The Case of Daenerys Targaryen

Having considered the legality, morality, and expediency of burning the Tarlys, we move from the act to the woman herself. The viewers of the show are unsure of her. No other character is so changeable, so unpredictable. Other characters have changed, and usually for the better, but Jaime and the Hound have changed slowly over a gradual arc. But Daenerys is noble and merciful one moment, cruel and murderous the next.

Daenerys is a killer but there are many killers on Game of Thrones and some are very popular. Bronn kills for money, and he’s made it quite clear he’d kill anybody for the right price. But he doesn’t make the viewers uneasy in the same way Dany does. He’s unrepentant but he doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not. He has no illusions about being good and he doesn’t hide what he is. Like his double from Rome, Titus Pullo, he acknowledges that killing is a dirty line of work but it’s the one thing he’s good at.

Perhaps her killing troubles us because she’s a woman. Women bring forth life, they don’t take it. We may admire homicidal prowess in a man, but in a woman it’s an abomination, a violation of her sacred function. No, that’s not it. Maybe in the past, but no longer. Brienne of Tarth is hugely popular as is Lagertha from Vikings, and both these women have killed again and again.

We admire Brienne not only as a fighter but also as a person. She’s killed but she’s always killed armed antagonists in the course of a fight. And she’s never dispatched any of her opponents in a deliberately painful or grisly fashion. Arya took both of Meryn Trant’s eyes before she finished him, Lagertha cut off her enemy’s penis, and Sansa fed Ramsay Bolton to his own dogs. All three women killed men who were their enemies, men who’d tried to kill them, men they had every reason to hate. Their revenge, however gruesome, doesn’t seem to trouble the viewer. Some had begun to worry that Arya was going down a dark path but that was because she’ll travel the length and breadth of Westeros to hunt down old enemies but she gives no thought to searching for surviving members of her own family.

Daenerys has burned and buried her enemies alive but the others have taken their own dreadful revenge. But for the other women, that enemy was an individual a man they knew all too well, a man who’d attacked her, raped her, or killed those she loved. Daenerys counts as enemies men she’s never met, men she doesn’t know and isn’t even certain of their identities. For Daenerys an enemy isn’t a face but a group: the masters, the slavers, Robert’s assassins, anybody who opposes her claim to the crown. She’s allowed or ordered the execution of men she didn’t know to be guilty, former supporters, her own brother.

 

Brienne, Lagertha, and Daenerys are admired because they are women who can contend with men. All three women are redoubtable but Brienne and Lagertha are formidable because they are superb fighters while Daenerys is formidable because she has dragons. But in fairness to Daenerys, she has many great qualities, compassion, rectitude, integrity, warmth.

Viewers were thrilled when she walked out of the flames unburnt dragons perched on her shoulder, when she freed the slaves of Astapor, when she saw Gray Worm, Missandei, and Tyrion for who they were and raised them to positions of power. But they were appalled by her frequent rages, her ingratitude to Jorah Mormont, her pompous declamations. Why does she flash from such kindness to such cruelty? How can she have such laudable intentions but, when thwarted, fly into unthinking fury?

We don’t know whether to love or hate her because we’re brought to love or hate her in turns. We never know which Daenerys we’re going to get. Why does such a fine woman let her anger blaze into tantrums, tantrums that are terrifying because of her propensity for violence and the forces at her command, her host of Unsullied and her menagerie of dragons?

Daenerys is very much like Alexander the Great. The same Alexander who treated the defeated Porus with such magnanimity, murdered one of his best friends in a drunken rage. The same Alexander who showed such kindness to the Darius’ widow, razed Thebes and Tyre for the obstinacy of their opposition. Peter the Great brought Russia into the modern world but he also strangled how own son and heir.

Kings take themselves to be greater than other men but men nonetheless. Their blood and their crown make them special but kings die and princes are born. The King is dead; long live the King. Alexander came to believe himself something more than a man, something more than a king even. He came to believe himself a god.

As Oswald Spengler remarked, Alexander was a vain and silly boy. No man could have his head turned by the flattery of a pack of insinuating priests and fawning courtiers. Yet in the end, Julius Caesar, the same Caesar extolled by Spengler, took to wearing red shoes. When adulation turns into veneration, and veneration to worship, how can any man keep his head, let alone a mere child. In the movie The Man who would be King, a man just like Bronn, a jaded man, a man who’d seen it all and done most of it twice, a man who had no illusions, a man who knew himself and the world for what they were, succumbed to the same illusions.

