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Politics-SCA-art - 12/19/10


"Politics in the SCA or Machiavelli never had to deal with THIS" by Ioseph of Locksley, OL, OP, &c,


NOTE: See also the files: Confrontation-art, A-Peer-Within-art, SCA-The-Dream-msg, The-Blow-art, The-Peerage-msg, SCA-royalty-msg, Guid-f-Barons-art.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Politics in the SCA

or Machiavelli never had to deal with THIS


by Ioseph of Locksley, OL, OP, &c.


Herewith is a message that I wrote on a local BBS in answer to a small question from a member of the Dark Horde. I have elaborated it to some degree, as it may be educational for our membership. It has been further expanded from the initial writing, for the purposes of this article. Some of the content applies pretty much exclusively to my Kingdom of residence, but the balance of the article should apply universally in the SCA.


Perhaps a little more elaboration on the subject is in order: *sigh* No "voting" per se, but it IS the right of the Peerage to advise the Crown concerning those Peerages, or matters that affect those Peerages, as it is the right of the landed Barons/esses to do the same relative to matters which affect their Baronies, as it is the Dukes on any matter they damn well please....BTW: the original purpose of the title of "Court" Baron and Baroness was to give a qualified and valuable person access to the Curia Regis / Princeps who otherwise didn't have the rank or position to get into such a thing. This Curia has fallen into disuse of late, and perhaps should be revived...........this gives us a nice system of checks and balances, and prevents an absolute incompetent from destroying the Game for all of us. Bear in mind, also, that the SCA is set up, essentially, as a Constitutional Monarchy, with Corpora/By-Laws being the Constitution. A King, or Queen CANNOT violate Corpora/By-Laws with impunity.....but violation of Custom tends to be more expensive in the long run, because it loses people's respect, and thus erodes the violator's actual governing power.....read over the Oath taken by the King at his Coronation.....and, also, the Seneshal can wind up having the last word in that department, as can the Herald in his/hers, as can the Marshall in his/hers, and so forth. Tyrants tend to find out that they cannot accomplish jack-diddelly without the "advice AND consent" of most of the Peers/Officers of the group. Do NOT EVER forget, however, that in many things the KING'S WORD IS LAW, subject to Corpora and the BoD, and, in certain instances, to Kingdom Law.


All of the above applies equally as well to Principalities, and Baronies. As a sitting Baron, I can no more violate Corpora, or Kingdom Law, than the Prince or King can, and to violate Customary Law.....well, that would put me in more hot water than I'd care to think about, not with the Powers-that-be, but with the People......and, as any Poly-Sci major will tell you, in ANY system, political power ultimately derives from the consent of the governed.

If the populace doesn't like what's being done, they can choose to:


           a) not participate (strike),

           b) or leave altogether (emigrate),

           c) or turn and bite those in power right where

              it will do the most good (revolution).


Factionalisim in the SCA is simply a function of one of the above three, as NO person in power can please everybody's personal interests. The point that factionalisim becomes destructive is when the factions:


          a) want power for the sake of power, or

          b) put personal interests above those of the SCA as a



Usually what happens in the above two situations is that the factionalists find that the three responses of the populace happen REAL fast, and they either throw the b******s out, or simply don't co-operate, and organize yet another faction, and plot revolution........the beat goes on!


One thing that is IMPORTANT to remember is that SCA politics should NEVER be "personal." If you can't remain mundane friends with your SCA political opponent, then GET OUT of the game, because the Dream will quickly change into a Nightmare! If you cannot deal chivalrously and honourably with your opponent, then you have missed the whole point of the Society ..... if we can bash our friends to powder on the fighting field, or skewer them, in the case of Rapier, and then party all night with them afterwards, it is not unreasonable to expect the same from the "political" side.


It is most emphatically NOT a question of "us" against "them," but rather "us" having a family argument. Admittedly, as any uniformed police officer can tell you, a family argument is one of the worst situations to be in, as it tends to get bitter very quickly, BUT: as long as we remember that we ARE a family, of sorts, then perhaps we can get past the bitterness and into the REALITY of the definition of "politics," which is "the art of the possible." There is always room for the other guy's opinions, and those opinions DO have value. Perhaps when we listen to each other, rather than yelling at each other, we can arrive at a synthesis of values and objectives, and thus advance to the goal of "the greatest good for the greatest number." That last buzzphrase should be the operative aim of ANY SCA politics.


