November 5, 2018


Star Wars Politics (Thomas Bruscino, 11/05/18, Aero)

A few years after the Star Wars prequel trilogy came out, after we had all had time to digest just how unsatisfying it had been, an independent filmmaker named Mike Stoklasa produced a series of online videos picking the movies apart, figuring out just exactly why Anakin, Jar Jar, computer Yoda and the rest bothered us so much. Published under the imprimatur of Red Letter Media, the videos are quirky and profane--and also masterpieces of film critique. [...]

[A]s Stoklasa points out, something was off about this particular galactic star war. If you look just a little bit closer, you will notice that, as grand as the stakes appear to be, the conduct and effects of the war do not extend much beyond a small handful of individuals. There are only a few dozen Jedi fighting on one side, and, by rule, two Sith on the other. Their armies are made up of literally disposable droids on one side, and nearly disposable clone troopers on the other. Most importantly, at few points is this galactic fight connected to the people that make up the galaxy, least of all on Coruscant, the capital planet itself. [...]

As I write this, the current galactic problem is the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, and the sexual assault allegations leveled against the nominee. [...]

By the time this comes to print, we will have moved on to something else. Whatever that is will be so important that we must all line up in our digital armies, increasingly backed by the implied or even literal threat that someday soon those armies will be virtual no longer.

The specific issue doesn't matter, really--not when we treat all issues as if they were battles in wars raging across our galaxy.

We are so partisan these days precisely because, given the broad consensus on nearly all policy issues at the End of History, the only stakes are which party gets to govern.  The Kavanaugh nomination was illustrative not just because the nomination fight got so ugly but because he is pretty much indistinguishable from Merrick Garland.

And, if we look at the "something else," we have moved on to, Americans (Republicans included) overwhelmingly support immigration, which Donald has staked this election cycle on opposing and Republicans are running on their support for Obamacare, which was after all just the Heritage Foundation plan. or the GOP plan from the '90s.

Look behind the partisan bickering and you find an American electorate that has a historically high popular overlap on most actual policy questions: not just pro-immigration and pro-trade but in favor of limits on both guns and abortion, while party leaders take the most extreme positions, and even in favor of universal health care, which the UR was too conservative to propose.  

Of course, if we stick with the Star Wars mode of analysis, we can find another fruitful point: it's not even apparent that "our" side is preferable to the "dark" side:  

The Case for the Empire (JONATHAN V. LAST, May 15, 2002, Weekly Standard)

Lucas wants the Empire to stand for evil, so he tells us that the Emperor and Darth Vader have gone over to the Dark Side and dresses them in black.

But look closer. When Palpatine is still a senator, he says, "The Republic is not what it once was. The Senate is full of greedy, squabbling delegates. There is no interest in the common good." At one point he laments that "the bureaucrats are in charge now."

Palpatine believes that the political order must be manipulated to produce peace and stability. When he mutters, "There is no civility, there is only politics," we see that at heart, he's an esoteric Straussian.

Make no mistake, as emperor, Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet. It's a dictatorship people can do business with. They collect taxes and patrol the skies. They try to stop organized crime (in the form of the smuggling rings run by the Hutts). The Empire has virtually no effect on the daily life of the average, law-abiding citizen.

Also, unlike the divine-right Jedi, the Empire is a meritocracy. The Empire runs academies throughout the galaxy (Han Solo begins his career at an Imperial academy), and those who show promise are promoted, often rapidly. In The Empire Strikes Back Captain Piett is quickly promoted to admiral when his predecessor falls down on the job.

And while it's a small point, the Empire's manners and decorum speak well of it. When Darth Vader is forced to employ bounty hunters to track down Han Solo, he refuses to address them by name. Even Boba Fett, the greatest of all trackers, is referred to icily as "bounty hunter." And yet Fett understands the protocol. When he captures Solo, he calls him "Captain Solo." (Whether this is in deference to Han's former rank in the Imperial starfleet, or simply because Han owns and pilots his own ship, we don't know. I suspect it's the former.)

But the most compelling evidence that the Empire isn't evil comes in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader is battling Luke Skywalker. After an exhausting fight, Vader is poised to finish Luke off, but he stays his hand. He tries to convert Luke to the Dark Side with this simple plea: "There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you. . . . Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy." It is here we find the real controlling impulse for the Dark Side and the Empire. The Empire doesn't want slaves or destruction or "evil." It wants order.

Significantly, on all the "issues" listed above Americans just want some order restored to our lives and we are sick of the apocalyptic partisanship because it is so disordered.

Posted by at November 5, 2018 6:28 PM