Daenerys grew up in fear. As a girl she was warned to stay hidden, to trust no one, to watch for danger everywhere. She moved from hiding place to hiding place, sometimes borne off in the middle of the night, fleeing a menace she didn’t understand. She was sheltered but terrified, utterly reliant on those around her but told that every hand was against her. Had she been brought up coddled and spoiled and completely innocent of the world and its perils, it would have been a far better nursery for a queen. To fear without understanding, to depend without trusting is far worse than to grow up vain and selfish and spoiled, yet loved and trusting as Sansa did.

Priests told Alexander he was a god and he believed them. Priests told Peter the Great he was Emperor of a Third Rome, the ruler of the holy and he believed them as well. Daenerys had far more than the encouragement of priests. It was more than words, it was miracles that convinced her she was more than just a woman. She alone could survive the fire. She alone can touch her dragons.

Titles are most useful. Voltaire may sneer at the costly and lavish pageantry of royalty but it is far better to rule through veneration than through terror. We wish that Daenerys should show some hint, the smallest and briefest of smirks, that she knows this long and ever growing list of titles is helpful but faintly ridiculous. But to her these are more than titles. The likes of Tommen is given titles: Protector…Andals and the First Men…Seven Kingdoms…etc. Tommen is but a boy who wears a crown; she is far more than just a queen. Daenerys Stormborn, the Breaker of Chains, the Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt: these aren’t titles, they’re epithets.

The simplest solution to the world’s ills is a righteous ruler who will right wrongs, break chains, feed the poor, strike down the oppressors however powerful they may be. This simple solution has never proved to be a workable one. We check our worst impulses because we fear the retaliation of our fellows. And what if there are no fellows, no equals of any kind. What if there will be no retaliation. From the Squire of Gothos to the monstrous child from It’s a Good Life, the result is terrifying.

Men as intelligent as Beethoven and Hegel were sure that Napoleon was going to found a new order, that he was more than just a conqueror. Tyrion and Varys want to believe that Daenerys will break the wheel, that she’ll fix what is wrong with Westeros, that she’s something more, something better than Aegon the Conqueror.

The fate of the world can’t hang on the beating of one heart. Every Trajan, Charlemagne, Ashoka, Henry IV, is only a short respite from the carnage and chaos. Even if you find that one astounding personality wise and virtuous enough to hold their pride and temper in check, strong enough to curb the mighty and kind enough to succor the weak, that prodigy will get you only a few good years. Men and women, good and bad, come and go. They are born and they grow and they fade and they die, all in the blink of an eye. It’s offices and institutions that last. Tradition holds them up and constitutions set them together so they mutually check and support one another.

In the very attempt to place all our eggs in one fragile and short-lived basket, to center all power in one frame, the king-maker must tear down all of these offices and institutions. For every Trajan, there are a thousand Joffries. The search for a savior who will fix this world destroys the framework necessary to establish a workable and long-lasting government. The workings of such a government are slow, and halting, and prosaic, but every generation builds upon the achievements of the last and what is built endures.

Federalist Eleven

Nearly all of what Hamilton had written in the previous papers about the thirteen States on the Atlantic seaboard of the North American continent applied with an equal force to all nations on every continent. This paper shows the benefits that come from one powerful navy maintained by the states united in one nation, and how this one navy may contend with the fleets of the great naval powers of Europe. Up to this point, he’d attempted to show that, in genral, extensive confederate republics are more stable, more prosperous, and more formidable than the puny democracies of the ancient world. Here, he’ll attempt to show that one confederate republic in particular, strung along the eastern coast of one particular continent, can defend its own ports and control its own waters. Properties specific to the geography of these American States: their great distance from their foes, their long coastline, their several great harbors, will allow them to defy the fleets of richer, more populous, and more experienced nations who will seek to stifle her commerce and dominate her markets.