If you can't play nice, and fair, and TAKE OFF THE POLITICS WITH THE GARB, then please get the hell out of a game that is based on honor and chivalry, and not on TV soap operas. You lack even the smallest clue as to why we are here. Gossip, lies, slander, innuendo, anonymous letters and the like have no place in the SCA, and those who indulge in such have no honor. Mundane slimeball political tactics and thuggery are NOT "why we are here."


The Power Structure of any SCA chapter (Barony, Principality, Kingdom &c) is very interesting, as it is much like any other Club. The three MOST POWERFUL persons in any Branch do NOT include the Crowned heads, although if these Crowned Heads have a great deal of charisma / mana, then they must be included in the equation....but if they are merely figureheads or throne- warmers, then the following applies exclusively: 




       1) The Seneshal: legal agent of the group. Without the

          approval of this Officer, the Group STOPS.

       2) The Reeve: handles the money. Without the approval of

          this Officer, NOTHING can be done.

       3) The Chronicler: without publicity, who knows what's

          going on? With carefully contrived ADVERSE PR, opinion

          can be molded in the Group. With carefully written

          POSITIVE PR, the same, only constructively.


It follows, therefore, that if a faction gets control of these three Offices, then they have effective control over a Group. It is advised that NO faction make that mistake.....yes, I said MISTAKE....because one of the long term results of such a thing is stagnation of the Group....inbreeding of ideas, and eventual shrinking of membership and dissolution of the group due to lack of interest and too many people refusing to play anymore.


Oh, sure, in the short term there's a great deal that gets done, but in the long term the "new blood" tends to get frozen out of effective participation, and thus.....stagnation. At this point the Three Choices happen in the midst of hate, personal vendettas, and much incredible unpleasantness.


This is where the Baron/ess, Prince/ess and/or King and Queen come in, as do the superior Officers up the chain-of-command of the above three named Power Figures. It is the RESPONSIBILITY of the Crowned Heads to be ABOVE as much factionalisim as possible, within their sphere of influence, and to make sure that no single faction is in control of a whole group. These Crowned Heads should be VERY careful not to become the nucleus of a faction unto themselves, however, as this tends to become less of leadership of the whole group and more like masturbation. Without input from "outsiders," you tend to get complacent....and the Group goes down the tubes. The Corporate / Kingdom / Principality level Officers should be aware of who is who and what's what, to help prevent a factional takeover.


A very common error on the part of Crowned Heads is to take their "throne toadies" seriously. Throne toadies are usually ineffectual losers who are attracted by the trappings of power, BUT...when they actually get their hands on it, they inevitably screw things up to an awful mess. The more independent minded curmudgeonly type, that doesn't "suck up," tends to be a much better choice for Offices, as they have the capacity to make decisions and act on them in an intelligent manner. They tend to be abrasive, but good, hard workers who are VALUBLE to the group.


Another observation....in the SCA we have both kinds of "feudal" relationships: the old feudal, based on personal honour, land tenure (membership in a household or Barony), mutual interdependence, personal loyalties, and a clear sense of "where you belong," AND we have the later form, called "bastard feudalisim" by some writers, which is based almost exclusively on "what's in it for me?" Usually those who organize their political base on the second pattern find that as their people get what they want, they tend to gravitate towards whoever else gives them what they want next.....and they usually end up wanting what their initial Lord / Lady have, and have no compunction about taking it away from them. This works in reverse, too, as there are people who simply think in the second pattern as a matter of course,and thus, while a Lord or Lady may think that their people are basing on the first pattern, they are actually grounded in the second. This can wind up to be a very dangerous situation indeed.


Those that base on the first, however, tend to be quite happy with what they happen to get, and, while they may move away from as close an affilliation with their initial Lord / Lady, the bonds always remain, tight and darn near unbreakable ... on both sides.


It would behoove all to remember that this last is how the usual "Good Old Boys" SCA networks usually operate, if they are healthy.


Which leads into a discussion on these bonds: NEVER forget that they work both ways. If you are a Lord/Lady of a Household, or Baron/ess of a Barony, or Prince/ess or King/Queen, then YOU have responsibilities to your people, too! If you flagrantly disregard these responsibilities; if you regard your people as just "nothings," "nobodies," "spodes," "plebes," and such, then you will find that your people will ignore you....a LOT, or even work against you. THIS IS THEIR RIGHT! If you violate the Feudal Contract, then don't expect the other party(s) to fulfill it either. If you treat people like dirt, then expect the favor to be returned.....with interest! People tend to have LONG memories about such things in the SCA; feuds like this tend to last a long time.


