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 They no longer represent, or even understand, the man on the street, they fight for their own petty and corrupt reasons; power for the sake of power.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?
18 replies on “Lohengramm's advantage; contrasting dictatorship and democracy”
Um . . . I’d like to read this but I can’t tell if it has spoilers. I’m up to the twenty-first episode; is it safe for me to look now?
Darn that Oberstein! He tricked Reinhard into letting that nuclear strike happen. I so wanted to strangle that bugger when that happened. I’ve stalled on episode 27, I guess partly because I’m in grieving. I intend to start it back up again this weekend, would be interesting to see how the show changes…kind of like after Gurren-Lagann’s first major cast reduction.
Damn you! I have like 10 episodes left and I so was going to write this exact post when I finished! 😛
This blog post only has spoilers for the first season and its outcome, from what I can tell.
The debate between democracy and dictatorship gets quite a few interesting developments later on, though the initial points presented here are still generally valid.
LOGH was an awesome show and I should even get a blog of my own to rant about it, but I digress…
@IKnight: Best wait until you’ve seen episode 26, the last episode of the first season. I don’t reveal any specific spoilers in this post, but I’m referencing general themes based on the outcome of that season and I’d hate to ruin anything for you. Trust me when I say you’ll watch episode 25 and fly at your computer screen to play 26. I’m up to 46 now and, though I’m completely immersed in this story at this point, I have to say it’s well on its way to becoming an all time favorite.
@JKTrix: I know what you mean, 25/26 carries a massive emotional weight. Keep going, though, as I said above, I’m up to 46 as of this evening and things are as great as ever. It’s even got me, a Narutard, talking mad politics above! 🙂 Also, there’s a lot more of Oskar von Reuntal and Wolfgang Mittermeyer (including a GAR flashback), and Hildegard von Mariendorf too (the female noble who sides with Reinhard in the first season). I really love the cast dynamic, especially the banter between Yang and Frederica Greenhill; generally, I really like the female characters in LotGH. I know, I’m sounding like a helpless fan boy again. I love everything about the series.
@jpmeyer: Sorry 🙂 Just after I posted this I read your comment on IKnight’s blog and realized you were thinking along the same lines. Regardless, make sure you post about LotGH, it’s a show that demands we pimp it as much as possible and I’d love to read your thoughts on it (especially after your Gundam 00 post).
@Camario: Get a blog and write about it. Seriously, there’s not enough love out there for LotGH and the more of us that write about it, there’s a better chance that more anime fans will give it a shot. I must admit, I only felt the impetus to come back and start again with LotGH after listening to the guys talk about it on the Anime Word Order podcast.
@JKTrix: I think you’re being unfair to Oberstein. I find Oberstein one of the more interesting characters in LoGH. He has an extremely utilitarian approach to things, like the nuke incident where he postulated that nuking the planet allowed them to end the war faster and as a result saved more lives in the long run. Even though most of his actions seem like bastard moves on his part, everything Oberstein does is for unselfish reasons, and people like Oberstein are absolutely necessary in any organisation. While the rest of Reinhard’s staff are militaristic yes-man, Oberstein is always the one to present the cold but calculated and entirely logical counterpoint, the one to make the unpopular but sometimes necessary decisions. As Reinhard says, everything Oberstein does, he always has “compelling reasons” to do so.
@primeparadigm: Totally agree (though I don’t think JKTrix was being serious in his comment). One extra point on Oberstein. He has a dog. I know that sounds random, but I think it’s quite revealing of his character in a Mamoru Oshii style (thinking of Batou from Innocence). If I remember correctly, it’s remarked that he found this dog wandering alone outside of a government building and took it in; that this cold guy has such an affection for an animal is quite revealing of his inner self; obviously, he sympathizes with the abandoned dog because that’s how he sees (or saw) himself.
At the same time, I don’t know that allowing mass-genocide was the best option. Though I completely understand Oberstein’s reasons, I’m swinging towards Kircheis’ side of the argument in that I think it was a bit too ruthless. Though it swung opinion completely in favor of “the blonde brat”, there are other methods (perhaps not as effective) that don’t involve mass-genocide.
Thanks to recommendations from yourself, KT and IKnight I’ve decided to embark on the daunting episode count of LotGH at last. Posts like this remind me why starting on a 110-part show is actually a good idea – right from the first ep the sheer scale and complexity of its world(universe?)-view is quite simply staggering.
