Why Shouldn’t We Rule Ourselves Again?- Westeros and the Social Contract

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How do you make a king? How do you make a government?

Note that I’m not asking how do you make a good government. Nor am I asking what makes a king powerful or just. I’m just asking how you make one to begin with.

Sure, it seems to help kings and queens to have crowns and thrones.  Of course, people who aren’t monarchs can make crowns or thrones and that doesn’t mean that they’ll end up ruling anything at all. Generals can lead armies to conquer, forcing people to submit to their will. However, as we see both in Westeros and real life, as soon as those victorious armies are weakened or distant, the conquered tend to want to cast off the chains that surrender forced upon them.

The rise and fall of the Targaryen dynasty is illustrative. Aegon began his reign as a conquering hero, getting most of Westeros to submit to his rule by right of fire and blood. He then retroactively justified his family’s rule by borrowing from the real world concept of Divine Right of Kings, introducing the religious concept of “Exceptionalism”. This doctrine in practice was meant to justify Aegon’s incest and polygamy, but it also had the realpolitik effect of setting himself and his “superior bloodline” apart from the rest of the Westerosi rabble. This propaganda combination was amazingly effective at cowing a continent… until it wasn’t. The dragons died, Targaryen power faded, and the Westerosi rabble realized that Valyrian people were just, you know, people. If you prick them they will die just like everyone else. Despite the justifications of conquest and divine right, the Targaryen dynasty ultimately ended in rebellion, revolution, and disaster. It didn’t last. Some might say it couldn’t last.

Aerys

So what does make a government last? What makes a government that people will fight for? What makes a government truly legitimate?

It should come as no surprise that many very smart people have done a lot of thinking and writing about this exact question, and they overwhelmingly agree on the answer even if they may disagree on how it works. The answer is simple: people. Governments are only legitimate through the consent of the governed. No more and no less.

This concept is called “popular sovereignty”. George R. R. Martin expressed this idea his own way in the answer to Varys’ Riddle: Power lies where men believe it resides. No more and no less.

But how does power go from an abstract belief in the hearts of men to being something that can be used by a leader to make law for the benefit of his or her people? Like most legal questions, the answer is through an agreement. These agreements between a sovereign and their subjects can be implicit or explicit or carry conditions or entirely free, but they all have to meet the basic formulations of a contractual relationship. The tricky question is: how do you draw up a contract with a government as one party, and the entirety of the governed as the other?

In this essay I will

  1. Explain social contract theory and how it relates to popular sovereignty
  2. Discuss examples of popular sovereignty and social contracts in Planetos
  3. Theorize how social contract theory could relate to the ASOIAF endgame with a focus on Northern independence.

Social Contract Theory in the Abstract

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Western society largely devolved from the proto-democratic city states of Greece and the republican values of Rome to rule by monarchs who justified their rule through largely the same divine/conquest justifications that Aegon I relied upon. When the Renaissance came it came the rise of the concept of Natural Rights. Philosophers who subscribed to the Natural Rights tradition rejected the concept of Divine Right of Kings and the right of conquest. Instead they argued that the only legitimate authority is derived from the people assenting to rule. Thus, the sovereign cannot be someone who is simply chosen by “god” or a mere victorious general. They had to have the people behind them, believing that power should reside with them. This process of agreeing to rule became known as a “social contract.”

There are three main social contract thinkers that are relevant for our purposes: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I have touched on all three previously so feel free to jump ahead if you’re familiar. However, the specific concepts are helpful to understand for this essay’s discussion on legitimate sovereigns in Westeros.

Thomas Hobbes was an old British dude who lived in the 16th and 17th century. Being a British dude, he loved monarchs. He loved them so much that he argued that the in 1647 he published a book called Levaithan, which argued that kings were 100% necessary because they saved people from living in the terrible “State of Nature”. Hobbes also argued that kings only gained their legitimacy by subsuming and the combined will of their subjects. This is a bit of a dichotomy; while Hobbes acknowledged the need for people to create a sovereign (rather than the sovereign being chosen by God), once chosen the king had the godlike total authority to use his subjects however he liked. Thus, Hobbes believed in popular sovereignty leading to a social contract but only to the extent that it justified rule by an absolute monarch with no limitations imposed on him by men.

