Just finished volume 3 of Game of Thrones, my favorite fantasy novel from college that just became an impressive HBO adaptation. One scene struck a chord with me that highlights a central theme of the book.
“May I leave you with a bit of a riddle, Lord Tyrion?” He did not wait for an answer. “In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me—who lives and who dies?”
“The king, the priest, the rich man—who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It’s a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword.” “And yet he is no one,” Varys said. “He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel.” “That piece of steel is the power of life and death.” “Just so . . . yet if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, why do we pretend our kings hold the power?The question it really is asking has been posed by political philosophers for centuries: What is the source of power?
Calvert (1992) and Gibbons and Rutten have nice mathematical models to illustrate the answers of folks like Hobbes and Hume. Fun to think about these questions again.
The other thing that struck me about the books was that they remind me of Diplomacy and other war strategy boardgames from childhood. Diplomacy mostly because it was the most pure and you could be so confident in the marshalling of your strength and yet be totally unaware that a hidden alliance could in 1 turn totally wipe you out by capturing your homeland.