George R. R. Martin: Why Good Intentions Don't Necessarily Make For Good Rulers

Via Alex Tabarrok

A major concern in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones is power. Almost everybody – except maybe Daenerys, across the waters with her dragons – wields power badly.
Ruling is hard. This was maybe my answer to Tolkien, whom, as much as I admire him, I do quibble with. Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. 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? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?

In real life, real-life kings had real-life problems to deal with. Just being a good guy was not the answer. You had to make hard, hard decisions. Sometimes what seemed to be a good decision turned around and bit you in the ass; it was the law of unintended consequences. I’ve tried to get at some of these in my books. My people who are trying to rule don’t have an easy time of it. Just having good intentions doesn’t make you a wise king.

  • J_W_W

    Am I the only one who read the byline … Via Alex Trebek ?

  • Another_Brian

    SPOILER WARNING, because I don't follow the show and have no idea to what point they've followed the book or where they are in the story.

    I wouldn't say Daenarys is an exception. After the first book, she leaves a wake of destruction behind her after sacking several cities and abolishing slavery. She tries really hard to manage it all and put the right people into power, but in the end she just packs up and leaves for Westeros.

  • http://cardioblogy.blogspot.com/ Jens Fiederer

    J_W_W....since I follow Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok is too familiar a name to be confused with anything else -- but I can see the resemblance, which I've never noticed before (although I follow Jeopardy as avidly as Marginal Revolution, and have even auditioned).

  • FelineCannonball

    I have the feeling she's going to become more of a hero queen and less of a muddling teenager in the TV show. Who knows. At least they haven't popped her bubble yet and they're going out of their way to make everyone else look even less sympathetic than do in the books. Quite a bit is different in detail and perspective.

  • FelineCannonball

    Who the hell cares about kings and queens. Winter is coming. And the chances of seeing the next spring are not good at all.

  • MingoV

    I'm feeling sadness and woe. Tolkien used only a few sentences to describe Aragorn's reign. He should have written another book that included things like public road maintenance, handling of horse crap on city streets, deciding whether to provide guards for caravans and river barges, settling disputes about magically altered crops contaminating natural crops, ruling about whether guilds can exclude non-guild competitors, and budgeting for sewers.

  • sch

    There are more fundamental problems: what did everybody eat? No evidence anywhere of agriculture except the very nice cornfield and the hobbit gardens. Wizards and elves presumably can magic up something but what about the dwarves, the orcs both above and below ground. Who raises the grain and hops for all that beer? Fantasy writers are not much on logistics.

  • Max

    These sentences from à staunch Democrat supporter, a supporter of the ACA and on top of someone who didn't see the similarities between Bush and Obama, vilified the first and adored the second. I find this fascinating, especially from a researchers point of view.

  • Zachriel

    "Why Good Intentions Don't Necessarily Make For Good Rulers"

    So listen to grandpa Tywin. He knows what you should do.

  • Canvasback

    “Under the administration of Rhodes, there were the fewest laws, the widest
    freedom, the least crime, and the truest justice, that I have ever seen
    in any part of the world.”
    ―Frederick Russell Burnham

  • jhertzli

    I don't know about orcs but the dwarves traded manufactured objects for food. They thought of the Shire as a place to buy groceries.

  • obloodyhell

    I'd already noted that the ruler-candidates who died seemed to be ones who failed the test of Honor -- even Rob, who otherwise was a good man, died after, and directly because of, his failure to keep his Word of Honor to Walther Frey, not because he couldn't, but because he chose not to, for his own personal benefit.

    If you look at the others who have died, many have shown this flaw in many ways (I haven't read D w/Dragons yet)

    I've long suspected that was his key rule -- those who do not show honor in all things are not worthy to lead.

  • obloodyhell

    LOL, the point is still valid. Those who imagine the solutions to the problems of the world can fit onto a bumper sticker really don't understand the complexity of the problem. "And she lived happily ever after" is an ending for children, not for adults.

  • obloodyhell

    "Where we're going, we don't NEED 'Rhodes'!!!"
    - Obama -

  • obloodyhell

    ... while the orcs thought of it as a place to STEAL groceries... :-D

  • obloodyhell

    See note above from me about GoT and what I think what constitutes the Primary Quality of a Good Leader is, in terms of where the book is headed. Speculation, I grant, but it does seem to fit with the above and what I've read so far.

  • Nehemiah

    I kind of favor King Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, who reigned over Judah for 29 years. He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord and he and the nation of Judah prospered. 2 Kings 18:1-8

  • Bram

    Yep - She becomes a great example of Good Intentions / Bad Results in government.

  • W. C. Taqiyya

    Quibble with Tolkien? Such heresy! Actually you know, The "Lord of the Rings" is a fantasy story. So, it isn't intended to be a primer for prospective rulers. For that we have, "The Prince" by that Italian fellow, Machiavelli. Great stuff.