19

From S05E02 and A Storm of Swords:

In this episode, a new Lord Commander of The Night's Watch is appointed after the death of Jeor Mormont. But to my surprise, the appointment takes place not from the direct orders of the King (Tommen or Stannis, your pick) but through a truly democratic process. Yes, elections, where anybody can stand for the post & only the members of the Night's Watch gets to vote.

So, the question, why is the Night's Watch the only democracy in an otherwise feudal Westeros? Army is the last place you would expect to find a true democracy.

Is it just a happenstance because

Stannis Baratheon has claimed the Wall

or is the practice followed through the ages?

  • 2
    I have only one reproach to this question: The brothers of the nightwatch take no wives and father no son (in theory) how can a monarchy be established then ? Would they drag Jorah Mormont out of exile to take his father's chair in a wall he knows almost nothing about ? I also want to add that the wall is not the only exception, the Iron Islands have king moots which is practically an election with debates and all the package. So, I'd say your question is pretty invalid imo – yondaime008 Apr 16 '15 at 8:06
  • 1
    @yondaime008 true, I forgot about the Iron islanders. And the Dothraki choose their leader by strength/combat and also not bloodline, though they are not in Westeros. – Thomas Apr 16 '15 at 8:10
  • 3
    @KharoBangdo But that would break the number one rule about the Nightswatch, the fact that it should be impartial towards the 7 kingdoms, the risk that the wall becomes just another pawn in the king's hand is too great to have him just name him. Always remember that the nightswatch loyalty is not towards the king like in the Kingsguard, but towards the 7 kingdoms. – yondaime008 Apr 16 '15 at 8:16
  • 7
    FYI the election of a Lord Commander is called a Choosing. And there are other elections in Westeros (the Grand Maester, the High Septon) but most of those aren't truly democratic (only a select few get to vote). The Night's watch existed long before the Targaryens united Westeros. To label it "the Army" is utterly incorrect. – BCdotWEB Apr 16 '15 at 8:22
  • 1
    The Wall is an object and can't have a democracy. Is there any reason you changed the title from Night's Watch (correct) back to The Wall (incorrect)? – TheLethalCarrot Mar 5 '18 at 16:31
20

I would say because unlike the rest of monarchist Westeros the Night Watch was, by necessity of its whole concept, a meritocracy. The Watch is a monastic order where men threw away their past lives in order to better serve the realm. All titles, claims and familial ties are abandoned upon joining. This means that (at least ideally) all the members of the Watch are equal. Also, the Watch is supposed to be above the political machinations of the realm it serves. This means it has to be politicially independent, thus no king can pick a Lord Commander.

Not surprisingly, the other group that holds a similar democratic process (although far more corrupt) is the Faith of the Seven when it elects a new High Septon.

  • Although, the logic seems to be somewhat acceptable, the practice is not followed even in real world Democracies. The appointment of a new Army commander is through the Prime Minister/President. The people in the Army dont hold elections. Is there any specific source which mentions "no king can pick a Lord Commander" point. – KharoBangdo Apr 16 '15 at 6:11
  • Don't have the book on me, but I imagine A Storm of Swords-Chapter 75 might shed some light. – Firebat Apr 16 '15 at 9:46
  • 4
    @KharoBangdo - That analogy isn't quite accurate. An army is a tool of a political entity (president, parliament, country ... etc) while the Watch is a tool for all humanity. Also, you have to remember that Westeros having only one king is a recent phenomenon. Barely three hundred years old. Compare that to the Night Watch which is (supposedly) 8000 years old. In a land that was truly seven kingdoms, the Night Watch couldn't afford to have a king lord it over them. After all, which king? This resentment continues to the modern day, with the Brothers chaffing at Stannis' manipulation. – System Down Apr 16 '15 at 14:24
  • 1
    Many military orders in the real world (like the Kinghts Templar or the Teutonic Order) had some principles that are commonly displayed in the Night's Watch. Although most did distinguish between those of noble birth and commoners, they often did elect their leaders themselves who were then rather first among equals than absolute rulers of their order. – Adwaenyth Oct 18 '17 at 14:42
  • The watch is based on Crusader knights, from the type and quality of men to how they theoretically live? Not positive about this – Garret Gang Oct 19 '17 at 17:18
10

The traditions and customs of the Night Watch were developed "in-house" and are not based on any existing political governments.

It's important to note that the Night's Watch is NOT "the Army" - they are a completely independent organization that has NO political affliliation with any of the Seven Kingdoms. In fact, if we're sticking to military terminology, they are far more closer to an independent mercenary company than a structured army. The Night's Watch was created to represent all of mankind, not simply the kingdoms of Westeros. As a result, one of the major mandates of the Watch is that, by necessity, it remains both apart from and above the politics of Westeros.

That said, the modern incarnation of the Watch operates much like a Brotherhood - an organization made up of members from all different aspects of society, yet set apart. Such an organization - again, by necessity - has its own rituals, training, and goals.

In the early history of the Watch, it was common for the position of Lord Commander to be held by those from noble or major houses. This would most likely stem from a system in which each commander names his successor, but we cannot know that for certain.

Without knowing more about the history of the Watch, it is impossible to determine when this practice of electing the Lord Commander began, or the specifics of why the practice was started. At least one Lord Commander, Runcel Hightower, tried to change this practice and have his son inherit the position. This action led to a minor civil war which nearly destroyed the Watch.

5

Your main question has a flawed premise, the Night Watch is not the only democracy in the Westeros. We also have the Iron born who have a Kingsmoot to decide who the next King of the Iron Islands should be. We actually have a Kingsmoot after the death of Balon Greyjoy:

As you can see people vow for support and are chosen by a majority rule.

