Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Sword of Truth – Politics and Morality

The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind consists of 14 or so books, of which all take place in the same fantastic world, in which there exists some exceptionally interesting and thought-provoking magic and cultures.

For a large percentage of the books, the characters are operating in a place known as the Midlands, which is essentially a collection of nations and principalities which are all organised under a Central Council, which is in turn ruled by the Order of Confessors. Despite the existence of this Council and of the Order of Confessors, each individual state retains its own form of leadership, which seemed to rather diverse, for we have some states ruled over by Monarchies and others which exist in a more tribal state. However, all these nations are integrated through the existence of this Central Council, thus making the Midlands a Confederation of many different cultures. As for the Council itself, it consisted of representatives appointed by the rulers of the larger states within the Midlands. As for how it was decided when a nation was powerful enough to have a seat at the council, we are not allowed to know.

The Order of Confessors require a more detailed explanation in order for their role to be fully understood. We are told that the Confessors are not a natural phenomenon, but were instead created by Wizards as living tools, whose function was to ascertain the truth beyond all doubt. Their order became symbolic of the truth, and was brought into being to ensure that their powers would always be cultivated and controlled. Confessors were trained extensively in history and language, essentially being moulded into master diplomats, to which it was exceptionally hard to lie. However, the true power of a Confessor was a magical one. With a touch, a Confessor could release their power, which is described as the power of love, into another person, essentially overwhelming that person and causing them to fall so deeply in love with the Confessor that they become willing slaves to them, unable to disobey or lie to them. A Confessor’s touch would destroy a person, because the victim’s entire personality would be supplanted and replaced with their love for their new mistress. This power was intended to be used as a way of ensuring that the truth could always be found and hence Confessors would spend much of their time riding throughout the Midlands, using their power on those found guilty of crimes to ensure their guilt. Most of the time, however, their powers was simply used by a Confessor to ensure justice in whatever way she deemed appropriate.

Philosophically and politically, the Confessors themselves are the most interesting part of this fantasy government, for their existence seems to render all other rulers within the Midlands relatively useless. The Order of Confessors had a single leader, known as the Mother Confessor, who attained this position through her being chosen by her fellow Confessors, and this title was usually bestowed on the most powerful members of the Order. The Mother Confessor held the first chair of the Council of the Midlands and was essentially meant to represent all of the “lesser nations” who were not considered large enough to hold a position on the Council directly. The Council is essentially a democracy, in which each Councillor has but a single vote, with no one vote bearing more weight than another. This is supposed to be the same for the Mother Confessor, however she retains the right and authority to veto any decision made by the Council.

So, though it may be an informal fact, the Mother Confessor was the leader of the Midlands. She was considered the Head of State, the Head of Government and the Commander-in-chief, with the other members of her order acting as both the executive and judicial (though there were various different systems of justice across the different principalities, all had to bow to the will of the Confessors) branch of the Midlands government. The Council itself is purely legislative, for it alone can alter the laws which apply to all the states of the midlands. However, the Council was powerless in the face of the Mother Confessor, who held the right to simply change whatever decisions they made.

Not only this, but the Order of Confessors not only held the ability, but the right to immediately dethrone any ruler within the Midlands who they perceived to be unfit. The Mother Confessor held the right to give any command she wished to any ruler, who would have to follow such commands to the letter. If she disagreed with how the ruler held their office, she would command them to relinquish their throne and, if they should not comply, she would simply use her touch against this ruler, who would then have no option of resistance.

We should think of the Mother Confessor as a prime example of Hobbes Leviathan, a term which originates in his work of the same name. Hobbes lived during the War of the Roses, and hence came to the conclusion that life in the state of nature, by which he means the state before any form of society and in which all men are free, is “nasty, brutish and short”. Thus, he decides that men created societies under the concept that they would each agree not to violate the rights of one another. However, what men say and do are often not quite the same thing. Hence, Hobbes advocated the creation of a Leviathan or an Absolute Monarch to which ultimate fealty and loyalty were given without question. With power granted from the people, this Leviathan would have the power to ensure the enforcement of the law and, though giving an individual such power creates the ideal platform for an abuse of power, Hobbes concluded that this was indeed far better than the alternative. The alternative is war, which is not an endeavour which can be won, for all who engage in it eventually lose. Thus, it is for the betterment of all that they surrender absolute power to a single individual who is then able to enforce the law and uphold society unhindered.

