Draconian Laws

on October 9, 2009 in Other Tales


“Our topic today is privilege,” Professor Lars Davison said at the beginning of the civics class. “Specifically, classical privilege, or formal privilege. As distinct from informal privilege, classical privilege is a legal concept. Who can tell me what ‘privilege’ means, literally?”

A few hands went up. Davison nodded at a young human woman in the third row.

“Private law?” she said.

“Yes,” he said. “Private law… a separate law for an individual or group, as opposed to the general law that governs all. The abolishment of privilege was seriously debated as a revolutionary goal. The debate didn’t last long. Most of the revolutionaries agreed on two basic points: that the empire they were fighting against had too many privileged groups, to its ultimate detriment… and that a society could not effectively be ordered with one law for everyone.”

“Did they ever think to try?” a kobold woman sitting in a modified desk at the end of the front row asked.

“Whether they thought to or not is immaterial, Miss Shiel,” Davison said. “They didn’t try, though, as they saw only one shot at forming the best society they could. Fewer privileged groups was the goal they settled upon. The aristocracy was all but abolished… land, wealth, and in many cases titles were kept intact, and many of the aristocrats found positions of power within the new imperial republic, but idea of the aristocracy as a separate class with separate rules was set aside.”

“That doesn’t seem like a substantial difference to me,” Shiel said.

“It wouldn’t have at the time, but then, the idea wouldn’t have gained the traction it needed if it had led to a violent reordering of society,” the professor said. “But today the majority of senators are from less-than-aristocratic families, and this is the culmination of a trend that began from the first Imperial Republican Senate. Who can name another group whose formal privilege was eliminated?”

“The clergy?” someone said.

“Yes, good, the clergy,” Davison said. “The Universal Temple had always been a power unto itself. With the Unnamable Emperor as pontifex of the Mother Temple, it had less power to interfere with politics, but it still operated under its own laws, complete with separate courts. In the new order, temples would be subject to the same laws as everyone else, though they were granted some protection under the Bill of Prohibitions. The philosophy was to inscribe a warding circle between temple and state. Anybody have any thoughts about why a group that had wielded so much influence traditionally would voluntarily give it up in the new society?”

“I don’t think they were giving up much of anything at all,” Shiel said. “Religion still has a lot of influence over how the government runs, but the government can’t return the favor. They’re still in a privileged position, ‘formal privilege’ or no.”

“Yeah, but they aren’t part of a larger hierarchy any more,” another student said. “I mean, clerics do wield influence, but it’s not like there’s a class of clerics that acts together.”

“That’s a good point,” Davison said. “And a revealing one. The power the temple wielded was concentrated at the top. With the temples placed under general law, individual clerics can exist as private citizens, with all the cachet and prestige of their position but not being wedded to any hierarchy. Again, the full ramifications of this were not immediately seen… but today’s charismatic celebrity preachers could not exist if the clergy were still essentially a branch of the government. So, that’s two privileged groups that had were placed under general law. What groups retained classical privilege?”

“Bards,” someone said.

“Yes, the Bardic College was allowed to remain as a self-governing group,” Davison said. “Who else?”

“Guilds,” another student said.

“Yes,” Davison said, nodding. “The support of wealthy merchants was sorely needed during the revolution and shortly after. The fact that commerce had been so disadvantaged on this side of the ocean under the rule of the Old Empire helped things there. You folks are missing the big one.”

“The emperor,” someone said.

“Yes, exactly,” Davison said. “Though at the same time: no, not exactly. Nowhere else was the ambivalence towards private law shown more strongly than in the Magisterian model of emperor. The person of the emperor actually embodies two offices: executor and imperator. In the first capacity, the emperor carries out the laws of the Republic. In the second capacity, he can override or countermand them… ‘at need’, as it says in the Great Charter.”

“Or she,” Shiel said.

“Actually, the Great Charter specifically calls for a male emperor to carry out the duties of executor and imperator,” Davison said. “There is no provision for an empress at all. According to the laws of the republic, the emperor’s wife is simply the Imperial Consort, and the section dealing with her duties is even shorter and more to the point than the one dealing with the Consuls.”

“I was under the impression the empress wielded the majority of the power in the Imperium,” Shiel said.

“The key word there would be wield. The power that Empress Vera III wields is invested in her husband. She rules in his stead, by his consent. It’s only because Vera I’s husband didn’t object when she started calling herself ‘Empress’ instead of ‘Consort’ back in the hundred eighties that the title exists.”