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I do agree. Although, I think calling the Alliance a functioning democracy may be taking a bit far. I think one of the points of LoGH is that it isn’t a functioning democracy. That it’s become corrupt… especially considering what happens later on in the series.
Right, just finished the 26th episode, ‘Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince’ et cetera, et cetera, on to this blog entry . . .
Excellent dissection of Reinhard’s rise to replace the dwindling Goldenbaum dynasty. As Cameron Probert says, the Alliance’s system seems to have serious problems, but it does at least have some kind of egalitarian ideal.
Perhaps democracies are always falling short of a situation where the people really govern themselves – consider the proportion of MPs who are Oxbridge graduates – and perhaps they tend to be militarily weaker than more restrictive societies. But if a democracy is conquered by a dictatorship I would feel like saying, as one might of a person, that the defeated state was ‘too good for this world’.
[…] Reinhard was absent because he didn’t want to be associated with the campaign if it failed. Lohengramm’s advantage […]
Drafting/conscription was something never really touched upon in the anime. We see a little bit of childly aspirations, but never forced enlistment. It’s interesting you brought that up, since it would have been interesting to see the direct social mechanisms that “coerced” millions upon millions of people to sign up for the military – especially in the FPA; and especially after the FPA’s first disastrous invasion of Imperial territory. Who in their right mind would enlist after that? It’s susceptible to say that there was, of course, loads of propaganda that tailored the situation to the government’s liking, but I don’t really remember a lot of that in the anime.
Your logic is so flawed it’s not true. You’re making a broad assumption that mankind needs to elect a leader, as if mass opinion that values the views of twenty McDonalds employees over one learned man(or nineteen learned man) is superior to the lack of deliberation and squabblign that is inherent in autocracy.
What the proponents of democracy like to envision is a state in which the world is idealised and ambition and ignorance are minimal at best.
The truth, sadly, is that the vast masses of ordinary men are not wise, and elected officials are often ambitious and self serving.
One could, obviously, say that this is so in autocracy, save that there is no way to dislodge the incompetent leaders. I disagree. If a man is incapable of properly serving the State and bettering society, he should be removed. He can leave quietly and retire, or he can refuse and be shot. Brutal, but necessary. A body cannot survive without an immune system.
In such a government, there is little of the petty arguing that is undeniably rampant in democracy. Things are done in the best interests of the people, for they make up the State, without weeks of argument. Without the grasping vines of unrestrained free market capitalism reaching into every crack in the foundation, weakening the government. Such a system is vastly superior to democracy; such a system is embodied in Lohengramm’s Empire.
A man like me can choose who lives and dies on a very whim.
If that’s not a flaw of democracy, what is?
Minor nitpick – FPA practices conscription and after FPA tried to use Goldenbaum card against Loengrahm mass volunteering in Empire was more then fleet needed – which is practicaly shows that Loengrahm would easily win democratic elections in Empire… as anyone who dismantled old regime would.
Democracy may not always come up with the right answers, but it certainly comes up with the fairest. Therefore, if the people of a democratic country do happen to make a bad choice, they have no-one but themselves to blame. This freedom to make a mistake or two is so important, as opposed to being a slave to the power of your neighbor.
In theory, that’s fine, but as history has proven time and time again, fascist governments rarely “leave quietly and retire”. At least in a democracy, a reigme is accountable to its people and can be removed after it has served its term in power. Fascist governments tend to malinger on for many years, much like the Goldenbaum dynasty, passing on power within, to friends and blood-relatives, rather than to those worthy of the responsibility.
You’re putting too much faith in one man. Lohengramm was an excellent leader, but what if, one day, he were to suddenly decide that all people with black hair should be executed? In such a government, fascist dictators have to the power to impose such a rule. Your very life is subject to the whims of one man. The whole point of democracy is that it doesn’t merely represent only one man’s belief, but that of an entire country (calculated by fair consensus).
bro thanks for all the anime recommendations over the years. I just finished Legend of Galactic Heroes. It took me 2+ yrs to finish it off and on and restarting. But over the past months I’d watch an episode everyday before i’d leave for work in the morning. This anime is the epitome of storytelling and character development. This is why i watch anime, and this is why i’ve been reading ur blog since u started. Thanks again.
P.S. Kara no Kyokai is pretty incredible. I’m certain u’d like it.