Sunday, 16 July 2017

Types of sovereignty: who should rule the Seven Kingdoms?

After six seasons, several kagillion deaths, and thousands of air miles (well, horse, ship and dragon miles), the competition to decide who should rule the Seven Kingdoms is finally down to the semi-final stages. From the teasers and trailers for Game of Thrones 7, confrontation now seems set between Jon, Cersei and Danaerys over who will securely plant their well-toned, and by now familiar, arse on the Iron Throne.

We no doubt have several rounds of murder, battle, doinking and intrigue to go but who, from a purely political point of view, has the most legitimate right to claim sovereignty over Westeros?

Cersei is the de facto sovereign at the moment. Her claim may not be the strongest in law (de jure) but she has consolidated and maintained power since killing or otherwise dealing with her immediate challengers. Her will has prevailed and is obeyed. For now. However, she is not quite absolute in her control. She cannot claim, Louis XIV-style, that she is the realm, for the realm remains too divided. Could she achieve total power? That appears to be the aim but even absolute monarchies have to be bounded by a social contract: individuals will give up some freedoms if their remaining rights are protected. Perhaps ex-Maester Qyburn will be Cersei's Thomas Hobbes, setting out a vision for imposing rules that leave the populus secure and just free enough.

Danaerys and Tyrion strike me as John Locke fans, though, seeking more legitimate forms of rule based on consent. Throughout her proto-nation-building across the plains and cities of Esteros, the Mother of Dragons has certainly behaved dictatorially but with a constant awareness of the need to promote the public good. Her version of the social contract has been less imposed from above and more won from below (for example, by the freeing of slaves). She will need a little more to establish her legitimacy amongst the more sophisticated populations of Westeros, though. So expect to see the diminutive Hand of the Queen spinning her de jure claim to the throne as the heir to the usurped Targaryen dynasty, as well.

Grand Maesters Hobbes and Locke
As a possible, alternative heir of the Targaryens, Jon has the potential to create a sovereignty which is truly popular. Popular sovereignty goes beyond the Lockian consensual delegation of rights from individuals to their rulers and into the positive selection of whom those rulers should be. Jon has already won an election once (to become the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch). And while it was hardly democratic by modern standards, his confirmation as the King of the North by the other northern Houses, after the Battle of the Bastards, had the air of a parliamentary gathering and of collective decision making. Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have approved.

Can this popularity be spread to the other kingdoms? Well, leading a victory in a great war against an enemy posing an existential threat would do just that. Just so happens that Lord Snow has a bit of previous there.

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