like Isaac Asimov's Hari Seldon but far more plausibly, Flandry tries to make his period "'...less terrible than it'd otherwise be...buying years for sentient beings that they can live in ...'" (Flandry's Legacy, New York, p. 75) - a far nobler aim than van Rijn's although van Rijn, less directly, had also worked towards a civilization where beings live in peace rather than continued want and conflict.

Flandry expects the surviving sophont races to "' fascinating new civilizations...'" (ibid.), and we see some of these later in the Technic History, but these civilizations will be built, after the Long Night, by entire species and populations, not by any Andersonian equivalents of Asimov's mentally powerful social manipulators.

Flandry sees promise in cultures of mixed species like Avalon but this is one of the many aspects of the History that Anderson did not have enough time to develop any further. We see three later stages of human social development but not what has happened to any of the other species that were either ruled by or opposed to the Terran Empire. 

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I agree that people like Chunderban Desai, Flandry, and Emperor Hans regarded the decline of the Empire with dismay and grief. And that the Merseians mostly likely came across the Hordian theory of history explained by Desai thru the studies of Aycharaych. I'm reminded of this bit from Chapter XIV of A CIRCUS OF HELLS, because it exemplified the common Merseian view of the Empire: "They didn't want war with Terra, they only saw the Empire as a bloated sick monstrosity which had long outlived its usefulness but with senile cunning contrived to hinder and threaten THEM..." Which I thought ironic considering the constant attempts of Merseia to harass and undermine the Empire.

Even some of the shreweder barbarians had some grasp of this. Consider what the Scothanian chief Cerdic said to Flandry in the revised version of "Tiger by the Tail": "I have been in the Empire, on Terra's very self; and I have studied deeply, aided by data retrieval systems, the works of your own sociologists, and of nonhumans who have an outside view of your ways. I KNOW the Empire--its self seeking politicians and self indulgent masses, corruption, intrigue, morality and sense of duty rotten to the heart, decline of art into craft and science into dogma, strength sapped by a despair too pervasive for you to realize what it is..."

Anderson immediately went to say the accusation of Cerdic was oversimplified and disingenuous, but there was enough truth in it to touch Flandry's nerve. But, of course, the rest of "Tiger by the Tail" goes on to show how oversimplified such criticisms were and of how mighty Terra still was.