Democracy, Kings and citizens – an analysis

Ha… bet you didn’t expect for me to go here. If you haven’t been following this series check out these
three posts.

(Note: For all of you political wonks out there, I do know the difference between a Democracy and a Democratic Republic. But for the sake of expediency, I’m not going to spend all post writing Democratic Republic. And I’m hoping not to touch too much on the trustee/delegate issue, mostly because I’m not entirely sure where I stand on it.)

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. – Winston Churchill

Now I’ll admit that I starting thinking about this subject while I was watching LoGH. And it came with the realization that the war epic (and by extension mecha shows) is probably the best way to examine governmental systems. Primarily because it is the clashing of two governments and two sets of values. And sure there are shows that look at the nature of society, or the nature of pop culture and a lot of shows that examine the human condition. But very few shows outside of war epics examine the nature of government. Perhaps that’s because the scope of an epic is big enough so it can encompass those questions and perhaps because those questions are particularly tough questions.

On the nature of Democracy

Before I get into how both citizen soldiers and Arthur-type heroes and how they play out on the background of democracy, I have to address Churchill’s quote. There are a lot of ideals trapped in the word Democracy. You have freedom, justice, equality, etc. etc. And they all play a part in what makes the governmental system arguably the best out there. What a lot of folks don’t seem to realize though is that the system preserves those rights by not doing anything. Because the system is largely a clash of various ideals, it’s ineffective, inefficient and arguably inept. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the more it is those things; the better the Democracy is working.

That’s because the fundamental principle of any functioning Democracy is compromise, which means that no one should get everything that they want out of any particular piece of legislation. Where the system thrives is in mediocrity. And where the system fails at is generally decisive top down action. (Now arguably there are grass roots movements in the United States that have lead to good pieces of decisive legislation, but just as many have lead to bad ones. And really the only time I’ve seen it work is when it specifically deals with issues of equality, but even then the legislation is still fairly moderate.)

And just like compromise is that fundamental principle of the system, rigid idealism is the enemy of the system.

Why Arthur hates Democracy

So if rigid idealism is the enemy of Democracy and if an Arthur type character is a visionary trying to bring about a utopia, then an Arthur character must hate Democracy. And they do. Now in all fairness, most anime side step this issue by making the enemy of the Arthur character monolithic, and/or making the system of government that the Arthur character is creating monolithic. But that in and of itself would seem to hint that Democracy is an anathema to the world of the archetype.

But when it does appear, it at best comes off as a bunch of bumbling bureaucrats who don’t understand the enormity of their situation (Macross). This hints at the fact that Democracy in an Arthurian world is at best a convenience for pacifying the masses. And at worst, it comes off as an inefficient (and often corrupt) organization that does not represent its people (Gundam Zeta). Either way, in this world-type the worst aspects of the system are shown. Now like I said, they are true, but often they’re the cause of freedom not the reason it’s taken away.

Now probably my biggest issue with this isn’t the fact that they abhor Democracy, because just by their nature they’re going to do that. But the fact is that shows don’t take this far enough. They don’t let us see the utopia the hero creates and see how it falls apart. What makes Gundam shows interesting isn’t the fact that the individual shows are good, but the continuum that they create. So that we can see the effects that these Arthurian characters have, and how their vision and ideals are undermined by the fact that it’s not feasible to live in their ideal society.

Why citizen soldiers are ambivalent

Now to be fair, the case surrounding citizen soldiers is a lot harder to solve. In a sense, while a citizen solider serves the ideals, he often realizes that the ideals and reality are often different. Second, the citizen soldier’s ideals don’t necessarily need a Democratic system. Arguably, Mittemeyer from LoGH is another example of the citizen solider. Often you’ll find this type of character on either side of the battlefield.

So when looking at them it becomes important to focus on ones that specifically serve Democratic systems. In that case, I would say they occasionally make the case for the system. Their primary problem is one of oversimplification. The majority of the time the creators will pull out one macro ideal from the positive pile (i.e. freedom or equality) and then apply that to the character. It’s a rare show that shows the problems inherent with the system and how those problems actually help the system function.

To be fair, there are shows that do make the case for Democracy better. But even in LoGH, the creators don’t take the central question far enough (at least in the 50 or so episodes that I watched.) Instead of asking whether a wise dictatorship is better than a corrupt democracy, they could have just as easily asked whether it was better than a functioning democracy. (Now I still hold with Yan’s answer on this that the dictatorship lacks sustainability.) In fact, the only show I’ve seen push the envelope that far is Infinite Ryvius, which gives both the reasons for and the reasons against it. Starship Operators also does a good job of showing the relationship between the government, the public and the media, and sort of touches on the idea of the Democracy. But there’s only so much you can do in a 13 episode series.

One final note

To be honest, there is one thing I’m still not sure of. Whether Camille Bidan’s ending in Gundam Zeta was punishment for his hubris in thinking he could change the world. Or if it was more like Arthur succumbing to the hordes of evil at the end of Camelot. To be fair, I want it to be the former, but it’s most likely the latter.



  1. It is interesting and frustrating that only SciFi series I have seen that preserves democratic government is Star Trek. If you count the books, I believe Issac Asimov’s series generally have democratic ruler and the book Forever War and Forever Peace ends with ultimate form of Democracy; most people become telepathically linked. Perhaps the reason we rarely see functioning democracy in anime is because most anime are produced by a country which still has an Emperor.

  2. @maglor – You do bring up a point that I thought about (that being the cultural background of democracy in Japan). I’m still undecided though. I think a big part of it is that there’s a myth that Democracy is inherently the best system ever. And while I think it’s the best system I’ve seen, I also think that like any system it has it’s flaws. And there’s some fundamental contradictions between how people think of freedom as a value and how people want that freedom applied (even here in America). Honestly you may want to check of the Website and their survey that they do about the First Amendment. It’s pretty eye opening. And not really in a good way.

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