It was principally Great Britain that Hamilton had in mind, the mother the American States had defied when she’d previously tried to control their trade, the country they’d fought to win their independence, the country that dominated the fleets of Europe. Geography favored the naval power of the British isles. The Dutch could reach the Atlantic only by squeezing through the English channel or by sailing far north into polar waters and going around Scotland. The North Sea became so shallow near their coasts that they couldn’t harbort the huge battleships that made up the Royal Navy. Any fleet that made its home in the Baltic could be bottled up in the Straits of Denmark. The French fleet in the Mediterranean was far too dependent on the one harbor at Toulon.

If the American States were separate and tried to take on the Royal Navy alone, they would suffer the same drawback. Few of the States had a deep-water port and none had more than one. If any of these States fought the Royal Navy alone, the British could use their whole strength to blockade that one port. Together the States had Boston, New York, Chesapeake Bay, and Charleston, along with many smaller, shallower inlets. Not even the Royal Navy could covert so many openings so widely separated.

Moreover, the whole eastern coast fronted open ocean. There were no straits that any enemy fleet can turn into bottlenecks. Ships leaving port can head north, south, or any point in between. And these ships can from harbors separated by hundreds of miles, an expanse so enormous that no fleet can ever track them.

If the British want to strike at the American mainland, they must cross the Atlantic Ocean, a long and wearing voyage that will foul their hulls, rot their sails, dishearten and enfeeble their crews. So far from their own shores, they can be resupplied and reinforced only with great effort and after long delay.

It may seem that Hamilton is unreasonably belligerent, or is at least unreasonably afraid of the belligerence of the maritime powers of Europe. But in this age, most of the trade of the world was carried by ship, and it was the commercial policy of most of these great maritime powers to gain a balance of trade favorable to themselves. If this balance of trade was inequitable and must be brought about by force, they were quite willing for the guns of their battleships to open markets to their own trade, close it to those of their rivals, and wring concessions from unwilling partners.

States united and guarded by a powerful navy may impose their own terms:

By prohibitory regulations, extending at the same time throughout the States, we may oblige foreign countries to bid against each other, for the privileges of our markets. This assertion will not appear chimerical to those who are able to appreciate the importance of the markets of three millions of people-increasing in rapid progression, for the most part exclusively addicted to agriculture, and likely from local circumstances to remain so-to any manufacturing nation; and the immense difference there would be to the trade and navigation of such a nation, between a direct communication in its own ships, and an indirect conveyance of its products and returns, to and from America, in the ships of another country. Suppose, for instance, we had a government in America, capable of excluding Great Britain (with whom at present we have no treaty of commerce) from all our ports, what would be the probable operation of this step upon her politics? Would it not enable us to negotiate with the fairest prospect for success for commercial privileges of the most valuable and extensive kind in the dominions of that kingdom?

The American States are fortunate in their size and their situation and together they may extract terms that are fair and maybe advantageous from the parasitic maritime powers of Europe. If they drift apart and confront these same powers separately, they will be overpowered, the terms of their own commerce dictated to them, their markets preyed upon by mercantilist exploitation, and their wealth siphoned off to another hemisphere.

Protagoras Part Three

After some discussion, a compromise is reached on the matter of brevity and Protagoras is given the privilege of questioning Socrates. Professing that the greatest mark of education is the skill at discussing verses of the poets, he proposes that they review some lines of Simonides:

To be a good man in truth, I admit, is hard-a man in mind and frame a flawless minting foursquare struck.

Some of the poem is omitted until this:

Yet Pittacus’ familiar words, I find, do not ring true, though they come from a wise man; it is hard, he said, to be noble.

While a man cannot escape being bad dragged down by helpless circumstances

For if he does well, any man is good, but bad if he does badly.

So I’ll not waste my lifetime’s meager ration on an empty dream, in search of what can never ever become: that flawless man among us who for our living toil in the broad earth; should I find one, I’ll let you know.

I praise and love all men who do no evil willingly; even the gods do not combat necessity.

Simonides says first that it is hard to be a good man, and then disagrees with Pittacus that it is hard to be noble. Protagoras sees that the poet contradicts himself and that either the first or the second lines are unsound.

Socrates takes up the poem, and calling on Prodicus for support, he avers that at the very beginning Simonides says that to become a good man was hard, and that becoming and being are different things. Upon the urging of the whole company, Socrates goes on to explain what Simonides really did mean in these verses.