“But if the imperator‘s word is greater than the laws of the Republic, then that means that the office of Empress is as real as anything in the Great Charter,” Shiel said.

“That’s one theory,” Davison said. “Another is that the title is simply an affectation and we’ve had three emperors in a row who humored their wives to an unusual degree. I expect both theories will be put to the test within the next few years.”

“What happens then?” Shiel asked.

“Well… we Imperials hope that our emperor lives forever, but we wouldn’t really tolerate it if he did,” Davison said. “We fought a war to get away from things like immortal overlords, after all. Magisterion XIII was not a young man when he took power, and he’s reaching the limit of what conventional healing can do.”

“What about dragons?” someone asked. “Are they private law?”

“Dragons… they’re an interesting case,” Davison said. “I assume you’re talking about the intelligent kind, as non-intelligent dragons are simply classed as beasts… protected beasts, but beasts nonetheless. Intelligent dragons, though… they don’t fall under the definition of classical privilege, though they might be seen as the epitome of ‘private law’. A contract with a dragon, for instance, has no legal force… an individual who enters into one is trusting in the dragon’s honor and in its desire to continue doing business with humans. Some dragons, particularly those who conduct a lot of business, have standing agreements about submitting to arbitration when there is a disagreement over terms.

“These agreements often go through mercantile guilds rather than the court system… the guilds being older than the Imperial Republic, dragons tend to be more familiar with their ins and outs. The guilds also have longstanding guidelines about dealing with dragons, to make sure they’re not getting fleeced. Many great dragons, and all greater ones, radiate an aura of majesty that makes it impossible for mortals to deal with them on an equal footing, physical disparities aside. Typically, those who seek a deal with a dragon will interact with a humanoid proxy or familiar rather than meeting with the dragon in person. The dragon’s familiar, or pendragon, would typically have been a wizard or scholar in centuries gone by. These days, it’s as likely to be a lawyer or accountant. The fact that the pendragon would be under the dragon’s thrall would be an obstacle in ordinary contract law, but since a draconic contract is an entirely private agreement between the two parties it isn’t an issue.”

“I don’t understand why someone would enter into a contract under those circumstances,” a student said. “If there are no real legal remedies.”

“Well, this is getting a bit afield of the subject,” Davison said, “but it’s proven to be very rare for a dragon to renege on a written contract. Because there are no legal remedies, no one will deal with a dragon that’s a proven cheat. For one to go back on a deal, it would basically have to decide that the opportunity it sees right in front of it is more valuable than all the deals it could make in the future. Then there’s a general perception that it’s better… more convenient and more lucrative… to seem like a useful and beneficial neighbor to humanity than a villain or rogue.”

“I can’t believe that someone as powerful as a greater dragon would curry favor from humans like that,” Shiel said. “Aren’t most greater dragons older than humanity?”

“Yes, and more greater dragons have died since the creation of humanity than any time before that, discounting the primordial eras,” Davison said. “It’s fairly simple mathematics… they can be earning fees and salaries or fighting off armies and heroes. We use similar calculations in deciding how we deal with them. The dragons whose existence is officially tolerated aren’t harmless… it’s unlikely any dragon truly is. Rather, we judge that making enemies of them would bring more harm than living with them would… and that’s just talking about the damage an individual dragon could do, without getting into any of the environmental or planar concerns involved with exterminating them en masse, which really would be beyond the scope of this class. To bring it back to the topic of discussion: an individual dragon, doing business within the Imperium, might be seen as an example of a classically privileged individual, though dragons as a whole are more outside or beyond the law than ruled by a separate law.”

“I don’t know, that sounds pretty classically privileged to me,” Shiel said.


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5 Responses to “Draconian Laws”

  1. Erm says:

    The dragon’s familiar, or pendragon, would typically have been a wizard or scholar in centuries gone by. These days, it’s as likely to be a lawyer or accountant.

    So “Pendragon” from Pendragon and Associates is likely more than a name.

    Current score: 2
    • Anthony says:

      …and they have a special arrangement with an important client at the school.

      Current score: 4
  2. Nocker says:

    Huh. If Guilds and Merchants play by a different rulebook, that explains a LOT about how slavers get away with so much of what they do.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I don’t think that’s really why. Another chapter mentions that at some point slaves were classified completely as livestock – and no longer counted as people at all. People like Mercy can get away with what they do because slaves are not protected under the law to begin with.

      Current score: 0
  3. Lara says:

    This story is so good. I’m not looking forward to catching up to the latest stuff and having to wait for updates xD

    Current score: 0