Hobbes also specifically rejected more modern notions like separation of powers or the people’s right of revolution. The monarch, once chosen, was supreme.

In this way the Westerosi avatar of Thomas Hobbes’ Social Contract is Euron Greyjoy. Like Hobbes, Euron believes in the absolute right of kings even after they are democratically chosen. It is easy to imagine Euron making this argument:

“It is true that sovereigns are all subjects to the laws of nature…But to those laws which the sovereign himself [makes], he is not subject. For to be subject to laws is to be … the sovereign representative, [he needs] freedom from the laws.” – Leviathan, P. 213

“Law for thee but not for me” is Very Crow’s Eye. Also like Euron, Hobbes knows the power of symbolism.

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The cover of the Leviathan is basically a fever dream from The Forsaken

John Locke was another old British dude who lived in the 17th century. Like Hobbes he argued that people gave up some of the natural rights that existed in a state of nature in exchange for enjoying the benefits of a social structure. Unlike Hobbes, he was wishy-washy on monarchs, preferring social contract theory as a basis for so-called “civil governments”, which were consented to by the people who would live under them.

Locke believed that while the state of nature was not inherently bad, a civil government designed to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens was preferable. The civil government would begin with familial bonds (a level one social contract) but would eventually progress to a structured system to protect those rights but also who could be replaced or overthrown if they failed to do so or otherwise became tyrannical (a more formalized level two social contract). Locke also championed a significant legislative power (e.g., Parliament) that was separate from the executive power of the king.

Thus, the Westerosi avatar of John Locke’s social contract is Robb Stark. The Young Wolf was granted sovereignty as a specific rejection of a monarch through a demonstration of an established right of revolution (more on this later). Robb’s coronation establishes him as opposed to the rule by conquest, which is consistent with Locke who argues that “the aggressor, who puts himself into the state of war with another, and unjustly invades another man’s right, can, by such an unjust war, never come to have a right over the conquered.”

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No aggressor will ever come to have a right over the conquered for as long as this man lives

Robb’s kingdom also incorporated a proto-legislative body through the use of his war councils. It’s not the same kind of parliamentary authority Locke spoke of, but it’s worth mentioning.

Much, much more on Robb and the North later.

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an old British French Genevan dude who lived in the 18th century. Rousseau maintains that a social contract is created by submitting our individual, particular wills to the collective or general will, created through agreement with other free and equal persons. Like Hobbes and Locke before him, and in contrast to the ancient philosophers, Rousseau believed that all men* are made by nature to be equals. But Rousseau takes it a step further and says that because all men are equal therefore no one has a right to govern others. To Rousseau the only justified authority is the authority that is generated out of agreements or covenants and therefore by extension no system with a ruler or monarch could be legitimate. The only appropriate government is a democratic one based on small communities of consensus.

As you can tell, this is some real hippie shit.

*some conditions apply

The Westerosi avatar of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s social contract is the Brotherhood Without Banners. 

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Art- Histories and Lore

“Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains.” – The Social Contract

Real-world examples of strictly egalitarian social contracts like the one espoused by Rousseau are obviously rare. The same can be said of feudal social structures in Westeros. While some may argue that certain portions of free folk society are similar, I believe the lack of a recognized governmental structure among most free folk renders their existence closest to a Lockean level one state of nature. Rather, the closest one comes to a social contract which reflects Rousseau’s ideal is with the Brotherhood Without Banners.

The Brotherhood has a leadership structure out of military necessity, but the civil authority is egalitarian. Beric Dondarrian is the general, but there’s no evidence in the text that his word is law or that he wields any special power to dictate social conditions. Moreover, the explicit purpose of the Brotherhood is to protect the common people.

