Two Cheers for the Jedi
Warning: Sith spoilers!
It’s tough to learn that my mentor Tyler Cowen is a Sith Lord, but I should have seen the signs. Only a Sith could watch the ruthless destruction of the Jedi order, then get on his soapbox to say “Good riddance”:
The core point is that the Jedi are not to be trusted:
1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy. Even the evil Count Dooku was once a Jedi knight.
2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway?… Aren’t they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that? As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs. Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.
4. The Jedi can’t even keep us safe.
6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order and balance to the force. How true this turns out to be. But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means. Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys. But you also have to get rid of the Jedi. The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys. Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story…
Tyler never asks the great public choice question: Compared to what? Yes, the Jedi fail in the end to “keep us safe.” But without them, Palpatine would have established his Stalinist dictatorship back in Episode I. The Jedi Council is quite simply the only part of the Republic that works. Palpatine effortlessly takes over the incompetent and corrupt Senate. All his machinations are ultimately directed at the Jedi, because he knows that if he openly seizes power, Yoda and Mace Windu will team up to take him down. Tyler’s right that the Jedi are an unelected Supreme Court, but their mistake is too little “judicial activism.” They should have overruled the Senate’s decision to send the Naboo/Trade Federation dispute to a committee back in Episode I, keeping Palpatine from becoming Chancellor in the first place.
Despite the Jedi’s undue restraint, it takes decades of scheming – and the greatest fictional exercise of backwards induction ever – for Palpatine to out-maneuver the Jedi. Ronald Coase once said that an economist who delays a wasteful program for a week earns his salary for a lifetime. The Jedi delayed totalitarianism for decades. Give them some credit!
After Anakin’s betrayal, the remnant of surviving Jedi reveal their “secret and mysterious ends.” They turn out to be neither secret nor mysterious. Yoda and Obi-wan take on near-suicide missions to assassinate the Emperor and Anakin before they solidify their totalitarian rule. It’s about as diabolical as the German officers’ plot to kill Hitler.
As for Jedi “sell-outs,” the order has an amazingly good track record. There appear to be hundreds if not thousands of Jedi in the galaxy, and they lose a total of two – Dooku and Anakin – to the Dark Side.
And somehow child-killer, world-destroyer Anakin gets to be the “hero” of the saga? Now that’s a Sith legend to ensnare weak minds. In the aftermath of Episode VI, it would be a miracle if the galaxy regained the freedom and prosperity it enjoyed back in Episode I. (Slavery on Tatooine? Remember, it’s so far outside the Republic’s influence the inhabitants won’t even accept Republican credits!)
So why only two cheers for the Jedi? Because their enduring virtue strains my suspension of disbelief. In reality, the power of the Jedi would swiftly attract talented but unscrupulous careerists. In a generation or two they would take over. In another generation these power-hungry pragmatists would turn to the Dark Side.
Then again, Yoda’s species has a lifespan of about a millenium, so perhaps I too underestimate the Jedi.