Skyrim and Political Philosophy

Spoilers galore ahead. Not intended to be correct or comprehensive by any means. Certainly not objective. I simply want to make a few observations and get the Elder Scrolls community talking.

1. Once upon a time there were dragons whose power may have stemmed from words. They established a rule of sorts over men. Then the goddess came along and gave man the Voice – the power to use those words. Man defeated the dragons, at least for a time.

If we say that primordial chaos is not “nothingness,” that it could be words floating around, then this tale is some kind of combination of Genesis 1 and the myth of Prometheus. Maybe man is the creature that in putting words together has articulate speech. If so, what are the limits of his power? Much of Skyrim is devoted to a literal dispute over who is a god and who isn’t.

2. Like all political philosophy, the divide between political things and cosmology is problematic to say the least. The political things point to ever higher orders: underneath all the dogma is genuine wonder about what man himself is, where he belongs. But that doesn’t mean there’s any logical link between political things and cosmology.

In Skyrim, there are at least two before your character who used the Voice very differently. One was Talos, who had the Voice, got an army with it, conquered everyone, “ascended into heaven” (see Livy’s account of Romulus’ “ascension” to see what my level 23 Imperial-leaning mage thinks of that story). Then there’s Jurgen Windcaller, who realized that the ability to kill people simply by speaking might be connected to something higher. The Greybeards – monks who offer you guidance no matter what your race, who don’t care whether you’re their religion or not – look to Windcaller for the realization that “the Voice should be used for the worship and glory of the gods, not for the glory of man.”

Either Ulfric is the second coming of Talos, complete with plans for Nord supremacy. Or my heavily biased account above is right and the racism of the Stormcloaks against the Dark Elves is just one aspect of abusing the Voice. Is it possible to derive a morality, a way of acting toward one another, directly from accepting or rejecting an account of the origins of the world?

Not in the least. The question is why we have this choice at all, how Skyrim as a place and collection of peoples is shaping itself. Watching them, we actually open up a huge can of worms about our own perceptions. Self-determination is not necessarily a liberal principle. It can entail intolerance and closed-mindedness; early on in the Politics, Aristotle makes some observations that seem to mark any given tribe as tending toward empire. Ulfric’s general, Stone-Fist, is very open about wanting to conquer the elves after throwing the Empire out of Skyrim.

Yet self-determination seems to be an indispensable condition for freedom. The freedom the Empire gives is closer to what we have nowadays as freedom and we find a million ways of complaining about: security and order are paramount. The law is not in our blood but allows a diversity to tolerate each other and form a cosmopolis.

3. And all of you are aware what is above is oversimplified. It’s easy to use Skyrim’s mythology to generate questions. For example: How do Daedra fit into this? They are worshiped, but don’t seem to establish rituals or conventions like the gods of the pantheon do. My provisional guess – I need to play a lot more Skyrim to figure this out – is that they are desire itself for the most part (yes, this includes Daedra who govern things like darkness or twilight). Take the example Daedric prince of hunting, Hircine. Hunting doesn’t quite involve the skill set pottery does. One can characterize it, especially given its signification in ancient cultures, as a display of mastery. One out-beasts the beasts, so to speak. Hircine is insane as a result: he can’t tell who to aid, hunter or hunted, except in terms of creating the greatest hunt possible. The extremes desires lead us to exist outside of us and create situations desire itself cannot work with. Hence, it is another Daedra who created a weapon that can banish his kin. Azura might be the desire of change for the better. That kind of desire rarely likes to hear it is wrong.

Right now there’s a charming book in my inventory called “The Importance of Where” which would more than suffice for a children’s book. The story asserts “where” is not simply location or a target: it is the matter of demonstration or proof. A preface to the tale by a scholar wonders which race’s tale this is; the Dark Elves and the Dwemer both seem to have claims on it. The know-how of the Dwemer resulted in magnificent creations that outlasted the race. The Dark Elves are surviving through their know-how even as they could be thrown out of Skyrim. I haven’t come across any Dunmer ruins yet.


  1. In terms of the Daedra, they factor in since they were created at the same time as the Aedra, or the traditional Eight Divines. We don’t see elaborate rituals for them in the newer games, but in the older ones(I think it was Daggerfall) they had specific dates on which they could be summoned, and in Oblivion they had specific items which had to be offered as tribute to be summoned(Meridia required the remains of the undead, Hermaeus Mora required the blood of every type of Elf, and so on). Just like each Aedra is the patron of a certain human trait(love, hard work, etc.) each Daedra is the patron of either an ideal, trait, or philosophy. There are Daedra that are considered evil, Daedra that are generally considered good, neutral Daedra(typically chaotic neutral), and, in the case of Hermaeus Mora, purely neutral Daedra. Just about all of the games so far have taken place in regions where Daedra worship is either banned, looked down upon, or simply ignored, so we don’t take part in rituals aside from summoning the Daedra, performing a task for them, and recieving an item or weapon in return for our services. It’s not truly possible to worship the Daedra, unless you count using their weapons or killing their enemies as worship. However, in some of the books in the games, they explain why the Daedra have physical manifestations and the Aedra don’t. Aedra gave up themselves to create the world, Nirn, therefore only exist in spirit. Daedra, on the other hand, did nothing to create the world, and in some cases even work to create chaos and destruction. Since Daedra are living beings(though immortal), they can manifest themselves on Nirn when they want to, and therefore impose their will when necessary(or, in Sanguine’s case, maybe even Sheogorath’s case, just for the fun of it). My apologies for the long, maybe even unnecessary explanation. I’m sure you most likely know all of this already. That’s just what I’ve gathered from my experiences playing the games, reading the in-game books, and researching it online.

  2. This is very interesting speculation on that universe the only inherent problem is that unlike our world the gods DO actively play a role within the characters lives. This creates for interesting dynamics as far as faith is involved because I can tell you we humans would believe any religion if they could show us active proof of their gods existence.

    I think in the Knights of the Nine DLC for Oblivion you actually meet Talos at one point in the sky. As far as Daedra are concerned despite the fact that Daedra such as Meridia and Azura aren’t considered evil the fact that groups like the Mythic Dawn caused so much destruction when they summoned Mehrunes Dagon it created a blanket ban on their worship.

    If you played Morrowind at all (which I highly recommend if you want to understand Daedra) you would find that the Dark Elves originally worshiped only the Daedra and in some cases still look the Daedra rather than the divines.

    Now going off your last comment, the Dwemer’s dissapearance has an explanation in a book I found in Skyrim (can’t remember the name). They created some device that caused their entire race to dissapear and could very well be still alive in a limbo somewhere. The dunmer found this device and there was a fight between Vivec and a oouple others as to what should be done with it. Eventually it was misused and Vivec died (keep in mind Vivec was pretty much a demi-god) but before he dies he curses his betrayors. It’s through this that your character in Morrowind comes back and is a demi-god as well and takes retribution.

    Ok, went off on a tangent explaining things so if those don’t make sense in any order my bad, just some additional info.

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