The Spectacle Blog

Game of Thrones: Arbitrary Justice

By on 5.16.14 | 5:41PM

In the feudal system prevalent in Game of Thrones, there are the commoners and noble houses. Ruling lords are surrounded by counselors and can create decrees. The entire realm is subordinate to the Iron Throne. The throne is the symbol of the rule of man—a seat that is above the law by the divine right of kings. We saw Joffrey exercise this right by ordering Ned Stark killed without reason.

In a system where “rule of man” trumps “rule of law,” justice is arbitrary.

We see this today in the United States with the overextended executive branch siphoning power away from the legislative branch. Executive orders bypass the established political process in the name of advancing one man’s idea of the common good. How is that different from the decision that Joffrey made to behead Ned Stark?

In democracies and republics today, rule of law constrains the behavior of lawmakers and citizens alike. Everyone is held equal under the law. The resulting justice is objective and impartial. “Where there is no law, there is no freedom,” said John Locke.

When justice has no meaning—in the sense of R.R. Martin’s feudalism or the “social justice” imposed by the burgeoning welfare system today—the rules of the game become infinitely more complicated and subjective. This calls on a whole class of people—lawyers and intelligentsia—to make sense of law.

Justice in the liberal sense—social justice—means “fairness”—a word that has become trite in its overuse by the Left. What is wage fairness? Who deserves a handout? Life is not fair, and it does not owe you anything. R.R. Martin’s characters understand that, and if they don’t they learn quickly...I’m talking about you Sansa.

Any scene with Arya and The Hound makes this point clearly. To The Hound, survival is justice; to Arya, justice is the act of avenging the names of wrongdoers she lists before falling asleep every night.

Hizdahr zo Loraq, a noble of Meereen, seeks justice for his father, a noble who voted against the hanging of children, yet was punished nonetheless. “Is it justice to answer one crime with another?” Hizdahr asks Daenerys. She hesitates but knows that showing weakness is not befitting of a queen. Now that she has entrenched herself in one city’s government and politics, she will have to address the question of justice. And yet, the Queen of Meereen, the breaker of chains, and the mother of dragons is now failing at living up to all of these titles. Her dragons roam outside of her control terrorizing the peasants, and the cities she has freed have fallen back into oppression or chaos.

She should have taken Jorah Mormont’s and Ser Barristan’s counsel to heart and moved onwards across the narrow sea when she could. It seems that her idea of success in Meereen is to have the Meereenese love and respect her. If that is her goal, she will be there till the end of time.

Tyrion’s trial played out in episode six this past weekend. After a humiliating set of testimonies and false witnesses, Tyrion spoke: “I know I will not get any justice here. I demand trial by combat.” At least Tyrion understands that justice at the hand of the Iron Throne is arbitrary.

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