“That turned the whole world on its head. We’d been sent out by the King’s Hand to deal with outlaws, you see, but now we were the outlaws, and Lord Tywin was the Hand of the King. There was some wanted to yield then, but Lord Beric wouldn’t hear of it. We were still king’s men, he said, and these were the king’s people the lions were savaging. If we could not fight for Robert, we would fight for them, until every man of us was dead. And so we did, but as we fought something queer happened. For every man we lost, two showed up to take his place. A few were knights or squires, of gentle birth, but most were common men—fieldhands and fiddlers and innkeeps, servants and shoemakers, even two septons. Men of all sorts, and women too, children, dogs . . .”- ASOS: Arya III

Its not a perfect fit. There’s no evidence that the Brotherhood is seeking to upend the hierarchical social structure altogether and replace it with democratic utopias. But there’s no doubt that the logical extension of the Brotherhood’s rejection of any recognized authority is a system of righteous anarchy. It is not a stretch at all to imagine Beric or Thoros of Myr say something like this:

“In truth, laws are always useful to those with possessions and harmful to those who have nothing; from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only when all possess something and none has too much.”- The Social Contract

Now let us apply the social contract formulations of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau to other governmental systems in Westeros.

Examples of Social Contracts in Planetos

Kingsmoots

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ASHA! ASHA! ASHA QUEEN!

Aeron cried in anguish. “Yet in the dawn of days the ironborn chose their own kings, raising up the worthiest amongst them. It is time we returned to the Old Way, for only that shall make us great again. It was a kingsmoot that chose Urras Ironfoot for High King, and placed a driftwood crown upon his brows. Sylas Flatnose, Harrag Hoare, the Old Kraken, the kingsmoot raised them all. And from this kingsmoot shall emerge a man to finish the work King Balon has begun and win us back our freedoms. Go not to Pyke, nor to the Ten Towers of Harlaw, but to Old Wyk, I say again. Seek the hill of Nagga and the bones of the Grey King’s Hall, for in that holy place when the moon has drowned and come again we shall make ourselves a worthy king, a godly king.” He raised his bony hands on high again. “Listen! Listen to the waves! Listen to the god! He is speaking to us, and he says, We shall have no king but from the kingsmoot!”

A roar went up at that, and the drowned men beat their cudgels one against the other. “A kingsmoot!” they shouted. “A kingsmoot, a kingsmoot. No king but from the kingsmoot!” – AFFC: The Prophet.

As monumentally shitty as Ironborn culture can be, the fact that they have a universally-acknowledged and religiously-sanctified system to democratically elect their monarchs is… kinda shocking! More progressive societies like Dorne may tout their gender equality and rejection of stigma for sex workers and bastards, but even they are ruled by right of conquest. The Iron Islands are a society of slavers with horrifyingly arcane attitudes toward murder, rape, and mayhem. And YET! The Iron Islands are the only autonomous region in Westeros proper that has elections! Which are open to everyone! Including women! The mind reels.

It should be noted that Kingsmoots are not perfect elections, and those that sit the Salt Throne Seastone Chair have no existing limitations on their power. As we have discussed above, Euron Greyjoy is a Hobbesian monarch, without any limit or check on his power whatsoever. Except, maybe, assassination.

And speaking of assassination…

The Night’s Watch

IZyMc

Sam, you’re a sweet fool, he could hear Jon saying, all the way back to the maester’s keep. Open your eyes. It’s been happening for days. Could he be right? A man needed the votes of two-thirds of the Sworn Brothers to become the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and after nine days and nine votes no one was even close to that. Lord Janos had been gaining, true, creeping up past first Bowen Marsh and then Othell Yarwyck, but he was still well behind Ser Denys Mallister of the Shadow Tower and Cotter Pyke of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. One of them will be the new Lord Commander, surely, Sam told himself. -ASOS: Samwell IV

The Night’s Watch’s elections also operate to convey a sort of sovereignty on the chosen Lord Commander, and thus they also implicate Social Contract theory. Moreover, as Maester Merry has observed, the Night’s Watch Oath – a written document that binds everyone who takes the black – also shares many of the same features of a constitution. The fact that the Lord Commander is necessarily limited by the Oath and other structural limitations within the Watch makes this a pretty clear example of an advanced level two Lockean social contract.