The Household is the place to begin with the job of preventing or minimizing factionalisim. I offer the solution that I discovered in my own House as one means of doing so:


       "Any member of the Confederation of Locksley Households

        is free to act as they see fit in SCA politics. The

        Confederation will NOT back you, as a group."


       "Any member of the Confederation may hold any Office in

        the SCA, from King/Queen on down, or even sit the BoD,

        but they will do it in their private persona and NOT as

        a member of the Confederation."


This helps to prevent someone from using the House as a power-base, unless they can convince each and every member thereof of the validity and goodness of their position.....and if they can do THAT with my bunch of independent minded cusses, then they MUST HAVE SOMETHING!


Beware of setting your group up for eventual failure, however. Three common mistakes are:


    1) A limited outlook


       If all your group does is fight, or Arts, or SF/Fantasy discussions or single-culture stuff, &c, then you will limit your interest to the "new blood"....and stagnate and die.


    Solution: Encourage EVERYTHING!


    2) Too much charisma/mana and too much Power residing in the Leader.


       The "Fuhrer-Prinzip" (Leader Principle) didn't work for Nazi Germany, or Stalinist Russia, and it sure as Hades won't work in the SCA! If the Leader is incapacitated, or loses interest, or faces a Palace Revolution, then the Group falls apart!


    Solution: Have a Chain-of-Authority, and use it! Delegate Power as much as possible...give your subordinates as much personal responsibility as possible, and LET THEM MAKE THEIR OWN MISTAKES! They will learn very quickly, or die.


    3) Don't believe your own Publicity!


       A VERY large Household gave a lot of PR time to the idea that they were NOT part of the "chivalry" of the Kingdom, and were the "enemy." When, in the fullness of time, their members wound up getting knighted, or other Peerages, the contradictions inherent in the situation tore the group apart, and the leaving of their Leader, who had set himself up with number 2 above, also, darn near destroyed the Group.


    Solution: Keep your sense of perspective, and humor. This is, after all, a game of "let's pretend."


I hope that this provides a bit of an insight into the subject...it grew a bit from the initial BBS message, but.....such things happen, I guess! 


One last thing: NEVER make a promise that you can't keep, NEVER make a threat, NEVER EVER lie about someone else, and NEVER EVER bring SCA politics and feuds into the mundane world. These will make you permanent, implacable enemies.....and remember what Yasser Arafat said: "Choose your friends carefully. Your enemies will choose you."



From: Colin the Blackheart

To: All

Msg #67, 06-Jun-89 13:50mst

Subject: Power



Thank you, Ioseph, for presenting that series on politics in the SCA. In a similar vein I present "Bases of Social Power", taken from notes and text of a Psychological Social Psychology class I had a year ago. Ref: Social Psychology, John C. Brigham, FSU, 1986, Little, Brown, & company.

    I have annotated and commented in the indented paragraphs like this one.


-Ioseph of Locksley


Bases of Social Power


Social power - a person's capacity to alter the actions of others.

This power consists of six types:
 coercive, legitimate, reward, expert, referent, and informational.


Coercive power involves the ability to force another person to change his or her behavior by threats and punishments. . . Although coercive power is widely used, it is often ineffective, especially when utilized against groups (Falbo, 1977). When a group is threatened with coercion, the threat may actually bring the group closer together (Tedeschi, 1974). . . coercive power may be effective in causing compliance, but it is not likely to lead to identification or to private acceptance; the low-power person is likely to attribute his behavior to the (necessary) surveillance rather than to the worth of the behavior.

    I have NEVER known coercive power to work well, in the context of the SCA.....people tend to tell you to sit on a stick if you try to use this on them....or just leave the group entirely...and the degree of resentment/anger that the use of this provokes makes it something to very seldom use. The ABILITY to use it is what makes it powerful. The NON-USE of it, save in extreme circumstance, is what marks the true Leader/Statesmen from the mass of time-servers. Law Enforcement people are taught this early on, at least around here. They have the ultimate sanction (power of Life/Death) but are taught to use verbal (non-violent) or non-lethal means FIRST.


Legitimate power is derived from a role or position (warranted officer, household head, pointy hat, etc). Those who have it do not have to justify their actions to those who do not (officially, anyway).


