tisdag 30 augusti 2022

Liberalism in Dark Fantasy Ages

I'm currently reading ”Liberalism in Dark Times” by Georgetown univerity scholar Joshua Cherniss. The book describes how a number of liberally inclined, twentieth century thinkers, including Albert Camus and Isaiah Berlin, tried to deal with anti-liberalism and totalitarism, mainly nazism and Soviet communism.

The main concern in the book is how to adress ruthlessness and cruelty without becoming so ruthless yourself that you loose your liberal essence and soul. That is: how do I fight, stop and if necessary kill bad guys while not staining my own hands, becoming as bad as they are. Liberalism should after all be based on law, individual rights, tolerance, acceptance of diversity and freedom of speech. These questions are very urgent also today, as democratic societies wrestle with an openly aggressive and repressive Russia as well as with internal, populistic lies and organized crime.

There are however no simple solutions, as there seldom are in non-totalitarian politics. Cherniss leans towards liberalism founded in ethos, that is a personal conviction of liberal norms, rather than having liberalism rest on ideology. The problem with the latter is that it often slips into expedience; ”the end justifying the means”. You've been brutalized, so you're justified to be brutal in turn. In Star Wars, you would turn to ”the dark side of the force”. Instead Cherniss wants you to retain your soul and resist the temptation to quick and dirty fixes. This is not simple, but perhaps the only way. I wrote a blog post (in Swedish) on a simliar subject: that extreme positions tend to get stuck and inflexible, while interesting development only takes place in the instable balance point between them. I compared this position to the equivalence point in chemical titration, where small changes yield major effects.

Liberalism in my fantasy writing

I'm currently working on two expansions to Free League's role-playing game Forbidden lands as well as writing a fantasy novel in the game setting that I had the pleaure of constructing. Cherniss' book has given me unexpected and useful input. In the game you meet ”The Rust Church”, a fascist religious organization. What I learned from the book is that many (not all) early Soviet communists and German nazis started out in good faith; that they solidly believed themselves working for a good cause. Being part of nonliberal movements, they however were told that their personal opinions and comforts would have to be sacrificed for the greater, common good. Indeed, the weak of stomach had to prove their loyalty by demonstrating cruelty and abscence of empathy – ”Squeamishness is the Crime” as is the title of the first chapter. Once this threshold had been overstepped, people could stand working in prison camps. I like giving my bad guys some kind of rationality rather than just being sadistic and ”bad”, so I'll probably use similar mechanisms for the Rust church. Add some historicism – the belief that your cause inevitably will prevail, and that anything implying the contrary is fake and heresy – and you're set for disaster. As Bolshevism had it: good can issue from evil.

For liberal champion, I will use the elf Mergolene from the game, advocating moderation, respect, coexistence and reasoning to fellow elves that feel justified in raiding and killing the orchs at The Eye of the Rose, a fortress once built by elves. Mergolene will probably be the protagonist of the second novel in my series. The more aggressive elves will advocate the temptations theatening fed-up liberals.

By reading and using books on history and political theory, I get the opportunity to discuss and adress current problems in our own world while writing about fantasy stuff in made-up lands.

Simply the best of two worlds!

6 kommentarer:

Matheus sa...


I am a political activist also a RPG players, wanted to say that i like pretty much Forbidden Lands and all your work on this game.

But let me tell you this, thinking liberalism as an ethos is at least naive. Those ethos that you put uppon liberalism has nothing to do with it. Liberalism is an political and economy ideology wich never had problems with dictatorship and other opressions. Even Hannah Arendt, liberal moral champion, said at times of social rights struggle that white people had the right to not want their children to study in same schools as black people. Also Liberalism was always more proximate with nazis than comunism, as you can see that pretty much KKK still exist in US, xenofobic tolerant politics in europe (and even our president Bolsonaro, haves a lot of liberals by his side) and many countrys wich it was convinient the dictatorship were supported by all those countrys who call them selves "liberals". My country was one of those. So, bring up liberalism as an "good ethos", is kind of untrue with history under equator line.

Waiting for new publishings to come to Brasil,


Erik Granström sa...

Thanks Matheus, and I'm not really pushing for the book nor its views, I'm just trying to summarize my impression of what it's trying to say, which also is what the author does concerning the people he relates to. I'm seldom looking for answers in these types of texts, I'm looking for new perspectives to ponder and if possible to use in my own work. (For instance, I also like reading Hannah Arendt and Nietzsche without necessarily agreeing with all things they say).

Nice that you like Forbidden lands! I'm excited to soon see The Bloodmarches in print and then start on the next expansion.

Anonym sa...

another book to mine for treasure!

Nomned sa...

Hey Erik!

Arvid here (Joel's bud from the writing course at Glimåkra). Back when they where plentiful I didn't have the means to buy the Trakorian world-book, and now that I do have the means it seems like they're all sold out. Do you know of any way to procure it?

Sorry for using your blog for such an egocentric question, but I couldn't think of another unintrusive way to ask.

P.S. Just started studying again, in Library- and Information Science. I'm recommending your work to my classmates since I think it has not only entertainment value, but also an educational value.

Anonym sa...

Hej Erik!
Lever mer eller mindre med rollspel, varje vecka har vi spelmöte tack och lov, däremellan lyssnar jag på VSR.

Nu har min stora grupp börjat med Svavelvinter, spelledaren skriver krönikor efter varje avsnitt vilket är tacksamt.
Har aldrig kört det innan men ju lyssnat på VSR samt läst romanen, som var otroligt episk. Jag har kallat den ett svensk Game of Thrones för oinsatta.

Med min mindre sidogrupp har jag börjat spelleda Svärdets sång. Har du några roliga/intressanta tankar/tips hur man gestaltar världen? Världen har väl nyss öppnats, innan har de flesta levt isolerade va?

Hursomhelst är det superkul spel och känns lovande, både för att det är så fritt, men också för att det är en sådan episk lore.

Tack för allt,

Trakoriska förolämpningar,

Erik Granström sa...

Hej Charles!

Kul att du gillar Svavelvinter och hoppas att du uppskattar även de andra tre delarna i bokserien om du läst den första.

Vad gäller Svärdets sång, så är ju upplägget sådant att äventyrarna knappt vet något om landet och historien när spelet börjar eftersom världen varit stängd, så det naturliga är att börja med lämplig backstory där de befunnit sig hittills eller hamnat av olika omständigheter. Sedan är det tänkt att sägnerna tillför bitar av historien efterhand. Om du sedan kikat på fortsättningen i Aslene så visar sig inte ens de gamla myterna verkar stämma när nya bitar faller på plats. Jag har i viss mån försökt efterlikna vår egen världs historia, där ingen* talar om hur det ÄR, utan historien ständigt omtolkas i enlighet med det som är för handen. Jag ville helt enkelt inte ha något säkert svar på frågor som huruvida gudarna existerar eller hur magi egentligen fungerar.

Så sätt igång och ta spelet dit det bär!

med trakorisk avmättnad enär edra smädelser ju voro av pinsamt infantil lödighet) ;-)

* dvs ALLA talar ju liksom i vår egen värld om hur det egentligen är, det är bara det att det inte stämmer …