It MIGHT be helpful if they came up with some checks on executive power that didn’t involve daggers in the dark but hey… nobody’s perfect!

Daenerys Targaryen’s Khalasar

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I too would kneel

“We follow the comet,” Dany told her khalasar. Once it was said, no word was raised against it. They had been Drogo’s people, but they were hers now. The Unburnt, they called her, and Mother of Dragons. Her word was their law.”- ACOK: Daenerys I

After the death of Khal Drogo and the birth of three dragons, the smattering of people who remained to follow Daenerys lived in a perfect Hobbesian state of nature: incredibly nasty, extra brutish, and often short. In order to survive, those remaining stragglers conveyed upon Dany practically ultimate sovereignty. “Her word was their law” is a direct reflection of a Hobbesian social contract. There is no civil government, only an absolute monarch charged with keeping her people alive. Which she mostly does! Long live the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea.

-Great Council

And so the greatest problem of the later years of Jaehaerys’s reign was the fact that there were simply too many Targaryens, and too many possible successors. Ill fate had left Jaehaerys lacking a clear heir not once but twice, following the death of Baelon the Brave in 101 AC. To resolve the matter of his heir once and for all, Jaehaerys called the first Great Council in the year 101 AC, to put the matter before the lords of the realm. – WOIAF: Targaryen Kings, Jaeharys I

For much more on the legal ramifications of the Great Council of 101 AC, see my 2019 essay Rule The Realm (Girls). Nevertheless, it warrants mentioning that 101 AC is the first time since the Conquest that a Targaryen monarch willingly surrendered a significant legal power that he or she could have rightfully retained. This is notable on the one hand because a king subjecting himself to decisions made by a separate body is essentially what happened in 1215 with Magna Carta. It is one of the few times in Westerosi history that we approach something close to what modern thinkers would call “rule of law”.

More relevantly for the purposes of this essay, one can make a case that the Great Council of 101 AC transformed the Targaryen dynasty from one that is based on rule by conquest to one that is based in part on the consent of the governed. The assembled lords came from every part of the realm and acted as a kind of representative legislature, choosing one king over another. Now, the assembled lords didn’t exactly have total freedom to choose anyone: they couldn’t pick a random person from the Vale or Reach for example. Moreover, the fact that the Targaryen bloodline right to rule was a paramount consideration, and that right is based on conquest/divine right casts doubt on the legitimacy of the decision. However, any time any portion of the people get to choose a sovereign, the social contract is implicated. Thus the Great Council has features of both a Hobbesian social contract (nearly absolute power, lack of a right of revolution) and a level two Lockean one (a legislative authority separate from the executive, and advanced hierarchical structure).

-Robb Stark’s Kingdom of the North and Riverlands

“Whosoever uses force without right, as every one does in society, who does it without law, puts himself into a state of war with those against whom he so uses it; and in that state all former ties are cancelled, all other rights cease, and every one has a right to defend himself, and to resist the aggressor.” -Second Treatise, p. 117.

I dare you to read the above quote and tell me John Locke wasn’t talking about the Lannisters’ treatment of the North and Riverlands. If that’s hard for you to imagine, let me put the Lockean right to revolution in a more familiar context:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. …[W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.- The Declaration of Independence

(Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece was a direct rip off of John Locke. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different.)

As I will detail below, there was indeed a long, long train of abuses inflicted upon Northerners and Riverlanders from King’s Landing for a generation. It should therefore surprise no one that when their liege lord Ned Stark was slain, the assembled lords of the North and Riverlands gathered their collective voices and said in concert: “FUCK. THIS.” 