So essentially, we have the foundations set for the Mother Confessor to become a terrible tyrant, bending everything to her own will without regard for any others, for she not only has the political power to do so, but her magical power to bend anyone to her will with a touch removes the ability for anyone to stand in her way for an extended period of time. Once she has been elevated to this rank by her fellow Confessors, not even they have the ability to stand against her, for they are bound to serve the one they elevated, not to mention the fact that raising a political opposition to such an individual would be exceptionally difficult. Even if several separate states were to turn on the Mother Confessor, all she would need to do is touch their rulers, and the political power of each individual state would be bent to her will. However, Confessors are all taught how to take control of their emotions and let their reason take the lead in all situations. Not only this, but love itself would not become such a distraction for them, for they would not be expected to love another person in a sexual manner. This is because their power would be uncontrollably released during any coupling they had, hence they would be unable to enjoy all sides of a romantic relationship. Instead, the Confessors would be expected to take a mate based on more practical matters, for if he was not Confessed before their union, he would be by the end of it. So, if we consider the fact that, in spite of holding complete power, the Mother Confessor would come from an Order which would instil within her the necessary traits to make a great ruler: control and reason, her existence might not be a bad idea.

Now, it is important to note that within the Sword of Truth series, the Confessors have all used their power justly and for the right reasons. However, there is something else worth mentioning. The first Confessor created was a woman, Magda Searus, and there is a strong reason as to why the Order of Confessors consisted solely of female members. When a Confessor uses her power, she is rendered weakened both physically and mentally, requiring a period of rest before she can safely use her strength again, this need for rest being an intentional feature to ensure that unlimited power was not possible. The amount of rest time required was used to determine the strength of a Confessor, the shorter the time, the stronger the Confessor. Confession is also an inherited ability, with the children of a Confessor gaining the power through the blood. However, the male children of Confessors manifest the power differently. They require no rest between Confessions and also seem unable to control or handle it properly, instead becoming monsters, unleashing their power upon everyone they could, amassing an army of slaves.

Due to the terrible wars it took to exterminate the Dark Age caused by the uncontrolled male Confessors, the Order of Confessors decided to implement a law which meant that any male child to a Confessor would have to be killed at birth to ensure that it could never turn into the tyrant it could so easily become. Here we have the ethical problem concerned with execution of an innocent child on the basis that they are likely to commit moral offences in the future. Though some would argue that it is more than fair to kill a child when faced with the fact that they are more than likely to go on to commit or at least desire to commit such terrible moral infractions, the fact remains that the child is being killed on the grounds of what might happen in the future. However, we could argue that killing a new born child is not such a grave offence, for such a child has had no experiences and remains undeveloped, unable to truly reason or comprehend. Essentially, we could argue that this child is not in fact a person, and hence we should not have any reservations about killing it to prevent it from causing harm in the future. Alternatively, we could argue that it has the potential to personhood, hence we should grant it all the rights of a full person. Yet, using the argument from potential causes flaws in application which could lead us to some ridiculous conclusions. For example, an unfertilised egg also has the potential to be a person. Using the same line of argument, we could easily conclude that every unfertilised egg should therefore be fertilised and given a chance to become a person. It seems to me that this is an absurd position to take. Regardless, one of the moral issues raised by the existence of Confessors is that, for an order which exists to promote justice, executing innocent children remains at the core of their tenants.

However, the most key ethical issue with the existence of the Confessors is the nature of their power. A Confessor’s touch literally destroys another person’s identity by transforming them into an all too willing slave. Once touched by such a power, the individual would be unable to feel anything but an infinite love for their Mistress and the desire to serve her in whatever way she desires. They would lose not only their liberty but their complete sense of self. Everything they ever were would be lost forever, replaced only by the will of the Confessor. Can we ever say that the permanent (for the touch of a Confessor is final) and absolute removal of an individual’s freedom is just? I can comprehend why such a power and the one who used it would be considered evil by many people, but having said that, I also find it easy to comprehend the bigger picture. That is to say, though it may seem abominable to ever condone the use of such a power, the alternative would be an increased degree of lawlessness and altogether evil. Naturally, we would need to censor the usage of Confession, so as to prevent it from becoming a means to subjugating the masses, at which point it would no longer be correct to permit the use of such a power. In this matter, I think it prudent to rely on Mill’s Harm Principle, which is to say that Confession should only be used to suppress liberty when doing so prevents harm from occurring. If a Confessor uses her power to save others from harm, then her power is being used in a just fashion.

So, though the present us with a series of interesting issues of ethics and politics, I conclude that the Order of Confessors are a positive influence within the world, so long as each of their members is taught wisdom and the correct usage of her power.

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