The Radical Politics of My Little Pony

4581671789_216x200When you tell someone you’re an anarcho-monarchist, people usually look at you like you’re totally nuts (or being deliberately defiant).  And indeed this frustration is understandable.  What two political systems could be more opposed than anarchism, the lack of government, and monarchism, in which the government is one man.  The two seem mutually exclusive, but in reality these two spheres of thought have a long history together.  When people ask me how I think such a system would run I tell them they should go watch a few episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and this is usually greeted with amusement or disbelief.

Again, not an unwarranted reaction.  What can a children’s show designed for six-year-old girls teach us about statesmanship?  Incredulity aside, no other show on television – with the possible exception of CBS’s Person of Interest – represents as radical or subversive politics as My Little Pony does.  How?  Well, first some definitions:

anarchist_pony_by_kattedyret-d4ymlluMuch of the backlash against both anarchy and monarchy stems from fundamental misunderstandings of what these words actually mean.  They confuse anarchy with chaos, and monarchy with dictatorship.  Now, keeping in mind that one anarchist in not like another (and similarly for monarchists), it is important to understand what these terms mean when anarcho-monarchists use them.  Though indeed for the revolutionary anarchist, anarchy may be social chaos or lack of government, the anarcho-monarchist sees not government per se as the problem, but the State:  the State as an entity with rights and powers over its citizens.  The anarcho-monarchist has no problem with authority and order, both natural and desirable, but with coercion, collectivism, and the group-think which characterizes the State.  Possibly the most famous and oft-cited text relating to anarcho-monarchism as a concrete idea comes from a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher:

tolkien-43435384463My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning the abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate real of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind) [. . .] Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offense to write it with a capital G or so to refer to people.

Tolkien was, of course, the creator of another fictional universe filled with alternative history and fantastical creatures, similar to My Little Pony.  Much has been written already on the politics of Tolkien’s work, so I think we shall not delve into that here.  So we see that anarchy does not mean chaos, nor monarchy absolute control.  Now that we’ve cleared that up, on to the ponies . . .

Map_of_Equestria_April_2013My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is set in a land called Equestria, so-called because it is the abode of a well-organized society of ponies – unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies.  Most of the show is concerned with the goings on in a town, rather unfortunately named if you ask me, Ponyville, but today we’re focussing on the background, on the history and politics of Equestria which lurks just under the surface of the actual plot (similar to the way in which the history of the fall and curse of the Elves is the backdrop for the goings on in The Lord of the Rings).

My-Little-Pony-Friendship-Is-Magic-Season-2-Episode-11-Hearth-s-Warming-EveFor a children’s show we are given quite a lot of back-story with regard to Equestria.  In the episode “Hearth’s Warming Eve” it is explained how many thousands of years before the show’s canon proper, the three tribes of ponies lived constantly at odds with, yet still interdependant on, each other.  The pegasi controlled the weather, earth ponies grew food, and the unicorns raised the sun and the moon.  The three tribes were forced out of necessity to rely on each other’s talents.  Each tribe is governed by what we might call the State, or the Man.  The pegasi are a military dictatorship (I’m lookin’ at you Hitler), the earth ponies are a democracy, and the unicorns seem to be some kind of malevolent monarchy or perhaps an aristocracy.  All three leaders are portrayed as some combination of inept, belligerent, or out of touch (sounds familiar, don’t it?).

StatismThe three most common forms of Statism are portrayed as either ineffectual or downright malignant.  All three are eager to waste their tribes’ time and resources to fuel their own petty feuds (the perfect picture of politicians).  After a natural disaster, the ponies are forced to migrate, but the antipathy their leaders share for one another begins to destroy the new land as well.  And then, unbeknownst to the three leaders, their secretaries form a bond and become friends.  Now, the way things work in My Little Pony, once any character sees the error in his ways, he immediately repents.  If only real life were so simple.  The example of the three secretaries opens the eyes of the leaders and the tribes unify into a new land called collectively “Equestria”.

census-at-bethlehem-1566Notice how the solution comes from the underclass, not from above.  The mistake of all Statists, even the ones who claim the people are sovereign (if that aint the biggest load o’ pony-pucky I don’t know what is), is that order must be imposed from the top down.  This ideology comes from an animalistic anthropology, which views humans basically as animals who need to be corralled, or in the case of a democracy, given the illusion of power and self-government.  A truly Catholic anthropology views human nature as oriented toward the Divine, and thus left to their natural state humans will tend toward order spontaneously.  Thus legitimate authority bubbles up from the bottom, it is not pushed down from the top.  A good monarch simply maintains and safeguards this order, with, as the Church has put it in recent years, a “preferential option for the poor”.

