Emperor Palpatine’s Political Rise: Star Wars: Episode III

Before reading this essay, you can read the previous one: The Political Rise of Chancellor Palpatine.

Auctoritas, non veritas facit legem [Authority, not truth creates the law]

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Chapter 24

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker heroically rescue Chancellor Palpatine from Count Dooku’s pre-ordained “grip”; Dooku is beheaded by Anakin who defeats him in battle. The Jedi do not question this murder, since Dooku is the enemy, one of the most dangerous people in the galaxy, a Sith, in other words, he is too dangerous too be kept alive. In this instance we can see that the Jedi code which forbids murder of a prisoner is not valid when the all-out war is at stake, and on the other side is the sworn enemy of considerable power. Soon afterwards we find out from the Jedi Master Mace Windu that the Senate has voted to give more power to the Chancellor. This course of events troubles the Jedi, since they suspect that something larger than previously anticipated is happening, and that the Republic is in grave danger. When compared to the first two films of the prequel trilogy, which dealt with invasions, assembling of troops and starting of a war, the first part of Revenge of the Sith is more similar to the depiction of court intrigues.

Palpatine suggests to the Jedi Council that Anakin should be sitting on it; the Jedi accept his wish, but don’t grant Anakin the rank of the Master, the highest rank in the Jedi Order. This angers Anakin, and distrust is sown. Further confusion in Anakin’s mind occurs when Obi-Wan asks of him, in the name of the Council, to report on Palpatine’s doings. Since Anakin sees Palpatine as a second mentor and a friend, he is troubled by this course of events. Palpatine anticipated this move by the Council and asks Anakin if they asked him to do something he felt uncomfortable about – to spy on him. Thus, distrust is even greater as Palpatine convinces Anakin that the Jedi are the same as the Sith in their quest for power, methods the Sith employ are just different. In this essay, I will not write about the psychological aspect of Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, but the political aspect of this situation.

Palpatine - Anakin

While in the first two episodes the political aspect is clear, in this one, it is more clouded, yet it exists. Carl Schmitt, in his Concept of the Political wrote: “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy”. Schmitt writes that in morality, the main antithesis is between good and evil. The Jedi consider the Sith evil, but as we will later see, it is the friend-enemy distinction which created the conflict, it is presupposed to moralizations which are, arguably, dependent upon the “point of view”. Even if it were not so, the Jedi are for the Sith mortal enemies, and vice versa, the lack of objection to Dooku’s murder proves this. Politically speaking, the Sith advocate tyranny, the rule by one with unlimited power, while the Jedi opt for democracy, and are in fact peacekeepers. These two concepts of the political are mutually excluded, the rule is either by one (the Emperor) or the many (embodied in the Senate) and since both cannot exist at the same time, the only logical course of action is the annihilation of one side by the other.

Palpatine was named dictator (but not a sovereign ruler), as I have previously argued, and was supposed to resign from this duty when the war was at an end. Obi-Wan destroys the leader of the Separatists, General Griveous, and it seems that the Clone Wars are ending. If Palpatine does not resign from office when the war finishes, Mace Windu argues, he will be needed to be removed from it by force and the Jedi should take power in the transitory period, until the new government is established. Yoda says it’s a dangerous line of thought, but it is the only logical one. Palpatine reveals himself to Anakin as a Sith Lord, and as he tells that to Mace Windu, he attempts to assassinate Palpatine. It’s treason then, Palpatine says, and from the legal point of view, it is. Palpatine is the one in office, and the Jedi are rebelling against the state. Palpatine says I am the Senate, in a proclamation which can remind of Louis XIV’s: L’État, c’est moi. Since the Senate was a sovereign power in the Republic, Palpatine identifies himself with the state, as well.

I Am the senate

Various proponents of the school of natural law, for example John Locke argued that resistance is permitted if tyranny is in place. Hobbes argues that resistance is not permitted, unless lives of the citizens are put in danger by the sovereign power, and the state loses its raison d’etre. The viewer is of course aware that the tyranny is in place, and Windu says that Palpatine is too dangerous to be kept alive because he controls both the Senate and the courts. Thus, his power is already absolute, since he controls both the legislative and judicial power, but his enemies, the Jedi, still stand. As we all know, not for long. In Anakin’s state of total confusion, putting his care for Padme’s life aside, it does seem that the Jedi are trying to take over the Republic, assassinate the legitimate ruler and rule in his stead. Anakin’s understanding of state affairs has not proven to match the level of his abilities with the lightsaber throughout the trilogy, and in his eyes, this does seem to be treason. His trust in the Jedi has been shaken by Palpatine’s intrigues, and once again, the latter’s skill with deception, the arcana techniques I mentioned in the previous essay, are shown once again.

Anakin severs Mace Windu’s arm off, Palpatine murders him. Anakin becomes Darth Vader. Murders the younglings. This sinister course of action well-known. While it can be presumed that Anakin joined Darth Sidious for emotional reasons and care for Padme, the political reasons being put aside, it is obvious that he blindly accepts the reasoning which lies behind tyranny – the lust for unlimited power. Palpatine, now disfigured after the confrontation with Windu, says to the Senate: In order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society. The ominous Order 66 is put in motion and, practically all the Jedi are annihilated. In his Political Theology, Schmitt argued that sovereignty is based on deciding on exception, and he puts a main emphasis on the element of decision, referring to Hobbes’ words I quoted at the beginning of the essay, since all situations cannot be subsumed under the general rule. In the light of Palpatine’s lies and deception, his acquirement of sovereign power and the order to murder all the Jedi in the galaxy, Thomas Hobbes’ words sound ominous.

execute-order-66

For Hobbes, as it was mentioned, the security of the citizens of was the most important thing, but in the eyes of the subjects of the Empire, the Jedi are rebels and traitors who tried to assassinate the person in legitimate power. They are justly about to be hunted down and destroyed, for the sake of security and peace. For the same reason, Vader travels to Mustafar system and murders the representatives of the Trade Federation, now the leaders of the Separatist movement. Sidious ordered them to hide there, so they can be slaughtered by Vader, and Palpatine can be now seen, in the eyes of his subjects, as a bringer of peace – merciless but just. As Anakin, now Vader, meets with Padme at the Mustafar system, Obi-Wan comes from the ship at a moment which defined their fate.

When their battle commences, Anakin says to Obi-Wan that if he is not with him, he is his enemy. Thus, the political distinction is made, between friend and foe, and Anakin’s allegiance is with Palpatine who proclaimed the Jedi enemies of the state. Another interesting moment occurs when Anakin replies to Obi-Wan that in his “point of view” the Jedi are evil, in response to Obi-Wan’s claim that Palpatine is evil. This is a stalemate and this argument cannot be won in moral terms, they do not cloud the main distinction present. They are mortal enemies and will fight until the the other side is annihilated. Palpatine’s deception is ultimate, since he managed to take over the galaxy, its most talented warrior, and turn him against his friend and mentor. Politically speaking, the Empire is formed, the Jedi are outlawed, and are all but annihilated. Although we are aware of Episode VI’s ending, in this film, tyranny and evil prevail over the good and the just. Mortal enemies of the Sith have practically vanished and: We shall have peace…

References: 

Carl Schmitt, Political Theology, The MIT Press, Cambridge, 1985

Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2007

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