Bryan Caplan  

George R.R. Martin's Pacifist Tendencies

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"The 'liquidity trap' only is ... Acemoglu and Robinson on Mobut...
I've argued that George R.R. Martin's novels vividly illustrate my case for pacifism.  Now G.R.R.M. tells us directly:

You're a congenial man, yet these books are incredibly violent. Does that ever feel at odds with these views about power and war?

The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that's become the template. I'm not sure that it's a good template, though. The Tolkien model led generations of fantasy writers to produce these endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes. But the vast majority of wars throughout history are not like that. World War I is much more typical of the wars of history than World War II - the kind of war you look back afterward and say, "What the hell were we fighting for? Why did all these millions of people have to die? Was it really worth it to get rid of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that we wiped out an entire generation, and tore up half the continent? Was the War of 1812 worth fighting? The Spanish-American War? What the hell were these people fighting for?"

There's only a few wars that are really worth what they cost.
I'd go further, but I'm clearly not just reading my own views into his stories.

HT: Zac Gochenour



COMMENTS (10 to date)
Anon. writes:

The best bit:

>Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn't ask the question: What was Aragorn's tax policy?

MingoV writes:

A novelist who writes one of the most violent and savage fantasy series says he's a pacifist. Fine. Bryan Caplan says he's a pacifist. Fine. If you survey every adult on the planet, almost all would say they are pacifists. There aren't many people who would say they are warmongers. The fact that Caplan predicted that Martin is a pacifist doesn't mean much. I predict that everyone reading this blog is a pacifist. Let me know if any of you is a warmonger.

BZ writes:

@MingoV - Umm.. excluded middle? I think most people would say they support violence in some particular circumstances, with some circumstances broader than others. Personally, I feel an inner disgust at most violence, public or private. But if someone comes after me or mine, well, let's just say I'm no Bryan Caplan -- he's the closest thing to an actual Pacifist I've ever heard of.

But anyway -- you've missed Dr. Caplan's point entirely. Under the logic you've given, Orwell would be a totalitarian, since he wrote 1984, and old John Swift is a cannibal, since he wrote his Modest Proposal. You can disagree that G.Martin really meant what he said, or even that his books are an effective critique of war, but to say that it's patently false Because it's not a critique because it contains the thing it allegedly critiques seems off the mark.

Shane L writes:

Ah that's interesting and fun! Yes, I love Tolkien and I grew up on fantasy books with deep dark evil characters being confronted by courageous good. There's a satisfaction in that, but it would be interesting to read fantasy or sci-fi that explore some of the more ambiguous aspects of war and government.

In Star Wars the Rebel Alliance were good, the Empire was bad. In several Arab countries recently we have seen tyrannical governments overthrown, with mixed results. In Syria it has started a terrible civil war with a number of rival factions fighting for supremacy. Would the victory of the Rebel Alliance have restored the Republic, or prompted an enormous civil war?

(Incidentally, the Harry Potter series does explore this a little bit. The Ministry of Magic becomes authoritarian, intervening in education and media and jailing innocent scapegoats, in response to the return of Voldemort. Rowling has her heroes break laws, even casting "Unforgiveable" curses, as part of their fight against Voldemort, though there is no concern that this law-breaking could cause damage to the social fabric of the wizarding community. Overthinking it a bit? Well maybe :D )

Tom West writes:

I have to say that I found the GoT both well written and profoundly uninteresting. It was like a fictional account of the Syrian civil war.

If I'm going to read about massive suffering caused by people's quest for power at any cost, at least I'd prefer it be real.

JKB writes:

Seems less a case for pacifism and more a case against cronyism. A case for the rule of law applied equally to all and enforceable property rights. All pacifism buys you is slavery if the rule is by violence and allegiance rather than by equality before the law.

This is not unlike the move that Lucky Luciano made in forming the Mafia. It is often depicted as a corporate board but really the commission was a ruling council that agreed to use alternative means to settle disputes since gang war was bad for business and even future benefits were uncertain. To enforce this mediation method, all were committed to acting in concert against any who deviated and started petty wars.

It took a long time in human history but our forefathers saw the benefit of throwing off petty kings and committing all people to the alternative by giving all equality before the law and secure property rights. GoT may be an indication of life if we keep letting the cronyism creep in and the rule of law be undermined. On the other hand, such abuses have arise before only to fade as the people moved to reassert the alternative way of life.

michael svehla writes:

Bryan have you considered this perspective??


The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War Paperback
by Robert D. Kaplan (Author)
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Robert D. Kaplan (February 13, 2001). The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War. Vintage. ISBN 0-375-70759-X.,
published January 2000

Tracy W writes:

I would like to read more fantasy series about trying to set up a democratic system of government after seeing all the problems with a monarchy.

LD Bottorff writes:

MingoV,
I'm not a pacifist. While on active duty I would have helped authenticate orders to use nuclear weapons. But both Bryan Caplan and David Henderson, as economists, are right to remind us that war's cost can be extremely hard to predict. I think that G.R.R Martin's question is a good one; what did we fight these wars for? World War II was hard for us to avoid, but World War I? I'm pretty certain that our entry into World War I didn't serve the interests of our nation or humanity.
I even supported the invasion of Iraq. The problem with that or any war is that you never know when some well-intended president will decide that, as long as we're here, let's commit a few more thousand lives to building a democracy (or some other good deed). Sure, sometimes it works out and we cut short a genocidal regime. More often, war leave things in shambles and the lives and resources are gone forever.

drobviousso writes:

Tracy W - The only one I can think of is Discworld (for certain, very expansive, values of democracy)

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