In medieval European history there is a great deal of literature describing in great detail the economic, legal, political, and relationship aspects of feudalism. However, the juncture between religious and politico-legal theory is an interesting interdisciplinary result of the abundance of this literature on medieval studies. The result is the study of political theology – a sort of dogmatic, but carefully reasoned, system of political and legal thought in religious language.

Dune is definitely a work that contains both political and legal elements as well as theological elements. However, the idea of a political theology is probably novel to those familiar with the characteristics of both of the aforementioned elements in Dune. Medieval Europe and particularly England had a political theology that is similar to the one described in Dune. However, there is one significant difference between the political theology manifest in medieval thought and the political theology found in Dune: In the medieval period, there was an evolution between conceptions of the duality of the ruler or the mediator role of that same ruler whereas in Dune all of those conceptions are manifest at once and are in simultaneous competition with each other. Each of these conceptions represents a different religio-legal identity that is separate from the individual. Dune confronts the issue of an individual’s identity in the context of a matrix of political theologies, each of which is designed to define the role and persona of that individual. The essential message that Dune metaphorically transmits is that an individual is a vacuous entity that can act only through any number of fictitious religio-legal personas.

The role of the ruler in Dune is manifested in the legal fictions (titles) used to describe the aforesaid ruler. The best example is found in the character, Paul Atreides. He holds many titles including Duke (Paul) Atreides, Paul-Muad’Dib [a desert kangaroo mouse/”instructor-of-boys”[1]], Usul [“the base of a pillar”[2]], and Lisan al-Gaib [“the voice from the outer world”[3]]. Duke (Paul) Atreides is the name of Paul Atreides that possesses characteristics of corpus reipublicae mysticum representing polity-centered leadership.[4] Paul-Muad’Dib is the name of Paul Atreides that possesses characteristics of a political ruler with religious responsibilities and powers representing law-centered leadership. Usul is the name of Paul Atreides that possesses characteristics of optimus homo and Dante’s notion of the divine reference point qua office representing man-centered leadership.[5] Finally, Lisan al-Gaib is the name of Paul Atreides that possesses characteristics of persona mixta representing a Christ-centered leadership. These four roles represent an ability of one ruler to radically shift roles.

Although these roles are all related in an evolutionary view of history, there is a separation and a union in how they are portrayed through Paul Atreides. As Stilgar says: “Usul, companion of my stietch, him I would never doubt, … But you are Paul-Muad’Dib, the Atreides Duke, and the Lisan al-Gaib[.] These men I don’t even know.”[6] Stilgar refers to these as different men even though they are all Paul Atreides—one man in the flesh. In this sense, the “king,” as discussed in The Kings two Bodies, is Paul Atreides and the “King” is Duke (Paul) Atreides, Paul-Muad’Dib, Usul, or Lisan al-Gaib depending on context.

Duke (Paul) Atreides is the name of Paul Atreides that possesses characteristics of the mystical body of his Atreides House Major representing polity-centered leadership. The Duke represents the entire House the will of the Duke is the will of the House. As Paul Atreides put it: “I am House Atreides.”[7] Paul Atreides leadership as Duke is, in part, created by the continuity possessed by the office of the Duke. That continuity has parallels in the manner that royal continuity was handled in Europe.

The leadership of House Atreides has the continuity that the fictitious crown did in medieval Europe. All three factors are present that substantiated the maxim: rex qui nunquam moritur—“the king never dies.”[8] The first factor is “perpetuity of the dynasty”[9] that can be found in the continued progeny of the ruling family of House Atreides in the person of Paul Atreides. The second factor is the “corporate character of the Crown”—in this case, a ducal signet and house flag—that symbolized the head together with the members of a permanent body politic.[10] The third factor is the immortality of the office referred to in medieval Europe as the “Dignity.” The office of the Duke is not subject to mortality as long as there is a body politic and either an heir or a leader of the House Atreides.

Paul Atreides’ assumption of that leader of his House is reminiscent of the political theology of the canonical “duelists” who believed that the Holy Roman Emperor was verus imperator prior to the papal unction of the emperor-elect.[11] Likewise, Paul Atreides assumes his father’s role as the Duke prior to the ceremony in front of the Fedaykin where he slips on the ducal signet representing the confirmation of his ascension to the office of Duke of House Atreides and Siridar-Duke of Arrakis. As the ducal signet ceremony demonstrates, Paul gets his leadership rights from the recognition of the people under him—the Fremen.[12] The canonical “duelists” believe that royal power derives from the election of a prince (by whatever method a prince is chosen to his royal office), which parallels Paul’s apparent election by the Fremen.[13]

The office of Duke Atreides is a sort of jurisprudential fiction that medieval jurists would term a corpus fictum that was distinguishable from the corpus verum of Paul Atreides.[14] The office of the Duke is a juristic person (that is, a sort of corporation) that incorporates in its entirety House Atreides’ corpus reipublicae mysticum—“mystical body of the commonweal.”[15] House Atreides is a commercial venture lead by one family with the employees considered part of the house proper. However, because House Atreides is a House Major, it also is responsible for ruling a planet as a siridar-fief.[16] Therefore, in an unrestricted sense, the corpus reipublicae mysticum of House Atreides incorporates not only the ruling family and attendant employees but the population of the planet ruled by the Siridar-Duke. This is confirmed in Dune in that Paul seeks the recognition and election of the Fremen rather than Atreides’ men (whom the Duke would presumably command their allegiance regardless of the actions of the Imperium).[17]