“MY LORDS!” he shouted, his voice booming off the rafters. “Here is what I say to these two kings!” He spat. “Renly Baratheon is nothing to me, nor Stannis neither. Why should they rule over me and mine, from some flowery seat in Highgarden or Dorne? What do they know of the Wall or the wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their gods are wrong. The Others take the Lannisters too, I’ve had a bellyful of them.” He reached back over his shoulder and drew his immense two-handed greatsword. “Why shouldn’t we rule ourselves again? It was the dragons we married, and the dragons are all dead!” He pointed at Robb with the blade. “There sits the only king I mean to bow my knee to, m’lords,” he thundered. “The King in the North!”

And he knelt, and laid his sword at her son’s feet.- AGOT: Catelyn XI

her face…

And so the North reclaimed the independence it had lacked for 300 years. Robb Stark was given the authority to rule by his assembled subjects, with a charge to throw off the yoke of foreign influence due to a long history of misrule. In doing so, Robb Stark, the Young Wolf, became a near perfect reflection of a Lockean sovereign.

But now that Robb is dead, and the Kingdom of the North and Riverlands is in disarray… where does this all lead? Did Northern Independence die with Robb at the Twins? Or does the Kingdom live on without the King?

Application of Social Contract Theory towards the ASOIAF Northern Endgame

In a post-Season 8 world, there has been much debate about how “canon” the ending states of our beloved characters were. Some people accept the entirety of the show ending (Woo King Bran!) while acknowledging that the paths to those end states will be necessarily different. Others wholesale reject the ending (Boo King Bran!) as the rushed scribblings of posers that will have no relation to GRRM’s books. The truth is likely somewhere in between.

If you are someone who would prefer to live in a world where none of Season 8 never happened, godspeed and you should probably stop reading this essay. The remainder of our time will discuss matters I think are extraordinarily likely to come to fruition. It is a concept that I think is not only heavily foreshadowed, but essentially inevitable based on the events of the last 25 years of Westeros. Regardless of what happens in the New War for the Dawn, or the resolution of Dance of the Dragons (Part Deux), or the coming Northron Ambitions power play, I firmly believe that the North will remain independent from the Iron Throne. Whether that’s through Queen Sansa or King Rickon or King Jon or a federal parliamentary system helmed by Prime Minster Alys Karstark, the North will remember what it was like to be autonomous, and they’ll fight to reclaim that memory.

Let me explain.

This portion of the discussion was kicked off a few weeks ago by dear sweet Pat Sponaugle, who posed this innocuous (AND TERRIBLE) question on twitter:

The rudeness of even considering the death of Good Queen Sansa aside, the question was a good one. Was the North independent from King’s Landing because of Robb? or Jon? or Sansa? Or was the North independent from King’s Landing because it had demanded sovereignty for itself on its own terms? I responded to Pat with a thread laying out my position:

I will summarize and expand on the rest of the thread here.

As we know the North was politically and culturally independent for thousands of years before the dragons came. Not only did the North largely resist the Andal invasion, but there’s scant evidence of Northern leaders involving themselves in many affairs south of the Neck at any point whatsoever. Sure, the Kings of Winter had a constant eye on the Ironborn to the west, the sister islands to the southeast, and the wildlings to the north, but you don’t see much interaction with mainland Westeros. Rather than invade the Riverlands or the Vale or fight in the Westerlands, pre-Conquest Northerners tended to preferred to stay home and kill one another like civilized people.

Indeed, it wasn’t until Aegon’s invasion that the North was joined with their Southron cousins under one rule. However, centuries of cultural isolation made the brand new union an uncomfortable one. The North retained worship of the Old Gods, the cultural identity of First Men, and a preference towards isolation. While history is littered with Targaryen offices filled by men from the Reach, Riverlands, Vale, Stormlands, and even Dorne, there are vanishingly few who come from the North.

Throughout Targaryen rule there are almost no Northerners who served on the Small Council, or Kingsguard, or who are named as having advanced at the Citadel. Prior to Eddard Stark’s appointment, there had only been one confirmed prior Northman to serve as permanent Hand of the King: Torrhen Manderly, who served as Hand for Aegon III. (Cregan Stark’s brief stint during the Hour of the Wolf does not count as he always intended to return North.) The only Northern house that seemed remotely interested in Southron politics prior to Rickard Stark was the Manderlys, the most Southronly Northern house of them all. The Manderlys, while Northern, even identify as an Andal house and practice the Faith.

