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Mormont Shrugged; or, Lessons from the Game of Thrones

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Readers of this blog may remember previous posts about George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones. Over the past few years, libertarians have enjoyed writing about the series’ political and economic themes, and Carmen Dorobăţ and I have recently collected our writing into a forthcoming book chapter, available for free here.

Part of the series’ appeal is that, like many great fantasy works, it has a lot to say about real-world problems, especially when it comes to the evils of power and government. But although Martin’s books dramatize some challenging political ideas, it’s often the simplest ones that are the most powerful.

What the series captures best is the idea that while playing the game of thrones is complex and treacherous, the needs of society are deceptively simple. The truth is that peace, cooperation, and the freedom to prosper are vital conditions for human flourishing. At the same time, politics and the game of thrones have little in common with the liberal ideal of human progress. This point is made eloquently through a conversation between the aspiring queen Daenerys Targaryen and her companion, the world-weary knight Ser Jorah Mormont. Daenerys believes the common people of the Seven Kingdoms are praying for a great and enlightened ruler to free them through force of arms.

Mormont’s reply is telling:

The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends,” Ser Jorah told her. “It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace.” He gave a shrug. “They never are.”

Matt McCaffrey, former Mises Research Fellow, is assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester.

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