Many eminent sages kept their wisest sayings very terse and brief. Socrates explains that they learned this brevity from the Spartans. Whatever the likelihood of this provenance, Pittacus was one of those philosophers who expressed themselves in these maxims and that one of his most admired aphorisms was ‘It’s hard to be noble.’ Simonides attacked this celebrated piece of wisdom, so that by disproving it, he might himself win fame. In the very first line he concedes that it is hard to be good, and in so doing he uses the words ‘I admit’. The only sense in which an admission makes any sense is if Simonides is conceding the truth of the statement which he takes to mean that it is difficult to become good.

Pittacus goes further and says that it’s impossible to remain good when dragged down by helpless circumstances. Simonides counters that a flawless man can never become among us who toil for our living. Even the gods don’t combat necessity. Men cannot be flawless and they are often carried along by events. But they can do their best and Simonides is quite ready and willing to praise and love men who do no evil.

Socrates exposition is applauded, and after his performance he begs to return to dialectics. He finds it unsatisfactory to speak in the borrowed voices of the poets rather than through their own voices. These lyrics lie between them and the truth, and they should be set aside so that those who seek wisdom can go straight to the heart of the matter. These lines are a veil over reality, a colorful veil which delights the vulgar, but true philosophers will want to pass beyond it.

This discussion of the dialogue has been broken up into four parts principally because of its length. It is a long dialogue but it’s also quite various. In its composition, it might be broken up into four movements. In the first, Hippocrates and Socrates go to meet Protagoras, and he introduces himself by a long speech. Socrates is very impressed and asks for a small clarification, and in so doing he pulls Protagoras into a dialectical discussion in which he’s bested. After being shown up, the sophist becomes churlish and it takes some persuading to get him to go on. He takes the role of the questioner and he introduces the poem by Simonides. The poem is discussed and then Socrates asks that they return to dialectic and this exchange Protagoras has had enough and calls off.

In the first movement, the discussion is conducted on Protagoras terms and he holds forth at length. He is very eloquent but in the next movement, Socrates is allowed to examine the sophist in dialectic and he picks the speech apart. In the third movement, the discomfited sophist is allowed to set the terms, and he chooses to critique the verses by Simonides. Socrates follows him and after his exposition is praised, he doesn’t revel in this triumph, but regarding it as child’s play he entreats that they go back to dialectics. Protagoras is reluctant but rather than admit defeat in front of onlookers, he agrees to take part. The last movement is a dialectical treatment of the virtue courage and again Socrates bests the sophist. By now, Protagoras has had enough and he breaks off the examination.

Socrates and Protagoras carry on the discussion according to different formats, as Protagoras would like in the first and third movement, and as Socrates prefers in the second and fourth, but in each of them Socrates comes out ahead. And while the form of the inquiry alters, the object remains the same. Even the third movement, where the poem seems out of place, the question remains whether virtue is attainable and if it’s practicable in this world. To be entirely good, as Simonides understands it, is impossible in this life, and Socrates agrees, but whether or not it is feasible to be good as Socrates understands it may be quite another matter.

Federalist Ten

Faction has ever been the bane of popular governments. The spirit of faction can never be extinguished but can only be curbed. Yet if faction cannot be banished entirely, its pernicious effects can be mitigated. Madison specifies the disease and the remedies:

By a faction I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods for curing the mischiefs of factions: the one by removing the causes, the other byu controlling the effects.

There are again two methods for removing the causes of factions: the one by destroying the liberty which is essential to its existence; the other, by giving to every citizen the same opinions, the same passions, and the same interests.

It doesn’t take Madison long to dispense with these two methods for removing the causes of factions. To destroy liberty is unthinkable and to give every citizen the same opinions, passions, and interests is clearly impossible.

He moves on to controlling the effects, and he contends that the very size of a large republic will control the effects of faction. In a great republic, a large number of electors will select a small number of representatives. Out of a wide field they can pick the wisest and most virtuous among them all to rule on their behalf.