Conversely, with the notable exceptions of the royal processions of Aegon I and Jaeherys & Alysanne, and Jacerys Velaryon’s entreaty during the Dance, there are relatively few examples of the Iron Throne seeking to involve itself in Northern affairs. Instead there was a very live-and-let-live relationship between the North and the crown for the vast majority of the 300 years of rule.

The North’s cultural isolation during the reign of the dragon is roughly analogous to the period of Salutary Neglect experienced by the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. Like the American colonies, there was no dispute that the region was subject to foreign and geographically-distant rule. However also like the American colonies, with the exception of trade arrangements and sparse military conflicts, the ruled and the rulers mostly stayed out of each others’ way.

Similarly to the American colonies, the Northerners also exited a lengthy period of neglect to immediately suffer a “long train of abuses” at the hands of the crown which led them to inexorable rejection of foreign rule. This long chain of abuses began with the execution of Lord Rickard and Brandon Stark…

a violation of due process, probably

…and continued with the “kidnapping” of Lyanna Stark…

PICTURED: what absolutely positively happened for sure

…which in turn led to the five Northmen who died trying to rescue her at the Tower of Joy, echoes of whom still motivate key Northern players like Barbrey Dustin…

RIP Ethan Glover? Willam Dustin? Mark Ryswell?

…to the attacks on Bran Stark…

PICTURED: the laws of 1) gravity and 2) unintended consequences

…to the deaths of Jory Cassell and other Northmen by Jaime Lannister…

A knife as sharp as his jawline

…to Ned Stark’s arrest and subsequent execution…

…and concluded with the death of all those other Northmen and women in King’s Landing.

Bravery

These events collectively led to the Northern Declaration of Independence by the Greatjon. Read it again above. Note how the Greatjon isn’t arguing that the North should be independent because of Robb himself, but because he considered the cause of independence was just in and of itself. “It was the dragons we married and the dragons are all dead” is an acknowledgement that whatever binds were made to the crown have been irrevocably severed. “What do they know of the Wall or the wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their gods are wrong” is a declaration of their cultural separation and need to rule themselves. It is a little uncouth that the Greatjon complains about the South’s erroneous gods while a good portion of their nascent kingdom also worships the faith, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that despite all of this, the assembled lords all raise their swords and agree to crown a new King in the North.

At that moment, the North had perfected the very right to revolution that Locke (and Jefferson) described. When the assembly collectively joined with the Riverlands to convey a kingship upon Robb Stark, the social contract was complete. Through popular choice, legitimate sovereignty was conveyed to the North and Riverlands.

Later events confirmed the justification for independence from the Iron Throne. Obviously the Red Wedding, done with the explicit consent and direction of the crown, is the biggest confirmation to date. However it should not be lost that the sacking of Winterfell, the “deaths” of Bran and Rickon, and the installation of Roose Bolton as Warden of the North also play into the calculus.

The fact that Roose Bolton and Walder Frey subsequently submitted to the Iron Throne in exchange for appointments as Wardens does not alter the social contract created by the people in any way. After all, no one elected either Roose or Walder to negotiate with the Iron Throne on their behalf. From a social contract perspective, the kingdom of the North and Riverlands lives on. It also lives on in the hearts of men like Brynden Tully, who continued to fly the Direwolf above Riverrun two years after the death of Robb. It clearly also lives on in the hearts of Northerners like Wyman Manderly…

“My son Wendel came to the Twins a guest. He ate Lord Walder’s bread and salt, and hung his sword upon the wall to feast with friends. And they murdered him. Murdered, I say, and may the Freys choke upon their fables. I drink with Jared, jape with Symond, promise Rhaegar the hand of my own beloved granddaughter … but never think that means I have forgotten. The north remembers, Lord Davos. The north remembers, and the mummer’s farce is almost done. My son is home.”- ADWD: Davos IV

…to Hugo Wull…

 I want to live forever in a land where summer lasts a thousand years. I want a castle in the clouds where I can look down over the world. I want to be six-and-twenty again. When I was six-and-twenty I could fight all day and fuck all night. What men want does not matter. Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned’s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks. No one sings songs of men who die like that. As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in Bolton blood before I die. I want to feel it spatter across my face when my axe bites deep into a Bolton skull. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.- ADWD: The Sacrifice

…and yes, even Barbrey Dustin believes in independence, despite her antipathy towards the Stark family.

