“Why is the preferred weapon of the Galactic Empire the sword?” John C. Wright tackles that question in the sixth part of his essay collection Transhuman and Subhuman.
Following the premise that a man’s attitude toward war and death reveals his outlook on life, Wright examines a selection of great science fiction books for the answer to why authors attempting to imagine the future so often employ archaic conventions.
Wright posits five basic views on war.
- The hopeful place faith in supernatural justice. Though not blind to the horrors of war, their belief allows them to face death with chivalry and joyful abandon.
- The noble don’t rely on supernatural faith; nor do they ignore the brutality of war. But they strive for worldly justice and laud self-sacrifice for a worthy cause.
- The ruthless put stock in neither divine nor human justice. They are consequentialists who believe that war is inevitable and should be fought with no quarter asked or given. This ruthlessness serves paradoxically utopian aims founded on the belief that it will usher in the perfection of human nature and eliminate all conflict.
- Idealists are the polar opposites of the ruthless, though they share their antipodes’ utopian vision. Idealism exalts human nature to the extreme of presuming that all conflicts are based on misunderstandings and that violence is never justified.
- The despairing embrace a nihilism that scorns utopianism, nobility, and hope alike. They value nothing but their own pleasure but will gladly let others, whom they deride as fools, fight and die for them.
…the easiest way for an author to summon up images of grandeur, either godlike or Oriental or barbaric, or images of chivalry, is to hearken to the past; and a sense of things both half-familiar and hauntingly romantic is most easily achieved by such archaisms.