It is true that a huge pool of talent will more often yield one individual who’s singularly gifted than a much smaller one. This is why huge nations with enormous populations take so many of the medals at the Olympic Games. Out of their hundreds of millions of citizens there will be a handful who’re superbly gifted. In a country with over a billions inhabitants there will be one who can run faster than anybody else, swim faster than anybody else, or jump higher than anybody else. Yet speed and height are clear and straightforward, matters of measurement and not of judgment. It takes a measuring tape and a stopwatch to gauge an athletic but to evaluate a lawmaker or a leader is far more difficult. The same leader will be seen by some as stalwart and by others as belligerent. Some will think a man wise and forbearing while others despair of him as weak.

Madison next claims that because the representative is chosen by a greater citizens, it will be harder for the unworthy to practice the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried. He doesn’t elaborate on what these vicious arts might be and we can only speculate on what he had in mind. In his era there were two chief ways that a small constituency might be secured by an unworthy and unscrupulous candidate. In very small and usually rural constituencies called pocket boroughs, a powerful landowner exerted his influence to have his tenants vote for the candidate of his choosing. Candidates also held rowdy gatherings at local farms where he’d feed his supporters and ply them with large doses of cider and whiskey.

Strong-arming farmers and hosting barbecues will work best in small villages and Madison hoped that increasing the size of the constituency would render them extinct. These pocket boroughs and boisterous, drunken barbecues are relics of the past but the vicious arts have changed to carry on in the modern era.

Nowadays, big city mayors seem the most astute, sober, and responsible of all our public leaders. Our national leaders indulge in wild and dangerous talk, spread lies, spout nonsense, and carry on in the most deplorable manner. This is nothing new and the rulers of previous ages were just as bad. What is strange is that humble municipal leaders show so much wisdom and discretion. Why are we served with such diligent, conscientious leadership at the local level while we must suffer such lunacy at the very top?

Cities, no matter how large, don’t field armies. They have police forces but these are public services designed to deal with criminals, individual miscreants, and they aren’t fighting forces. Our modern republics boast large populations and many huge cities, but unlike the scrappy and rapacious city-states of Ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy, they don’t make war on each other.

These municipal leaders have nothing to do with warfare and fighting. The deal with matters of utility and expense. An unsightly interstate cuts through what used to be one vital neighborhood and there’s a plan to cover it with a huge swath of green parkland. There will be great benefits, the mangled neighborhood will be reborn, and the urban oasis at the end will be beautiful but it will also be hugely expensive and lead to traffic nightmares for decades. A huge corporation is hinting it may want to move its headquarters and sizable operations into town but it wants a staggering package of incentives and tax abatements. The mayor wants to make one lane on a busy downtown street into exclusive bike lanes but the businesses along the street point out that traffic is already heavy, and nobody is riding bicycles, and there is no need whatsoever for bike lanes. In all these matters, costs are weighed against benefits and there will be disagreement, sometimes shrill and acrimonious disagreement.

Yet in none of these cases, do the citizens fear for their lives. Money is at stake but not blood. We’re a violent species and when we’re scared or furious, our wisdom vanishes. National leaders most deal with hostile states, terrorists, reluctant and undependable allies and avowed enemies. It is our curse that when our lives are threatened we can never be calm and deliberate. We can no longer weigh and measure: world leaders are either fiends or heroes, our fate either doom or conquest.

 

Madison felt sure that hundreds of millions of voters spread across an entire continent will group themselves into many different parties. Such a huge electorate must give rise to a correspondingly large number of competing parties. This has not been the case. For all its gigantic size, the United States has put forward two principal parties and has done so for nearly two centuries. Much smaller nations teem with minor parties, some of them quite outlandish. A large number of voters does not always result in a large number of parties.

The principal reason for this is that the executive branch is elected apart from the legislative. In some systems, the party holding most of the seats in the legislature is thereby entitled to form the executive arm as well. But to garner support wide enough to form a government, they must often form a coalition with much smaller parties. By holding a part of the legislature a minor party may be given a minor hold over the executive. But a presidential election is either won or lost. It’s a binary state, all or nothing.

The victorious party has won the executive and it has won it for a set period. The opposition parties may thwart the sitting government but they can’t bring it to an end before its term expires. The constitution does contain a provision for impeachment but that perilous and damaging expedient isn’t a practicable means to retake the executive. The losing party must score some points against the ruling party, hone its rhetoric, prepare its case, and wait for its next chance. Huge nations may support only a tiny number of parties and small nations may swarm with a legion of parties, many dedicated to regional or particular interests.