Games of Thrones

When you think of dictators, you might only have a dozen or less names come to mind as significant in the course of human events. In reality, there have been hundreds; we just don’t typically call them dictators. We call them kings and queens.

Monarchies date all the way back to before 3000 BC, evolving from early tribes and chiefdoms. In Western civilization, monarchies dominated the scene for a thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire, until the Renaissance arrived and began to chip away at the foundations of their power, leading to eventual revolutions that shaped the modern world.

It’s not incredibly surprising that our history has generally been dominated by dictators, whatever we prefer to call them. There are biological and evolutionary drivers behind what drives a dictator. Alphas are essential to the whole process: the stronger survive, and part of being strong in that context is to dominate, usually at the expense of others. Some brains are more wired to follow that urge, and those are the brains that usually direct their surrounding meat to become a dictator. That is undoubtedly how early tribal kingships and chiefdoms came to be.

The end is the same in any case; the only real difference between kings and queens and other forms of dictators is the means. While monarchies have relied on a variety of justifications for their authority, the more recent kings and queens have generally relied on direct family connections. If Joe is king and John is his oldest son, John will be king next. If Joe is at war with another kingdom, he will have John marry Catherine, the daughter of King James from that other nation, to end the war and forge a strategic alliance. Anything and everything begins with who begat whom. It’s proven a convenient and effective way of maintaining a grip on power for millennia, and it even worked for many of the Caesars that ruled the Roman Empire. The beautiful part of this machine is that whoever might be king or queen at any given moment, they don’t have to spend the slightest amount of time duping their subjects into believing in their plan for making the kingdom great again. They just need to have the DNA they already have, and that’s all anybody needs to know. If you have any questions, you can gladly donate your head.

It would take (and it has taken) volumes upon volumes to describe all the monarchies that have dominated human affairs throughout history. The only real relevant aspect of it all for the purposes of this series is that when kings and queens rule, just like any other dictator, the vast majority of their subjects have very little say over how their lives will play out. Even if you happen to agree exactly with the politics of your king or queen, you will generally not benefit from their rule any more than anyone else. Because they don’t care about you or any specific issue – they just want to be the ones in charge. If they can use you to get to that place, they will. But don’t expect repayment.

The 20th century seemed to mark the rapid decline and fall of monarchies across most of the globe, to where most of the remaining examples are largely symbolic. We would like to think this was the result of some sort of enlightenment, but all it really means is that there are more effective ways to operate as a dictator in an industrial age. Much of the power behind any monarchy is rooted in the inability of the masses to access any kind of information that would challenge the validity of the monarchy itself, which is based on nothing more than heredity. Beginning with Gutenberg’s printing press, that power began to crumble, slowly at first, and then at rapidly increasing pace once information transfer became so much faster than it had been before. That’s not to imply the information being spread is always correct. In reality, it usually isn’t. But that’s not the point. When information or misinformation spread, the result is the same – people become restless, and things can change in a heartbeat. In that environment, something like “I’m the king because my dad was” falls apart quite quickly. The aspiring dictator has to switch to ideology as the basis for their authority. Which, by the way, works best when information is indistinguishable from misinformation.

Of course, once a dictator has risen to power, they can also transform into a monarch, and subsequently have their children take over the crown when they depart the Earth. Think about that for a bit, here in 2024.

Image by from Pixabay

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