Friday, July 15, 2011

Constitution

I have a lot to say on this subject, and not all of it has anything at all to do with D&D; but having opened the door, I feel I should walk through as far as I wish to go.  Get comfortable.  I will be writing for awhile.

To begin, this is the first 'technology' (for we will remember that these are all listed at technologies in the Civ IV game) that is unquestionably past the framework of D&D.  Here is the dividing line between the Middle Age and the Modern Age.  The Constitution was written in the late 18th century, one hundred and fifty years after the end of the Renaissance.  It was written at the dividing point between the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.  For some who have been reading these posts from the beginning, here is the moment when the question gets answered, "What happens when I hit technologies that wouldn't exist yet?"

Well, we keep going.  But I feel I must be Devil's Advocate for just a moment, and wonder how it is that D&D is related to any historical time period.  For some who play the game, the insistence upon this campaign being 'medieval' or that one being 'Roman' must rankle greatly.  Tolkein did not designate his writings with Earth's history in mind.  There is no technological continuity for Conan.  Narnia does not bow to an historical era, nor does Oz, nor Lankhmar.  Why should there not be a constitution written for a land in any of these states, or any fantasy world of the same cloth, where citizens live together in a condition of freedom and unity?  Obviously, there is no reason.  I could incorporate an America into my campaign as easily as I could incorporate the underworld Wonderland of Alice.  So when I say the Constitution is "past" D&D, I don't mean it is outside the range of D&D.  I mean that for most people who sit down to conceive of a D&D world, they think in terms of kings and the doctrines of kings, and not in presidents and the doctrines of representatives.  It is simply how it is.  Search the long-standing blogs of the D&D world and find out how often the Constitution is mentioned in context with the writer's D&D world.  Very little I should say.

Now what are my views upon the Constitution, and indeed upon the whole experiment of the United States.  I am a Canadian.  I view the document with much respect.  I recognize the brilliance of the men who moved forward upon the ideals recorded in the document, and upon their resolve in forcing their position successfully upon the rest of the world.  But I do not revere the document.  It is not a holy article in my religion.  I view it as a 223 year old technology, with in some measure the same flaws as a 223-year-old rifle or a 223-year-old pair of spectacles.  Brilliant in its time; a beacon for the ensuing period that followed; but today a crumbling bastion that has failed to be improved upon to the measure necessary to maintain a vibrant, healthy nature.  In particular, I point to the deep, impenetrable fall in the document that could not mend the rift between the political division of the southern states against the unified federalism of the northern.  To achieve consensus against the British, to win the Revolutionary War, compromises were made that would eventually lead to the dissension of the south and the Civil War over the issue of States' Rights and the perceived regional right of self-governance.  The argument that all men were created equal was then subverted in order to compel by conquest the decision of free men to separate themselves from the northern Union, choosing to make the will and dictation of the state of greater importance than the will and dictation of the ordinary individual to live in the state of his or her choosing.  The crime was committed and it cannot be undone.  If you will argue that a man is free, you cannot then draw a gun and compel him to remain in your house.

I am a Canadian, and at the time the Civil War was being fought, between 1861 and 1865, this country was in negotiation with its Mother England to obtain self-government in a manner different than through Revolution.  In 1865, at the end of the Civil War, Canada looked at the American Experiment and made this observation upon the 600,000 corpses it created: "Well," said Canada, "That didn't work."

The average reader will probably not be aware that this country of Canada obtained measured self-government in 1867, a mere two years following the American Civil War.  The name of the country upon July 1, 1867 was The Confederation of Canada.  Note the similarity in name to the Confederate States of America.  Upon reflection, and upon viewing the battles waged by both sides of the question, it was decided in this country that individual regions would be in control of their own affairs, joined together by a Parliament that would manage those affairs which could not be managed regionally.  This didn't last - through the 20th century Canada was moved into a similar federalist position as our neighbors to the south ... but this is another story.

The decision of the northern 13 Colonies to adopt a federalist policy was a logical one.  They were proposing something that had never been done:  the deposition of the English King from authority over the United States, without instituting a King in his place.  Oliver Cromwell of the previous century had failed in the attempt, finding himself compelled to declare himself king under a different title.  Prior to America, no political entity of any sort of size had ever recreated itself as a kingless entity.

I am going to take a moment and pause, and mention that the real genius of the Constitution was not the declaration of freedom for all.  This had been done before in various documents which were upheld in various parts of the world.  I recognize that it is this feature that is most sold to the American people as the raison d'etre of the Constitution, but I assure you this is not the crux of the technology.  The crux was the effective replacement of the monarchy by a document proposing a society founded upon very different philosophical principles, those being outlined in the Preamble.  This new society would not be based upon restraining the King's rights, the direction Europe had been moving towards for the previous century.  The abolition of the king altogether would require a different perception of the state altogether.  It would not be a state that had as its policy the betterment of any single group of men, king, nobles, aristocrats, or those of class or breeding.  It would be a state that would relegate portions of its energy towards the satisfaction of matters of specific importance: the welfare of its citizens; the defense of its citizens; the preservation of its citizens from tyranny that might arise from any quarter - and bearing in mind through this the permissive nature a state would require in order to assure that these things, and the freedom of citizens within, would not collapse or become the instrument by which future tyrants might seize control.

