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Long Stewardship

Hilary of Serendip

©2004, Hilary Powers

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T.I. #86, Spring ’88. I still and most heartily recommend Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince to anyone serving as or with Society royalty.... With that and Aesop’s Fables, you can’t go wrong!


My cousins, like the scholars of old, we can look to the beasts of the forest for insight into our own social order. Think for a moment upon the interdependence of preda­tors and prey—they need each other to survive as species, even though the survival of individuals depends on one foiling the desires of another. It’s not too poetic to sum up the situation by saying a wolf has a right to catch and eat a deer, and a deer has an equal right to avoid getting eaten by a wolf. Neither is wrong or evil; their interests are simply opposed within a greater whole.
     In the SCA, I see a similar form of innocent opposi­tion. Our rulers—and, by extension, their seneschals and other servants—have a right to command the people around them. HOWEVER, the people around them, who are free citizens of a real democracy who have chosen to play at being subjects of a monarchy, have an equal right to go their own way if they don’t like the commands they get.
     How then do we avoid chaos?
     Unlike wolves and deer, we humans can grasp the concept that we are all, rulers and ruled alike, part of one organic system. Our main defense against chaos is the fact that we want the system to work. To preserve our society, those who find themselves required to give commands need to be cautious and sensitive, lest they push people into rebellion. Equally, those whose current role is to accept commands need to be generous, and to consider the effect on the shared illusion when they refuse an unpalatable request.
     SCA rulers get a great deal done when they rouse the interest and support of their people, and not much otherwise. A wise leader—whether a monarch or a local seneschal—allows a consensus to develop on the matter at hand, then tells the people involved to do whatever is necessary to execute it. In a democratic club, if there are fifteen members and eight of them want to do something, the other seven are expected to grit their teeth and go along with it. In the SCA, all fifteen get told what to do, and each of them personally decides whether to invoke the right to refuse. The one in charge is supposed to adjust the chosen course until there is no significant opposition to it—and the rest of the group is supposed to help find this common ground. (Like the King in The Little Prince who could command the sun to set, our leaders have to watch their timing carefully. And like the fox in the same story, our members have to be willing to be somewhat tame for each other.)
     It is not easy to maintain consensus. The SCA is growing rapidly, and new members arrive with expecta­tions about how a group “ought” to work. Sometimes there are so many newcomers at one place that they obscure the consensus that existed before they arrived. Sometimes the oldtimers don’t understand the consensus process well enough to help newcomers become part of it. Sometimes the consensus breaks disastrously, with or without outside influence, and it can take a very long time to rebuild.
     These pressures provide a constant temptation to return to the principles of club management we all learned in grade school. Nonetheless, although a ruler who forgets that the people can vote with their feet can get into very bitter trouble indeed, one who resorts to elections and Robert’s Rules of Order does the SCA a still greater disservice. When we discard our system of “absolute monarchy by consent of the governed” in favor of a sort of costumed Rotary Club, we abandon our natural ecology and exchange our mutual rights for rules—and what could be more mundane than that?

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The West Kingdom History Website was created by and is maintained by Hirsch von Henford (mka Ken Mayer).