“Even Dustins out of Barrowton.” Lady Dustin parted her lips in a thin, feral smile. “The north remembers, Frey.”– ADWD: The Ghost in Winterfell

Northern independence is a cultural constant, despite the presence or absence of a Stark monarch. It is bone deep.

With the benefit of this context, it is practically unimaginable that the end of the book series will end without some measure of Northern sovereignty even if Bran Stark rules the rest of the kingdoms from King’s Landing or the Isle of Faces or anywhere else. Too many people fought and died for independence; many more will do so in the wars to come. It is practically inconceivable that the North in its current form or with its present trajectory, will ever surrender independence again.

Note 1: while this analysis focuses on the North, obviously many of the same factors going into revolution and independence apply equally or with greater force to the Riverlands. The primary differences being that the Riverlands is not nearly as culturally distinct from the rest of the South and that they have spent much of their history being ruled by powers from other regions. This makes me more hesitant to say that they’ll definitely be independent at series end but your mileage may vary.

Note 2: Despite some effort I was unable to find art credit for the images above. If anyone knows who to credit I will happily add it or remove the pictures if requested.

7 thoughts on “Why Shouldn’t We Rule Ourselves Again?- Westeros and the Social Contract

  1. As far as the Doctrine of Exceptionalism goes, as soon as I read about it in Fire & Blood, Orwell’s Animal Farm and the idea of “power” seems to have been drawn upon for the written concept: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

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      1. Yeah, having dragons allows you to get away with a lot! Even the World book that defines power and incest, and power through incest, mentions how people/smallfolk/whomever feared speaking out against it. 🧐 : “ “The blood of the dragon must remain pure,” the wisdom went. Some of the sorcerer princes also took more than one wife when it pleased them, though this was less common than incestuous marriage. In Valryia before the Doom, wise men wrote, a thousand gods were honored, but none were feared, so few dared to speak against these customs.”

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  2. The Divine Right of Kings was actually crafted as a constraint on monarchs: they only held power by grace of God, and the Pope long had the power to excommunicate kings who got on his bad side and they would have to humble themselves before him. Bertrand de Jouvenel wrote about this in “On Power”.

    Hobbes was not as strictly monarchical as you make out: “The commonwealth is instituted when all agree in the following manner: I authorise and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorise all his actions in like manner.” The English Civil War ended with Oliver Cromwell as head of a Commonwealth/Protectorate, but not really a king. Robert Filmer’s “Patriarcha” is really the book that absolutely defends kings.

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  3. Divine right of kings is a post-medieval invention. Medieval feudalism (in a broad Blochian sense, c/o Marc Bloch’s Feudal Society) grew from an intermingling of Germanic comitatus customs and Roman patron-client systems. A tribal king’s warband would receive benefits from service to the king, in exchange for the king’s protection. Power was hierarchical yet decentralized. The king had little say in lower levels of governance. The 19th and early 20th century notions of political subsidiarity (from somewhat feudalism) and economic distributism/corporatism (from guilds) grew from these medieval institutions. Notions of commoner and noble would not be set in stone until some time before or during the Rennaisance

    Divine Right of Kings came into being to contest Papal Authority during and after the Reformation. After all, if a King answered only to God, then no foreign power whether prince or Pope could meddle with him. The increasingly centralized state allowed a new degree of control over citizens and resources. Even the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire had limitations on what is conceived as its Divine Right justification. The purpose of government was to protect and defend its people, like an Aristotelian politeia. Anthony Kaldellis has a whole book on this (The Byzantine Republic)

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