The Constitution is not a set of laws.  It is a philosophical proposal, reasoned out stage by stage in each part to ensure these goals would be met.  It is for this reason that it has tended to be romanticized and, as I say, revered.  If I were a person with any religious bent, I should argue that the Constitution is as worthy of reverence as any other philosophy of the east or west ... but alas, I am not a religionist.  I am a scientist, and my perception is that a philosophy carries its worth only as long as the belief holds back the wolves.  America is thick with tyrants, and they are not restrained by the Constitution, which was not modified to resist the compulsory force of later technologies (or innovations if you like), such as the Corporation or Industrialism.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves.  The conversation must be dragged back to Dungeons and Dragons, or in the very least to role-playing games, and with this in mind I should like to ask why it is that the 18th century receives such a very bad rap.

The 19th century has the representation of Steampunk and the Old West, the 20th century of Gangsters and war tales, the present age of superheroes, spy adventures and cyberpunk; the near future has paranoia and other games of 1984-like conception, and the far-flung future has its wide array of space adventures.

The 17th century and earlier makes D&D and various fantasy games that steal technology from the periods that come up to that time.  But the 18th century is the bastard child of RPG history.  What gives?

The Constitution and the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the rise of Liberalism and the demise of the monarchy, the discoveries of science, the brutal colonization and equally brutal rebellions of Africa, India and America, the exploration of deep forests, jungles, deserts and mountain vastnesses, primitive peoples, imaginative peoples, great empires crumbling, great empires expanding, the machine of the world changing from water to steam, the weapons from saber to rifle, the unification of nations like Germany and Italy, the world itself emerging as a single entity for the first time in history ... what in the world more could be asked for by any player in terms of adventure?  But somehow what is there is stolen down by D&D or stolen up by Steampunk.  Either the game obeys the will of gods or the game recognizes no gods at all.

It is an anachronism that the founders of the Constitution continued to believe in a god who could in all good conscience endorse their venture - to believe this, a rather considerable cognitive dissonnance was necessary.  It was well understood that the kings of England, France, Austria, Russia and so on ruled with the Divine Right of God ... the approval of kings by popes and their national representatives assured this, for as the archbishop placed the crown upon the king's head, it was understood that God's representative performed this duty to indicate to all and sundry that God Himself has approved of this message: this man, or this woman, rules by a divine will that has ensured this man or this woman's place upon this throne, upon this material Earth.

Where, one must ask, is God's representative at the conference in Philadelphia in 1776, or the signing of the Constitution in 1788?  Where is the man in the Archbishop's robe at the signing of the Declaration of Independence?  He is nowhere to be seen.  He has no place in the collection of delegates from the states because God is not represented.  The people are in this place and with this document represented.

And yet the authors were victims of their own pasts, of the delusion that incorporated the existence of God in their minds.  And though in getting rid of the king, they conveniently rid themselves of the archbishop, they could not make the last great leap altogether that rid the state itself of the deity.  In effect, they absolved the contradiction of opposing God's representative upon the throne of England by rewriting God into an impotent form that could yet be invoked when wished for, and yet be ignored when convenient.  In God the American State may trust, but the trust is that God will not call upon the door for afternoon tea unless first invited.

If you will propose a Constitutional amendment to your world, you must first begin with the condition that Gods shall no longer have a say upon your world, for the people of your Constitutional state will have no daily use for him.  The gods in your D&D world can remain conveniently in other planes of existence, but gods are tyrants too, and if you will outlaw tyrants with the dictates of your philosophy than your world cannot tolerate the existence of gods.

But if you will perceive a rag-tag group of rebels opposing an empire of the D&D RPG, then you may perhaps consider that the power of the gods themselves must be broken - and that it is a nation that wish to hold the welfare of its people sacred who will set about the work of doing so.  It is, after all, the work of the Modern Age to destroy the will and power of gods.  Whether you will acknowledge those who will use the word of God to advance their own power upon this Earth, or those who will outright laugh at the proposal of God's existence, the bloom is off the rose.  None of us now here on Earth truly fear gods as they were once feared hundreds of years ago.  We may or may not believe in a god.  But we do not give real thought or effort towards avoiding the wrath of a god.  We are immune.  We are in control of this world ourselves.

We have the document that says this is so.

