S. M. Stirling and the Denial of Human Rights

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Relatively recently, I decided to do something that could be considered tantamount to self-harm: I took a nostalgic revisit to TV Tropes, of all websites. It was honestly amazing, like a perfect time capsule of first-term Obama culture. Obviously, I got lost in it, despite the will to cringe. It was during this revisit that I learned of The Draka (or The Domination, as Wikipedia calls it), a series of novels by S. M. Stirling. Seeing the description of the books' plot made me realize that these sorts of themes are right up my alley, so I decided to talk about them for a bit.

So, what's the gist of the series? The basic outline is that, unlike in our world, the Dutch became involved with the American Revolution. The negative impact of fighting a war against the British inevitably led to the Dutch being forced to amputate one of their limbs. In this case, they were forced to give the Britsh their Cape Colony, at a much earlier period than the analogous historical event. This colony is then renamed Drakia (after Francis Drake), and exists for much of history as an autonomous member of the British Empire.

Here's where it gets interesting. You know how a large amount of alternate history fiction can be boiled down to "what if the other guys won that war?" Common ones include, "what if the Axis won WWII?" or, "what if the Confederates won the American Civil War?" or, "what if the French Revolution failed?" You'll notice that there's a common trend here, which is that none of these alternate scenarios are value neutral. They can all essentially be boiled down to some form of "what if the bad guys won that war?" What Stirling set out to do with this series was to create as close to a culmination of all of these types of scenarios as possible.

Drakia essentially exists as a safety net for historical villains. Every time a major war is fought, the surviving losers move to Drakia. Obviously, tons of Loyalists left the now-liberated Thirteen Colonies to head over there, and it should come as no surprise that Bourbon royalists also moved there. You've also got white Haitians, and later on we get Confederate soldiers. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out, they're incredibly racist. As in, slavery has reverted from white-on-black slavery to the classical criterion of "any foreigner is fair game." Additionally, they train their children to be warriors from an incredibly early age, à la Ancient Sparta. Speaking of Sparta, the Draka love ancient shit. Of course they love Ancient Greece and Rome, as you would expect, but what was a bit more surprising was their obsession with Mughal India.

As history progresses, the Draka lurk in the background, slowly accruing territory. However, history isn't altered too much. There are some differences, such as the fact that Gran Colombia never broke up. That said, by the time the main plot of the books kicks in, the world looks mostly similar to our world, with the notable exception that the Draka own the entirety of Africa, the Middle East, and a large chunk of Central Asia. It's at this point that Stirling's version of WWII kicks in, though it's called the Eurasian War this time around. The first book opens with the Draka fighting Nazi forces in Georgia (the country, not the US state).

Given my description so far, you probably won't be too shocked by the fact that the Nazis, of all people, end up being the lesser evil in the conflict. However, here's what might surprise people who aren't familiar with the series: the Draka are the protagonists of the series. Yes, Stirling had the balls to create a force so evil that they make Nazi Germany look tame, and then cast them as the lead. Unfortunately for Stirling, this creative decision has gotten him in hot water over the years. Despite the fact that there's no way a typical American can read the books without seeing the Draka as negative, Stirling has been repeatedly accused of sympathizing with the Draka, and merely writing them off as villain protagonists to save face. This has gotten to the point where The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, to this day, still claims that Stirling longs for a worldwide Draka takeover. It doesn't help that the historical progession in the series is, to be blunt, completely unrealistic, endlessly biased in favor of the Draka succeeding. Stirling, of course, denies these claims, but given that the accusations against him imply that he's lying, he has yet to convince his detractors.

Now, I haven't really bothered to do that much digging into Stirling's real-life politics, but based on what I've seen, I don't think that he's lying. Though, this doesn't exonerate him from having any sort of imperialist worldview. When I say that I beleive that he isn't lying, what I mean is that he isn't intentionally saying something untrue. Importantly, this is different from the possibility that he is lying to himself. So, how do we determine what's what with respect to Stirling's worldview? We'll just have to work it out for ourselves...

My ultimate conclusion from mulling over the themes of the series is that Stirling is, contrary to the accusations, not exceptionally anti-liberal. In fact, the series would not make any sort of sense if that weren't the case, because its entire ontology is based on American liberalism.

Take a look at the political evolution of the Draka world. It begins with a focus on what would become South Africa in our world. For context, the first book in the series was written right around the time that Apartheid was being abolished, which probably inspired Stirling. Over the course of the timeline, the Draka conquer all of Africa, the Middle East, and much of Central Asia. Because the Soviet Union has to contend with both Nazi Germany and the Draka, the Soviets cannot effectively fight off the Germans. This leads to Germany annexing what is essentially the entirety of the Soviets' European territory. The Draka quickly overtake much of Eurasia, and the remaining countries unite into an alliance against the Draka.

The division of countries is very telling. The Alliance is primarily American-led, with the entire western hemisphere under its influence. Also included are the British Isles, India, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Japan. It is very blatantly a Neo-British Empire. On the contrary, look at the Draka. They originated from the Cape Colony, whose South African successor had become the embarrassment of the civilized world. They eventually consume Sub-Saharan Africa, the Muslim world, much of the Cold War's so-called "Second World," and Nazi-occupied Europe. There is no obvious analogous force in our own history. However, what is common among these regions is that they are all stereotypical non-liberal societies. It is cliché at this point to compare Nazism and Stalinism, and it is additionally cliché to extend the analogy to Islamic movements. What is notable, however, is that the Draka originated from the Cape Colony, and essentially function as a "super-South Africa." Of course, Apartheid is now near-universally accepted as having been evil, but what is often swept under the rug is that they were a typical liberal state. The only thing truly exceptional about Apartheid-era South Africa is that they felt like holding on to racial segregation for a bit longer than others. Meanwhile, Apartheid is now understood as "a violation of human rights," implying that it was a failure, and not a product, of liberalism.

This article is currently unfinished.