Has anyone else been watching Arslan Senki with a particular ancient empire in mind? Personally, I think the Roman Empire is a good model, mostly because of their reliance on slave labor. I’m enjoying the series immensely, but since this is a show about wartime politics, it needs to keep that part straight.
The first point that I want to discuss directly relates to the Roman model. It’s about Arslan’s decision to abolish slavery. For centuries the Roman Empire profited extensively off the backs of slaves, but later on as Christianity crashed the party and the Romans went on a losing streak against outside invaders, this over-reliance on slaves started showing its doubled-edged nature. Earlier in the series, Arslan found himself under pressure from the harbingers of Parsian culture, protesting against his plans to abolish slavery. When the slaves themselves protested, Arslan wisely backtracked. I am not sure how he’s going to wrap this issue up once he takes the throne, but I think how he accepted the realities of Parsian society illustrates why Arslan is good leadership material. That much is probably obvious, but I want to bring a little bit of political theory into the discussion.
Lately I’ve been indulging myself in Azuma Hiroki’s rereading of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s magnum opus, The Social Contract. Probably all of us became familiar with this French thinker in high school, so I’m not going to bother introducing him, but I would like to stop by his political theory on social contracts. I think Wikipedia does justice to his work, so I’m going to quote the relevant part, just to get us started.
Rousseau posits that the political aspects of a society should be divided into two parts. First, there must be a sovereign consisting of the whole population, women included, that represents the general will and is the legislative power within the state. The second division is that of the government, being distinct from the sovereign. This division is necessary because the sovereign cannot deal with particular matters like applications of the law. Doing so would undermine its generality, and therefore damage its legitimacy. Thus, government must remain a separate institution from the sovereign body. When the government exceeds the boundaries set in place by the people, it is the mission of the people to abolish such government, and begin anew.
The quoted argument prepared the French Revolution. But I should explain further: Rousseau argued for a free society, but he didn’t necessarily advocate democracy. From what we can gather, he would have actually disliked parts of modern democratic societies, such as public deliberations, public consensus, and representative rule, because these processes don’t interpret, but rather reshape the state of the general will that comes forth naturally from the populace.
Let’s turn back to Arslan. The story has been giving us signs that the young prince does not necessarily have the birthright to be king. He is most likely not Andragoras’ son. Not only that, even Andragoras’ legitimacy is questioned due to him allegedly usurping the throne from his brother Osroes. So we have this kind of ruler to work with. Arslan is most likely not the rightful king, but what gives him legitimacy is precisely the ideas stemming from Rousseau’s political theory.
Which brings me to my second point: how can an unrightful ruler be allowed to sit on the throne? I’m not an expert on political theory, but it makes sense to me that the populace desires a ruler that listens to them. Arslan has already experienced what happens when you go against the cultural current, in particular his initial stance on slavery. But the sacking of Ecbatana cannot be ignored. It is fact that slaves are also part of Pars’ populace. Consequently, their political views are part of Parsian general will. Rousseau argued that in order for laws to be laid down, the so called Lawgiver would need to be a superhuman singularity able to interpret the general will. Such an entity would have to be either a selfless and insightful genius or god himself. Unfortunately, in the past this point has been understood as justification for totalitarianism. It is indeed a flaw, a consequence of the idealistic nature of Rousseau’s theory.
As I take it, an absolute ruler surrounded with intelligent advisors is probably close to Rousseau’s ideal. Arslan’s upbringing has spurred a quality in him that allows him to sense the underlying currents of the whole of Parsian society. Whether the people will want to live under an unrightful ruler, Rousseau’s final condition for the emergence of the Lawgiver, remains to be seen. Though, it seems Arslan has his advisors convinced.