I would be remiss if I did not complete the point that in your D&D world, your players have reason to fear gods.  They actually exist.  But it is very likely that the kings of your world do not rule by Divine Right.  It is not a conception that RPG'ers have adopted with widespread abandon.  As I have said before, we are too much the residents of the modern world to believe fervently in kings being in authority upon the will of gods, and we do not manifestly design our worlds with that in mind.  We see gods as have been taught to see them by our forefathers; as quaint little entities that bring us comfort when we want them, like comfort on tap, and not as entities to be accorded all that much authority.  Kings have been usurped through the ages, and your players would not see any more Divine aspect in the deposing of a King than they would the deposing of a hawk from its nest.

The Age we live in was birthed by the deposing of kings.

11 comments:

tsojcanth said...

Great post Alexis. Banking AND Constitution in one day, yay! :)

By the way, I have a question: how do you differentiate between constitutions and codes of laws, especially about early republics such as San Marino and Iceland (the former with a "proper" statute)?

I'm soo looking forward to Steam Power and Railway! :)

bombasticus said...

And here I was expecting a discussion of whether 3d6 characteristic CON is our universal human inheritance or a vagary of divine dispensation!

We know hit points derive from the gods, but what about those other rattling dice that separate frail illusionist from robust barbarian prince?

Zzarchov said...

A question on the feasibility of a constitution as described here. To me it seems one of the key requirements in a despot-free state is the ability to depose said despot. Kings could be replaced not just because of the concept of a constitution but because of the reality of an executioner's axe or a hangman's noose to empower it. Cromwell had to come before Washington.

If one were to depose a god, what tool would one need to enable a constitution as described above?

I can think of stories where some "lost god" is trapped in some manner, but usually it is either caused by or aided by another god.

Alexis said...

That does more or less define the problem, Zzarchov.

My proposed tool for the removal of a god would be the disbelief in that god. My world functions on the criteria that a god's power depends wholly upon the emotional gestalt of the whole population's acceptance of that god. A constitutional resistance against a god could be the removal of the god from the social consciousness, and therefore the removal of the god itself.

But then, I am metaphysical this way. I recognize that D&D is not generally understood to depict gods in this manner.

maja said...

Dear Sir,

in response to your assertion that "Prior to America, no political entity of any sort of size had ever recreated itself as a kingless entity" might I draw your attention to the "Eighty Years War" and the Dutch Republic, ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Republic

... Which might be of interest to you. It was of interest to those who founded the USA as an example of how to legitimize getting rid of a King.

Sully said...

I love this article, but I keep ramming my head into the same problem. In our world, belief is dependent on faith. If your are one of the lucky few who have actually witnessed a miracle, you were hallucinating. In most D&D worlds, actual proof of a god's existence manifests in myriad ways, the most common being clerical magic.

I don't know how clerics function in your game, but it would seem to me a prerequisite of a people being able to say to the gods "we don't believe in you", would be an advancement in medicine to the point where they really don't need the healing powers of clerics any longer. It seems to me that the required technology level would undoubtedly surpass even our own, modern level of medicine. Would people choose freedom over access to miraculous healing, even if the majority of them couldn't afford said healing?

Alexis said...

And people say I cannot tolerate disagreement.

You are correct in large degree, maja, with a few notable exceptions.

Large portions of the U.P.N. continued to be under the sovereignty of nobles and bishops following the independence, some of whom were hereditary.

The whole country was not unified as a single political entity, but as a much looser confederation than later examples, which was one of the factors leading to its eventual demise in trade with the British, and then later the military conquest by France.

The founding of the republic occurred by default following the refusal of any nobility to step up to being king.

The 80-year revolution was successful due to the decline of Spain and the unique characteristic of the Dutch countryside.

When I said "any sort of size" I was referring to a much larger size than Holland (or the Swiss Confederation that proceeded it). I could have been more clear about that.

America has lasted, while the original Dutch Republic has not.

I honestly should have made some reference to the Dutch example, and you are quite right that I am remiss there, maja. Rethinking it, I probably wouldn't have made the declarative statement you've called me out on. I could have added a qualifier, "A federalist state without a king" or some such. I acknowledge my error in not doing so.

Alexis said...

I couldn't honestly say, Sully, but it seems to me that a gaming conundrum for players could be built out of that question.

Eric said...

Historically, monotheistic faiths have come to prominence over polytheistic ones. One might argue that this is due to thematic clarity, or other reasons, but it's a pretty clear historical trend. However, in a world where gods do actually act, based on the power of their followers, the incentives are different. If your tribe are the only worshippers of YHWH, your clerics will get weaker when your are defeated in war and taken into bondage. However, if you worship a syncretic pantheon of gods, aspects of whom are also revered by your neighbors, the effect will be less pronounced.

Bob said...

Check out Colonial Gothic for some rpg action in the period: http://www.rogue-games.net/Games/Colonial-Gothic/

Adam Thornton said...

I would so play Philosophes and Periwigs.

Adam