The_Tree_of_Harmony_S4E02The secret of the secretaries’ success lies in their discovery of harmony.  Harmony is the main theme of My Little Pony.  In Equestria, harmony is not just a state of being, it is an ordering principle in the universe emanating from we know not yet where.  In this way it is similar to what George Lucas called the Force, what Tolkien called the Secret Fire, or what Catholics might call the sensus fidelium. Harmony is maintained in Equestria by the Elements of Harmony, a set of six stones being the incarnation of six principles which cultivate harmony.  Chief among them is magic (and of course, as the title says, friendship is magic).  It is unclear from the backstory we are given how Equestria was governed in its early days, but we do know that at some point the social order was overthrown by a draconian usurper who dubbed himself Discord, played wonderfully by Star Trek‘s John de Lancie.

Celestia_and_Luna_unamused_S4E2Discord, obviously, is the opposite of Harmony.  It creates strife and chaos where Harmony creates, well, harmony.  At some point in the midst of all this chaos emerged two alicorn* sisters, strong in magic, who wielded the Elements of Harmony to defeat Discord and restore Harmony to Equestria.  At this point Equestria became a diarchy, ruled jointly by the two sisters, Celestia and Luna.  Their rule lasts thousands of years, continuing into the present day of the show.

feudal-manor-2Since we have never seen anything like a senate in the show, we can assume that Equestria is run much like the monarchies of old.  In our antinomian society it is in vogue to consider monarchy to be simply a more benevolent form of dictatorship, and thus it is dismissed on that basis.  This could not be further from the truth.  In fact, the privatized, Stateless society envisioned by anarchists and libertarians has never been closer to realization than under the feudalistic monarchies of the early Middle Ages.

Canterlot_S1E26As pointed out before, the anarcho-monarchist believes order arises spontaneously and freely from daily human interaction.  Chaos is in no one’s personal best interest.  As countless Popes have pointed out, the most basic unit of society is neither the individual (as in the modern liberal State) nor the collective (as in the Socialist Utopias), but the family.  Thus the King rules only as an extension, an extrapolation, of the nuclear family, serving as a kind of father of all to his subjects.  His authority is exercised not by cruel mandate, but by the natural order of human events.  Indeed, the very origin of the European monarchy was that of the patriarchal family.  A man, a landowner, had absolute control over his little fiefdom of land.  As his land grew and became more prosperous, it became necessary for him to hire workers and overseers to make sure the job was done, the origin of the peasantry and the aristocracy respectively.  If any external threats arose against his land and workers, he might employ a group of men to defend it, the origin of the military.  And this is basically what anarcho-monarchism looks like.  Coercion is not necessary because the King is more or less a landlord, to whom his subjects pay homage and taxes in exchange for their protection and shelter.

 

images (3)And this is more or less what we see in My Little Pony.  Equestria seems to be a matriarchal society, with females fulfilling most of the important societal roles, so it is fitting that Equestria is ruled by princesses rather than kings.  The ponies of Equestria live in various towns and settlement, each more or less autonomous and self-governing, not requiring much intervention from Canterlot, the capital, where Celestia and Luna reside.  As German political philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe has pointed out, it is in the best interest of the monarch to treat his subjects as well as possible, with as little intervention as possible.  If his subjects are happy and all is well, the value of his country, of which he is the owner, increases, leaving more for him to pass onto his heir.  In Equestria, where the princesses seem to be naturally immortal, it is to their advantage to allow the ponies as much freedom as possible in order to increase their own personal wealth and power (not that I’m suggesting Celestia and Luna’s motives would be so base).  There is no need for imposed order, coercion, violence, and Statism, because the ponies left to themselves will by and large regulate each other, creating a happier and more peaceful – not to mention wealthier – populace.