    Much of the actual power in the SCA derives from one or another form of hero-worship (referent power.) Thus, a Marshal who is not a Peer has a difficult time doing his job when it comes to the Belts.....or a simple Knight as Marshall has a difficult time with a Duke, and even a King...or a BoD.....with no respect finds that governing is much like pushing water uphill with a fork.


Reward power is giving positive reinforcement such as money, praise, or prestige. Reward power can easily lead to compliance, but it may not lead to private acceptance. If the reward is removed, the new behavior may disappear. . . individuals may attribute their behavior to the reward rather than to any benefits of the behavior itself (overjustification effect) (interesting side effect of the merit-badge syndrome, eh?)

    And therefore more power is given to the Peerage Circle when they can advise that a candidate be given a lower-prestige award rather than the Peerage....we have a SERIOUS merit-badge mentality in some quarters, here..."first give them their Barony Arts award, then the Principality Arts award, then the Kingdom Arts Award, and then, maybe, if they haven't given up in disgust, the Laurel....." This enables some Peers to go on feeling suPEERior...or something.


Expert power is possessing important knowledge (and the capacity to apply it) that others do not have. Chiurgeons, marshals, master (not necessarily Master) craftsmen, etc. can be assumed to have expert power (although some may also have legitimate power).


    But merely holding the office does not an expert make. And vice-versa.


Referent power is the one I believe is most important. Power derived from the degree to which one is admired and liked is called referent power. People want to identify with others whom they consider admirable and likeable. Hence, people have referent power over those who wish to identify with them (cultive personality). . . Unlike reward or coercive power, referent power does not require surveillance to be effective since the motivation to identify with the model is not dependent on external rewards or punishments.


    But BEWARE of the person that can fake hero-worship, or believes it is hero-worship (admiration of an Ideal) on his part, but who really is only after rewards......people like this DO exist. The "functional sociopath" is an AMAZING, and very scary, critter.


    It is rather amusing to watch those who THINK they have Referent power with people, when actually all they hold is coercive/reward. This makes for some VERY interesting situations, as a person with referent power can command real loyalty....while the coercive/reward CANNOT.

Informational power is an individual possessing information that others do not. The eyewitness to an argument can influence others who did not hear or even know about the argument. Informational power is limited to the situation for which the information is relevant.

    This is one of the sources of Rumor. An individual wants to seem/be powerful, so he embroiders information....or sets out to collect it.. or sets up a situation to create it.....and then becomes one of Those Who Know. In his/her mind, they become a source of Referent Power!


    The more you can base your own position on MORE THAN ONE OR TWO of the above, the more secure you will be. For example, a Duke of large charisma winning the Crown.....he winds up holding by all six quite nicely. HOWEVER, given the same situation with a Duke that is not respected .....HOO BOY! The lack of adequate referent power would make his reign a living Hell for him and the populace!


His Grace Duke Cariadoc of the Bow comments:


Ioseph suggests that our kings are constitutional rather than absolute monarchs. I disagree. In my view, SCA kings are neither constitutional nor absolute monarchs. They are feudal monarchs. That may be less true in the West than in the East or Middle, but I think it is fundamentally true everywhere.


Why do I say that? While it is true that our kings have some formal restraints on what they can do (corpora and mundane law), the main constraint is that, as Ioseph points out, people who disagree with the king will walk-- or ignore him. That is the essential feudal constraint. The defining characteristic of a feudal order, in my view, is that the combined armies of the barons are much larger than the army of the king. Generalizing that, a feudal order is one where the relevant resources are controlled at the local level, with the result that the king is some combination of coalition leader and charismatic leader (i.e., inspiring local people with his vision of what the organization should be doing). I think that describes our kings.


A constitutional monarch is limited in his authority over the government, but the government he is king over typically has a lot of centralized power over its society. Queen Elizabeth II has very limited power over her army, but her army has essentially all of the heavy weapons in Britain. An analogous situation for the SCA would be if most of us were employees of our kingdoms (as in a Renaissance fair), but the kingdom was run by some complicated system involving king, great officers, etc., where the king himself had severely limited power. That is not (fortunately) what the SCA is like. Almost all of the important resources (mostly human, but also physical) belong to and are controlled by the local membership.


Copyright 1988, 1989, 1990, 1997 W. J. Bethancourt III.


Permission is REFUSED to reprint in any corporate SCA publications. Unofficial publications may reprint at will. Send a copy to the author if you do at: PO Box 35190, Phoenix AZ 85069


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org