Petyr Baelish, once thought to be the smartest and most cunning character in Game of Thrones, owes much of his reputation to a monologue he delivered in the third season of the series. In a discussion with Varys, he argues that “Chaos is a Ladder”; that destroying established structures – including myths and sources of legitimacy – can lead to an increase in one’s fortunes. At that point, Littlefinger seems to outmanoeuvre his eunuch frenemy, who is left defending the old order.
As noted in a previous post, Littlefinger is a proto-capitalist: an entrepreneur of humble origins who, through his wits and financial dealings, manages to accumulate substantial money and power. Seen from this angle, he could is clearly one of the more liberal characters in Westeros.
Littlefinger, however, only adheres to liberal principles when it comes to free market and capitalist values – not so much when rule of law is concerned. His “every man for himself” approach might be appealing to some, but it also includes assassination, betrayal of those he supposedly cares for and a blatant disregard of all alliances.
In the end, Littlefinger falls victim to his own schemes. He Is instrumental in undermining central authority and creating chaos. For a while, this serves him well: he becomes effective ruler of House Arryn and almost gains control of the North. Yet he does not understand that destroying the very institutions that gave him power in the first place– his alliance with the Lannisters and the protection of a central government – left him at the mercy of those he had previously betrayed. When Sansa decided to sentence him to death, there was nobody to protect him.
There is a lesson for liberals in Littlefinger’s schemes: it is not enough to love freedom and self-determination – certain rules and institutions are necessary to protect individual liberty against those with more power. Littlefinger was executed by a monarch without a trial, a jury or proper evidence. This would not have happened to him had he stayed in King’s Landing as member of the Small Council. Meanwhile, Varys is still in a position of power, proving that sometimes, Chaos is a Pit – and Order can serve someone just as well.
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.