One of the reasons Westeros is so ill equipped to handle major crises is that its government is not up to the task. Government on Westeros is tyrannical: the monarch sitting on the iron throne has absolute power over his subjects– at least on paper. The institutions that limited royal power in the Middle Ages do not exist or are very weak. There is no parliamentary – or any kind of assembly – to limit the monarch. There is no independent judicial system nor is the Church a real counterbalance to the crown. The only advisory body, the “Small Cuncil” is made of people chosen by the king.
Such absolute power makes the struggle for power more important and more deadly. Rivals to the throne seek to destroy each other completely; there is very little will to compromise. We all know the result of this: the common enemy faces a divided continent.
However, there exists a royally sanctioned group that elects its leader democratically. It is no accident that Jon Snow rose to become Lord Commander: he is well liked by his peers and has a clear vision for the organisation. When Snow is elected, there are even “parties”, Snow representing the “let’s unite against the common enemy” approach against the more conservative “let’s keep things as they are” party. Relations towards Wildlings and the Whitewalkers are the key election topics, with all the elements of a campaign – like the discussion of Snow’s personal love life and past relations with the Wildlings – present.
The Night Watch demonstrates how democratic elections produce better leaders than dynastic succession. Snow is a more capable, more visionary and more responsive leader than most past occupants of the Iron Throne. His predecessor, Lord Mormont was also a responsive and responsible leader, making the good of the realm his first priority.
No democracy is perfect and the Night Watch has its problems. The leader is elected for his life leaving little anyone can do should the leader ignore his constituents. Jon Snow was murdered because his opponents could not impeach or out vote him. Despite all these problems, democratic elections still produce a comparatively better system of governance – on Westeros as well as in the real worls.
In the last season, Tyrion wonders openly how “good governance” can be institutionalised; rather then simply having a good leader, he seeks a method to have permanent good leadership. Maybe he should look North, to the edge of the world.
Author: Dr. Csaba Tóth, Director of Strategy at Republikon Institute, a liberal Think Tank based in Budapest. He is also author of two books on Science Fiction and Politics.