(Essay two of three on Legend of the Galactic Heroes. As they will cover the entirety of the series, there will be spoilers.)
In the grand scope of its politics and conflicts, Legend of the Galactic Heroes definitely seems to favor one school of international relations theory for explaining how the universe works. Realism, one of the two broad categories of international relations thought emphasizes power, capabilities, and self-interest above interdependence, international institutions, and ideology. In both the real world and LoGH, one school of thought will not answer all questions or be applicable to all situations, but most people tend to side with one as a basis for interpreting and predicting events. Legend of the Galactic Heroes surely seems to side with realism, but also elevates it and its preference for using reason and self-interest to something noble and honorable. Throughout the series this way of thinking is shown as both wise and almost chivalrous.
Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Clauswitz, three prominent contributors to realist theory.
LoGH and Realism’s Basic Assumptions
First, let’s look at the basic tenets of realism and how they are displayed in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. On the first point, that states are the primary unit of action and thus of analysis, LoGH acknowledges the existence of some smaller political actors such as the Terraism Church and Rubinsky’s small faction, but almost always concentrates on states. And in the LoGH universe, this is a fairly simple situation to take in as there are only ever at most four states in existence (the Reich, the Free Planets Alliance, the Dominion of Phezzan, and El Facil, though the latter two come under the control of the former two at certain points in the story.) This arrangement also lends itself to another realist concept, that of relative gains. Since the Reich and the FPA have been at war since the creation of the FPA and the universe doesn’t have any noticeable frontier areas for expansion, a gain in power by one state means a decrease in power for the other. The second main point, that the international order exists in a state of anarchy with no governing body or institutions, is an easy one to see met. Unlike the present day, there seem to be no international organizations or equivalent to the United Nations in the universe of LoGH. The states are all there is, and they have no framework which controls their pursuit of security through power.
The third realist principle I would argue also is strongly exhibited in LoGH, despite (and actually because of) the devotion of Yang Wenli and Julian Minci to democracy and Reinhard von Lohengramm’s personal ambitions and values. Power and the security it provides are primary motivating factors for these characters, necessary to achieve their personal and domestic goals. Here it is important to divide the domestic and international spheres. Realism, and especially later subschools such as structural realism and neorealism, do acknowledge the domestic and psychological factors of states and their leaders even as they emphasize logic and power internationally. On the domestic front a state can pursue whichever sort of government and politics it wishes, but realism argues that these do not have a place in the power politics of international relations. Grounded in the Westphalian concept of sovereignty, realism would advise leaders to pursue whatever form of politics domestically that they wish, but to ensure the space for those politics to exist by ensuring the security of the state internationally via power and balancing.
Two cases illustrate how realist theory is used to facilitate much more personal or ideological goals. Reinhard’s vow to seize the universe is a very personal and grand goal that he sets for himself. But despite his hatred for the corrupt members of the nobility and his personal concepts of what is worthy in a ruler and a leader, he goes about seizing power within the Reich and engaging the Free Planets Alliance in a mostly sober and calculating way, aided oftentimes by his own personal Machiavelli, Paul von Oberstein. Early in his career he plays different court and fleet factions off against each other, seeking alliances for his own self-interest but not depending upon them. During the Lippstadt War he also remains non-ideological when he accepts former nobles into his faction if they have not committed the offenses he seeks to bring justice to. And when he invades and occupies the Free Planets Alliance, he bases his the stability of his new territory on a mix of military forces and public persuasion where he is shown to be more responsive and just than the democracy he deposed. Power, balancing when necessary and using force when the time comes, was the means by which he was able to achieve his personal goals. In the last months of his life, he was only made somewhat amenable to the idea of parliamentary democracy by Julian’s insistence that it would be more functional for ensuring the stability of the Reich.