As for your second question "Why did the Nights Watch develop a democracy?" Well when you look into it further it's quite obvious, lets looks at their oath:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honour to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.
Nights Watch oath

It's quite hard to have a Monarchy when your leaders can't have children.

  • Yes, but the Kingsmoot wasn't always observed whenever a king died, was it? In fact, afaik House Greyjoy pretty much ruled father to son undisputed and without a moot from the time Harren got grilled by Aegon. The latest Kingsmoot only became a necessity because no living male son was readily available to plant his behind on the Seastone Chair at the time, what with Theon Reeking it in a kennel of Ramsey's. (According to awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Kingsmoot it had been 2k or 4k years since the last). So if it was only used sporadically it is more something akin to the Great Council. – BMWurm Oct 18 '17 at 20:16
  • Well, people choose their leaders very differently in an anonymous vote than in a vocal vote of support. Just look at America. So Kingsmoot isn't exactly a democratic process like the Wall elections – KharoBangdo Oct 19 '17 at 7:30
  • @KharoBangdo It's a democratic process it's just that it's easier to pressure people into your will the way they do it. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 19 '17 at 8:17
  • @BMWurm That's from a books perspective and my answer is from a show perspective. Either way people in a Kingsmoot usually seem keen to elect the "next in line" in a monarchy anyway. Just becasue one house has always been elected doesn't mean it is a monarchy though. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 19 '17 at 8:24
  • 1
    @BMWurm Look I'm not getting into a debate with you of the meanings of the two words. The question is essentially why is the Nights Watch the only elective community if you replace the word democracy and that is how I have answered the question. If you'd like I can look for other examples of elective communities? – TheLethalCarrot Oct 19 '17 at 8:53
4

The Night's Watch is NOT a Democracy. Elections don't necessarily equals Democracy.

The presence of an elective system is not a synonym to democracy, it merely means that the leader(s) (not ruler(s)) of that political subject are chosen with a vote.


In real world, a democracy is a system of government where the power is held and exercised by the people, and can be either:

  • direct, when the whole population actively and directly participate in the political life, by collectively debate and decide about all the matters;
  • representative, when the population elect representative officials that carry the responsibility of the government, whose powers are usually balanced by apposite measures, and where it is applied the rule of law: so it is law that governs the subject and not the individual decisions of the elected officials. Officials are also elected for a given amount of time and do not govern for life.

We have several examples in our own history of political systems that used an elective system but were not democracies:

  • in medieval and renaissance Italy, we had Maritime Republics that generally speaking had elected rulers and parliaments: in example, Venice was ruled by a Doge and by the Maggior Consiglio, but the former was de facto a prince that governed for life, while access to the latter was hereditary and reserved to sanctioned patrician families.
  • another example is the ecclesiastical government of the Papacy, whose leader is elected (only by a restricted number of individuals) but hold absolute power, and where all other ranks and positions are appointed from above, by the Pope itself if high in the hierarchy.
  • a further example of a form of government whose leaders are elected but also exercise almost always absolute power are the monastic military orders like the Hospitaliers or the Teutonic Knights.

These kind of governments used elections, but were aristocracies, oligarchies if not even absolutisms, not democracies.


Back to Westeros, we know that the Commander of the Night's Watch was elected, but otherwise governs as an absolute ruler: other ranks and positions are appointed by him (like the commanders of the forts), not elected as well, and he, like his title suggests, commands and gives orders to other Brothers; he was elected to rule for the rest of his life, and there is not a rule of law under which the law itself the is supreme ruler (granted, there is the Oath, but it basically was just a rule to not desert, to celibate and to obey to your superiors).
The powers of the Commander is not held in check by balancing measures, disobeying to him is treason, and as we know by at least two examples, the only way to disagree with him is to kill him.

This is really far from being a democracy.

The form of government from our history most similar to the Night's Watch was an aforementioned Monastic Military Order, where the religious and spiritual connotations are substituted by a supreme sense of duty. Even the celibate, the apprenticeship and the subsequent Oath, the strict hierarchical organization are common points.

1

This is pure speculation; I don't remember any reason mentioned on the show or the books.

It is mentioned quite often that the Brothers of the Night's Watch don't take part in the wars/clashes/etc that happen within the kingdom. They are independent.

Also, they risk their lives trying to protect the Seven Kingdoms from the dangers that lie beyond the Wall.

So, it is not unlikely for a past King to have them granted the privilege of being able to select any Brother they want as their Lord Commander, in any way they want to.

Also, this doesn't affect the king(s) in the Seven Kingdoms, so I don't see any reason for some other king after the aforementioned one to have lifted that privilege.

1

As @Shevliaskovic pointed out, the Night's Watch takes no part in the political affairs of the Seven Kingdoms. They are indeed independent. Therefore, the king has no power to appoint the Lord Commander, otherwise that person would owe his position to that king. The wisdom of this rule is especially apparent, when there are five kings contending for the Iron Throne.

The Night's Watch is very much like a monastic order. The election of the Lord Commander is similar to the election of the Pope by the college of Cardinals. Of course, it is not exactly the same, because in the Night's Watch every brother participates in the election.

0

The basis for the Feudal order in the Seven Kingdoms is in the mode of production there: If you own / have title to land - you're a nobleman, and you get to control farmers. Ignoring the Gift (the workings of which I don't quite understand, only having watched the show) - at the Night's Watch, nobody has land and nobody farms. Also, it can't be a plutocracy since their economy is not based on commodity exchange, hence no money (except perhaps for some dealings with the outside world).

Without a strong material basis for class stratification, it stands to reason that their order has egalitarian aspects.

Now, you could ask why they're not structured like an army; and that too can be explained by the fact that it isn't anybody's army, really. It's practically independent.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.