Though Legend of the Galactic Heroes might seem like a Death Note style dual of fates fought between two talented leaders (Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire and Yang Wen-li of the Free Planets Alliance respectively) it is what they represent, as much as who they are and what they believe, which is just as riveting; a contrast of dictatorship and democracy and the ways in which both political systems are essentially imperfect and doomed to a rapid degeneration.
Political and military dictators are demonised in the modern world, but Legend of the Galactic Heroes dares to suggest that its own peerless commander, Reinhard, is not as much an ignorant, soulless monster as a power-hungry genius riddled with insecurity. Though his methods can be callous (allowing a massive nuclear strike against his own people to swing public support in a civil war wasn’t his finest moment) he has displayed fundamentally good intentions, galvinised his people under a united cause and rebuilt his corrupt government into an aggressive and forward thinking force. But for all his strengths, the dictator’s worst enemy isn’t the present day, but the future, as decadence, complacency and arrogance takes hold.
By its very nature, the quality of a dictatorship is transient, being as it is limited to the strength of one man and his subordinates. Because there is no freedom to vote for a new leader, that power to control millions passes to the privileged few; nobles, friends and family not necessarily ingrained with the quality to lead a nation. As the ideals of that original generation dilute through time, the dictatorship becomes a dynasty. Rather than earn it, people are born into power and become arrogant. They no longer represent, or even understand, the man on the street, they fight for their own petty and corrupt reasons; power for the sake of power. Eventually, the common majority will grow wary of being ruled by those with no understanding of them and, put simply, a revolution is inevitable. This is exactly what happens during the first season of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, as the impotent Goldenbaum dynasty, having grown weak and arrogant through generations of inbreeding, is completely shattered by Reinhard von Lohengramm‘s tactical nous. They have no answer to his genius because none in their privileged ranks can match his desire or intelligence to succeed. In such a situation, the death of a dictatorship is inevitable, but it remains a long and drawn out affair.
In these regards, democracy is the antithesis of the dictatorship’s long-term weaknesses. Most importantly, the populace has the right to remove the leaders they deem incompetent. Ethically, it’s a better system, but at times of war, democracy faces a distinct disadvantage against the likes of Lohengramm. While the Galactic Empire moves with the poise and clarity of its talented protector, the Free Planets Alliance is bogged down with bureaucracy; days, even weeks, can be wasted in discussions and votes searching for agreement.
While a dictatorship can condition (propaganda) its people into believing anything, a democratic government is tasked with offering an unbiased education system and, vitally, freedom of choice and speech. The Galactic Empire can conscript soldiers, but the Free Planets Alliance cannot; capitalism takes hold as the public, quite rightly, chase their own desires and become reluctant to fight a war that, for them, means little. Politically, the government is mired in corruption; money-grubbing politicians content to delay vital processes for the sake of their own gain. In Lohengramm‘s Empire, such hesitancy would be warmly greeted with execution, but in the Alliance, long inquiries, investigations and proof are required.
Where do I stand on all this? Though I believe a dictatorship like Lohengramm‘s can work, it still relies on the fundamental good nature and whims of one man. If the Empire triumphs, will Reinhard (with shades of Gurren Lagann) step aside and offer the people a chance to elect their own leader, or will the Empire have to live with another gradually failing dynasty? Democracy is a better system and offers a safer future for the human race. However, without the luck of discovering Yang Wen-li, I expect the Free Planets Alliance would have long ago fallen into Lohengramm‘s hands. Obviously, democracy is ill-suited in times of war, and though it has survived in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I wonder if that’s merely an illusion conjured by Yang Wen-li’s talent? And if one man is so important, isn’t that an (albeit ambiguous) form of dictatorship any way?