A tale of men. Part II

by

Antigone

In hindsight it could be said that the court squandered the opportunity offered by the untimely death of King Oscar to look anew at the question of succession and leadership in the Kingdom. Some historians have said that it was a failure of imagination that the court did not even countenance the possibility of abolishing the position of King altogether and fashioning a new, more democratic and less authoritarian political structure; or at least one less open to the temptations of personal abuse and the misuse of power.

It is not really clear either — apart from mindless fealty, or fear — why Jason’s claim to the crown was uncontested or that his coronation was endorsed without exception by the entire court, at least publicly, and with no debate. After all, Oscar himself had been a commoner. There was no blood or dynastic reason why his brother, one of many founding members of the Kingdom, should have become King upon Oscar’s death.

This was all more so the case because the Kingdom had been established by young revolutionaries, like Oscar and Jason, who said they wanted to build a radically different species of Kingdoms on earth — in contradistinction to the ruling Empire of Brutopia and its leadership. These would not even be Kingdoms.

Such new societies, their philosophical mentors wrote, could at last bring into being “a new human personality, conscious, without a lord over him on earth, not fearing imaginary lords, born of fear, in the sky — a human personality which absorbs into itself all the best of what was created by the thought and creativity of past ages, which in solidarity with all others goes forward, creates new cultural values, constructs new personal and family attitudes, higher and nobler than those which were born on the basis of slavery”.

As to whether the course of future events would have been markedly different if either of these possibilities had been acted on — no King or a different King — who can really tell? For in politics — and history — the imponderables are endless.

Perhaps it was above all for this attribute Jason was entrusted with the crown: his predictable leadership style. And indeed Jason did rule for most of his 13 years – before his deposition – without either distinction or calamity. (Or at least, as we shall see, when a calamity did occur, one that had been long feared including under Oscar’s reign, he at least frantically attempted to meet it head on and ameliorate its destructive force by another favoured tactic of both brothers and one that is often militarily advisable: retreat.)

As much as it was to our ancestors, it is a mystery still the complex alchemy that goes into producing siblings with radically different and in the end crucial personal attributes and characteristics when their life experiences have been so closely intertwined.

Suffice it to say that Jason’s leadership capacities were in some important ways of a different order to Oscar’s. Jason was much more interested in the minutiae of regal administration and the safety of the known. He was less of a risk taker. He was more interested in recycling, preservation and conservation than dreaming of more glittering, grandiose structures. Matters such as refining the most effective method of the collection of tithes from the citizens, the consolidation of property and the purchase of modest businesses that could boost the Kingdom’s wealth, and the distribution of the propaganda organ Voice of the Kingdom far and wide throughout the Kingdom and beyond received his closest interest and attention.

He did share the intense interest of his brother in the composition of the court, the field officer corps and infantry leaders. And like Oscar, he was always on the lookout for ways in which he could expand his empire through alliances or raids (usually the former was no more than a cover for the latter) on rival Kingdoms. Still, in all essentials to do with the day-to-day operation of the Kingdom, the internal culture, habits of mind and modus operandi that had been set, as if in concrete, during Oscar’s reign, continued under Jason’s. The beast was essentially unchanged.

Yet Jason did not, as expected, and like Oscar, remain King until his death. Perhaps the most significant difference in the long run between the two brothers came down to this: while neither could be described as being skilled in the art of diplomacy, Oscar wielded the weapon of flattery within the court and Kingdom in a way that Jason did not or, perhaps constitutionally, simply could not.

It is remarkable the susceptibility to flattery even the fearless have within them; expert flatterers receive the most substantial advantages in return for very little of substance and this was a feature of Oscar’s personal and political relations. Flattery exploits human weaknesses — above all, vanity and hubris — and for this reason it is thought by some to be the original sin of politics, not tyranny, which feeds principally on fear.

“It is a feature of strongly held dogmas that they steadfastly resist not only unpalatable truths but even the faintest suggestion of the barest possibility of the most tangential reference to an unacceptable fact. Better that men should die and cities be overrun than that the sacred teaching should be found wanting.” Norman Dixon, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence.

To be continued …

Part I

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