Princess-Cadance-and-Twilight-Sparkle-princess-cadence-37075402-1280-720Celestia and Luna are almost universally adored by the citizens of Equestria.  The two princesses are figureheads for the people, Celestia the strong governor and warrior, Celestia a mentor full of wisdom.  It is implied int he show that Celestia is a dream walker, able to invade the ponies’ dreams and endow them with knowledge they would not otherwise possess.  In the third and fourth seasons we see the diarchy updated to a tetrarchy, with the additions of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza (Cadence), and the show’s heroin, Princess Twilight Sparkle.  Both of the new princesses are the monarchs of their own respective sub-princedoms within the larger realm of Equestria.  The way this seems to work is much like the raising of a diocese to the level of patriarchate.  If a realm is of great importance to Equestria, and an heir appears to rule it, a new princess is erected.  In the last episode of season four, the town of Ponyville, where Twilight resides, is elevated to this status.

The_four_Equestrian_princesses_S03E13If real monarchies functioned this way, it would prevent the Kingdom from becoming too large (like Rome or the British Empire).  Small is beautiful.  Local is universal.  This sort of logic is totally foreign to the modern liberal State, which glorifies ever increasing bigness.  The principles of anarcho-monarchism also fly directly in the face of the State’s obsession with efficiency and bureaucracy.  Returning to Tolkien:

But, of course, the fatal weakness of all that after all only the fatal weakness of all good natural things in a bad, corrupt, unnatural world is that it works and has only worked when all the world is messing along in the same good old inefficient human way [. . .] There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit! But it won’t do any good, if it is not universal.

I would love to know what the Professor would think about our subject today.  My hope is he would be amused.  I also hope the writers of My Little Pony don’t blow it in the fifth season by showing a senate or some other idiotic democratic process.  Long live Celestia!

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3 Responses to The Radical Politics of My Little Pony

  1. Gabriel says:

    I … I just … wow. It’s so perfect.

  2. Salmanman says:

    This is a pretty great analiysis. However, I feel like there are some things left in the air, don’t you think? For example, what about Manehattan? as opposed to the most places, Manehattan is a heavily urbanized place, can this principle still apply? Because, for me it seems that these ideologies work better in smaller populations, no?

    Also, what do you all think about the presence of local-level government? I mean, there is Mayor Mare, for example; wasn’t she elected democratically? Besides, the presence of democracy doesn’t neccesarilly imply heavy statism, so I don’t see that much of a change in the inclusion of a parliament or council, or something like that… or maybe yes, now that I think it through? I’m not really sure.

    Also, isnt the Crystal Empire a separate political entity? Maybe not, considering the context in which was recovered, and the big presence of Celestia and Luna on it, but maybe they just have very good dipiomatical relations. And I don’t think that the fact that Twilight received
    this new castle means she gets to role in some form over some part of Equestria, at least not yet.

    I’ve been some time inquiring about these aspects of the universe of My Little Pony, and I found your interpretations quite good. I like shows and stories that have a big focus on the universe; something uncommon, especially among cartoons, that are usally very character driven. However, I find somewhat important for the writers to address this elements, at least lightly, given that a lot of the plot goes around how they interact within their society and enviroment.

    In the end, isn’t Equestria maybe some kind of… how is it called? Minarchy? You know, like a very light form of statism.

    I’m also guessing about the economy, any comments on that?

  3. Anarcho-monarchism definitely works best on a small scale. That’s kind of the point, that governments and communities remain small, never getting too big, impersonal, and oppressive. In a society like Manehattan, it is difficult to say whether the principles of anarchy and monarchy would apply, since we do not know how history would have played out had the Old World Order never been abolished. There may or may not have been urbanization and industrialism. Who knows. The closest things we have to a truly anarchist society in the modern world is the Mondragon Corporations in the Basque region.

    As for local governments, democracy may be theoretically possible on a small scale like in Ponyville. In a town where everyone knows everyone, voters can keep track of each other and influence each other, leading to a more accurate political consensus. Even the Shire has an elected mayor. Also, Mayor Mare’s power seems mostly ceremonial, giving speeches and welcoming the Princesses. It is unclear whether she has any actual power.

    From what I understand the Crystal Empire seems to be some kind of re-incorporated territory of Equestria. It is independent of Equestria in many ways, but Princess Cadence is the protégé and subservient of Princess Celestia. Again, the show does not give us that many details on the political specifics. There is much we have to infer.

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