Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Star Wars And The Naked Fascism Of Ben Domenech

I find alternate Star Wars plot analysis fascinating, as for example Keith Martin's classic from 2005 in which Chewbacca and R2D2 are the principle actors, the drivers behind their more visible agents, Han Solo and C3PO. It's a plausible retelling of the story that makes a good amount of sense, particularly in its handling of the Luke/Leia relationship.

But where I think it falls down — and the Star Wars films more generally — is in its misapprehension of the nature of power. In particular, one conceit of the Star Wars universe I almost never see questioned is how the Jedi somehow always manage to be good guys, Darth Vader notwithstanding. This seems highly unlikely. Think about it: possessed of enormous and effectively unlimited mind control powers, they would have no incentive to restrain themselves, and no one to restrain them. Male Jedi could (and certainly would) seduce every desirable woman imaginable (and perhaps not a few men). No property would be safe with a Jedi in the area. With women mysteriously, constantly turning up pregnant (and infected), and possessions missing daily, society would shortly be thrown into chaos. The only hope would be a turncoat Jedi or Jedis who would somehow assist with the project of their extermination, i.e. Darth Vader (who is in fact a good guy, or at least is less awful than his corrupt brothers), the Emperor, and the Sith. That is, the entire series is a colossal lie of omissions, told by the power-mad, narcissistic Jedi themselves.

What, then, of the Empire's brutality? Innocents like Aunt Veru, Uncle Owen, sand people slaughtered by the score, the entire population of Alderaan, Ewoks and Gungans (ugh) — surely, if we read those deaths at face value, the Empire itself is still corrupt, murderous, and evil. It may well be. Nietzsche's proscription seems apt: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster." Faced with such an existential crisis, it's all too easy to imagine an Empire that takes on the character of its enemies.

With this in mind, it's interesting (if repulsive) to read The Federalist's Ben Domenech recent, open advocacy for such an Empire as a force for good. There are times when it's hard to tell if he's kidding, but not when he starts to wind up his essay (emboldening mine):
If you have no idea that Vader turned, that he carried out a final act of redemptive courage in the face of destructive evil, what do you think happened on the second Death Star? You basically think the Rebel Alliance, a group of anarchist terrorists led by believers in an inhuman cult, destroyed the lives of millions, murdered your supreme emperor, and to add insult to injury, defiled Darth Vader’s corpse. It’s like Pearl Harbor II, and this time they killed FDR too.
In the face of such calamity, would the Galactic Empire, a supremely powerful organization spanning systems and planets of countless millions, guided by the Sith belief that those with the capacity of vision and the ability to lead have a duty to do so, and to make the hard choices about the destiny of the universe, simply disappear? Of course not. The Sith understand that the arc of history is long, and it bends toward barbarism and chaos – and that those who understand this and have the capacity to change that arc have a duty to do so in the interests of order, for the benefit of all creatures. They should not merely sit around in monkish robes intoning about balance, controlling passions, refusing to intervene, watching history happen with the dispassion of an ascetic.

For the Sith, the setback at Endor would not destroy them. They would be more inspired than ever to crush the rebellion and its little destructive furry moppets.
In Domenech's telling, order is the only good choice. It doesn't matter how brutally applied that order is, it doesn't matter how many collateral deaths there are, the only thing that matters is suppressing "barbarism and chaos". One gets the sense, especially reading the comments, that a great number of conservatives chafed at George Lucas' earlier ham-handed attempts to tie in Bush/43 foreign policy to the franchise. If so, it was because they were so clearly on the wrong side. The Jonathan V. Last alt-universe story errs, not in its reading of the Empire, but in its witless, soulless mania for power. Someone who could write the words, "Palpatine is a dictator--but a relatively benign one, like Pinochet" has not lived in a state where people could be taken from their beds, never to be heard from again. That Domenech does not realize this (and apparently looks on approvingly) shows he makes the same mistake all who pretend to dictatorship do: they imagine themselves in power indefinitely, and exclusively.

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