Yang and Julian each fought, planned, and engaged in diplomacy for the cause of democracy. But again they used realist means to create an environment for their domestic politics. They didn’t fight to spread democracy, and when Julian did offer it as a system of government to Reinhard it was done as a way to perpetuate the security of his preferred domestic system of government. Yang and Julian were both concerned about the amount of hard power they held and how to use it to secure the Free Planets Alliance. This took on particular importance after the invasion of Heinessen and the loss of a state to back them. How to best use their fleet and resources while in exile was constantly on their minds. And when Julian secured a future for a new Free Planets Alliance, he committed to continue on as a soldier, knowing that military strength would be the only thing that could maintain a secure environment for democracy to continue. The way that Julian secured a new FPA was surely of a more unusual way than most international relations theory looks at things, but in its heroics and appeal to Reinhard’s psychology I feel that it did have a realist tone to it. What Reinhard needed in order to acknowledge Julian’s ideals was a show of strength and ability. His personal psychology and values could not tolerate those who would lead a state but not risk their own lives and show their own ability in doing so. By demonstrating bravery and strength Julian and the forces of democracy earned his respect and thus a new treaty reestablishing the FPA. Reinhard was not swayed by ideas or rhetoric or norms, but by power and ability in defense of them.
The Nobility of Reason and the Terror of Ideology
Beyond just looking at the interplanetary wars and politics in its universe, LoGH also elevates the sort of rational, dispassionate thinking that realism in particular (though not always alone in IR theory) recommends to a kind of nobility. The characters that are shown as the most honorable and admirable think in terms of achieving power to facilitate their goals and don’t base their (foreign policy) actions on ideology. Likely drawing from the gentlemanly style that the series lifts from 17th to 19th century European warfare, many of the characters and those of the Reich in particular exhibit a refinement that lends itself to this way of thinking. With so much inspiration from an age where reason was the important characteristic for a leader or noble to have, it seems like it is the only way for the characters to act responsibly. The period in history that LoGH takes so much inspiration from may not have always been so reasonable, but prior to the French Revolution and the nationalist movements of the late 19th century it was a time where ideology was rarely a motivating factor in international relations. Combined with religion no longer being a matter of diplomacy and war following the Treaty of Westphalia, one could say that it was a golden age of realism in Europe. Reason and unreason exist side by side in human history, but being motivated by reason holds so much appeal because it makes the world a little more understandable and thus safe. Today’s world is a lot messier with religion and ethnicity based nationalism inspiring less than rational conflict, and LoGH seems to disdain such forces when they do appear.
The Church of Terra is probably the most maligned antagonist for the main characters in LoGH, and it is also an enemy to both of the powers. They’re shown as willing to go to any length, shed any amount of their own blood, and generally depicted as crazed. And on a visual level, they’re even ugly. The Terraists often have scowls and crazed, vicious eyes on their contorted faces. And that is precisely why they are so terrifying and so hated in LoGH: because they are unreasonable. They don’t fear death, they don’t consider power relations or self-interest beyond bringing about the restoration of their regime. They’re wild and outside the bounds of reason and logic that the other characters exist within. And even within their own organization LoGH undermines the spirit of ideologically motivated political actors. Despite all their devotion and holiness, the one who has usurped power barely follows or shows any respect to them. Di Villier openly scorns the stupidity of his followers and calculates and plots like some of the FPA and Reich characters would. It’s not even certain if he believes any of the Terraist teachings, just that he wants to restore Earth to a place of prominence and have power for himself. While LoGH doesn’t tackle ethnic nationalism, presumably grown past in the FPA and eugenically destroyed in the Reich, when it does address religion it is very negative towards it. Reason and logic can be cruel, but at least you have a chance against it. That unwillingness to compromise and see reason is at the heart of why LoGH condemns the illogical.
Conclusion and Observations on Historical Outlook
Conclusion and Observations on Historical Outlook
Looking at the whole of the series, the time period that LoGH draws inspiration from and the author’s preferences put forth the realist school of international relations theory as both the most useful and the most noble. It focuses on states, shows no international order above the state level, and has them act in rational ways to gain power to secure their domestic/leader’s personal values and politics. Using reason in this way is shown as natural and civilized, while the ideological and religious basis of the Church of Terra is shown as the most conducive to anarchy, terror, and human suffering. LoGH does not leave out the suffering caused by its wars of realism; a particular scene of an Imperial soldier crawling through a burning ship with his intestines hanging out, calling for his mother comes to mind. But it is much more sinister when it is done for unreasonable motives, lacking both logic and in LoGH’s view, honor. On a final note, and one that ends the series, realism tends to take a more pessimistic view of human nature and views conflicts and power politics as unchanging. Humans will always struggle to expand their state’s power and balance others to guarantee stability and security. Starting from the writings of Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War and continuing for centuries, realism would agree with the famous line from Legend of the Galactic Heroes that “in every time, in every place, the deeds of men remain the same.”