Study Guide

The Left Hand of Darkness Politics

By Ursula K. Le Guin


"To govern this land is to govern its lords. Not that it's ever done. Do you know the saying, Karhide is not a nation but a family quarrel?" (1.17)

We've never heard that saying, but it seems apt for any political situation. Seriously, have you ever watched C-SPAN? Bickering, bickering, lunch break, and then bickering. (Unless you're a dictatorship, then it's do as daddy says.)

During the pause I began to think that an inept and undefended alien should not demand reasons from the prime minister of a kingdom, above all when he does not and perhaps never will understand the foundations of power and the workings of government in that kingdom. No doubt this was all a matter of shifgrethor. (1.49)

A word to the wise: when dealing with someone else's politics, it's best to actually understand their politics as well as their culture and point of view (in this case, shifgrethor). That goes double for people whose country you're in.

"No, I don't mean love, when I say patriotism." (1.77)

According to Estraven, love and patriotism are not the same thing. Where do you suppose the split comes, and what are the possible dangers of confusing the two? We're leaving this one open for debate.

"I thought of you as one above politics, free to come and go. I did not stop to think that you have, of course, your own politics." (8.31)

Well, duh. Everyone has his own politics. And when you don't stop to consider the fact, arguments and miscommunication are in-bound big time.

In this curious lack of distinction between the general and specific applications of the word [commensals], in the use of it for both the whole and the part, the state and the individual, in this imprecision is its precisest meaning. (8.48)

The state and the individual do share a common ground, but when the two are confused as one, bad things are going to happen. Just look at Orgoreyn. Yeah, no thank you to that place.

Therefore those that call upon the darkness are made fools of and spat out from the mouth of Meshe, for they name what is not, calling it Source and End. (12.12)

Here, religion and politics intertwine, and not in a good way. The Orgoreyn use their religion as a means to drive a wedge between themselves and the people who practice Handdara, namely Karhide.

"But they are overcautious men, afraid to act. Instead of proclaiming you, they hid you, and so lost their chance, and sold you to the Sarf to save their own pelts." (14.53)

The problem with politics is that it needs people to run it. And sometimes, those people only have their own interest in mind. And by sometimes, we mean way, way more often than it should happen.

"What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That's a good thing, but one mustn't make a virtue of it, or a profession…." (15.87)

The idea here is called globalism or maybe internationalism. It's the view that one should put the interests of all nations above the interest of their own. (And it's the opposite of nationalism.) We'll get into this more in the Duty theme, so keep an eye out for it.

And I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of, how that yearning loyalty that had shaken my friend's voice arises, and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry. (19.87)

Wait, it's not all flag pins and bumper stickers? You sure? As we've seen through history time again, love of one's country and bigotry can sometimes shack up together. And the results are never pleasant.

"He knew that, whichever nation first made alliance with the Ekumen, the other would follow soon: as it will: as Sith and Perunter and the Archipelago will also follow, until you find unity." (20.52)

Monkey see, monkey do. In this case, conformity will be a good thing since they are conforming toward an ideal of peace and open communication. Sometimes, it can actually be good to go with the crowd.