The Dignity of the office of the Duke, like kingship after the Thirteenth Century in Europe, was guaranteed by the eternal corpus mysticum of the realm.[18] The realm of the Duke is not the fief, per se, but the House Atreides and whatever personnel, titles, fiefs, and privileges went with the dignity of the leadership of that House Major. In medieval Europe, the immortality of the dignity was symbolized by the occasional lack of the use of proper names in the royal funeral cry of the English: “The king is dead! Long live the king!”[19] Likewise, the office of the Duke when affixed on to Paul Atreides is sometimes merely referred to as the Duke not Duke Paul Atreides, Duke Atreides, or the Duke of Arrakis.

Thus, polity-centered leadership represented by the office of the Duke is inclusive of both those personally attached the Duke and his family but also the subjects on Arrakis or any other siridar-fief under the Duke.

Paul-Muad’Dib is the name of Paul Atreides that possesses characteristics of a political ruler with religious responsibilities and powers representing law-centered leadership. This is one of the names that tribe (that he joins) gives him; it is his public name.[20] Paul-Muad’Dib is the chief leader of the Fremen. Paul-Muad’Dib is to the Fremen what the Duke (Paul) Atreides is to House Atreides,[21] except that Paul-Muad’Dib has a quasi-religious function that the Duke does not share.[22] Just as the king in a law-centered kingship is the “Fountain of Justice,” Muad’Dib is the one from “whom all blessings flow.”[23] Although Paul-Muad’Dib is not the titled servant of a named Idea (that is, a fictitious goddess corresponding to a extra-legal premise present in the law), he possesses similar religious overtones in his acts.[24]

Usul is the name of Paul Atreides demonstrates the qualities of the spiritual and temporal positions in reference to man and the divine representing man-centered leadership. This name is used relatively infrequently as it is Paul’s secret name that is usable only within the tribe he joins.[25] Paul’s name means “the base of a pillar” and is a symbol of strength.[26] Usul is Stilgar’s “companion of the [his] stietch” and is attributed the thoughts of a Fremen that Paul Atreides verbalizes.[27] From this, we can see another meaning behind Paul’s name: one whose thoughts are grounded in the ways of the Fremen. In this respect, Paul Atreides as Usul represents the Optimus Homo of Dante.[28] Usul is also a divine reference point in that it is understood that the person of Paul Atreides fits the profile of the messianic leader that the Fremen were looking for: the Lisan al-Gaib.[29] The same tension between the divine and the human reference point exists in the name Usul as it does in Dante’s work.[30]

Lisan al-Gaib is the name of Paul Atreides that possesses characteristics of substantial spiritual and temporal powers representing a Christ-centered leadership. As the Lisan al-Gaib, Paul is expected to lead the people to victory against the Harkonnens and to be invincible. Lady Jessica recognizes that the Freemen revere her son both as a religious leader and as a political one that gives the Freemen a feeling of inevitability of fulfilling the group’s goals.[31]

By Christ-centered leadership, I am referencing the type of theoretical kingship and lordship that existed in 1100 A.D., as the setting of Dune contains no Christianity. However, the Dune universe has a large variety of religions and denominations thereof that all share the same holy text, the Orange Catholic Bible.[32] It is rather unsurprising that the Fremen have aspects of the religious text ingrained into their manner of thinking and have a Christ figure (that is, a legendary savior) that will lead them to their promised future. The Lisan al-Gaib is the savior figure and in this sense provides Paul Atreides with the sort of liturgical kingship of the 1100’s.

The Lisan al-Gaib represents a persona mixta between religious and political power as well as a gemina persona as a twinned being as leader and messiah.[33] The religious elements of the preceding names of Paul Atreides have their origins in the title of the Lisan al-Gaib. The purely messianic elements are associated with the Fremen title of Mahdi and the Bene Gesserit title of Kwisatz Haderach.[34] The persona mixta of Paul Atreides (which exists as a combination of his more political and familial names and the more religious name of the Lisan al-Gaib) is akin to the mixture of monk and knight in certain religious chivalry orders that existed in Europe—one person with two distinct roles.[35] On the other hand, Paul Atreides can be seen as a twinned person that exists as one natural person and many fictitious people who are represented by the names that people call Paul Atreides. Stilgar points this out, claiming personal knowledge of only Usul.[36]

The Lisan al-Gaib represents a liturgical kingship of the 1100’s in that his leadership over the Fremen people is religiously ordained. Similar to the “Christlike kings” of that period of Europe, the Lisan al-Gaib has the religious authority normal delegated the high priestess (called the Reverend Mother by the Fremen)[37] and also similarly, that authority compliments rather than eclipses that of the priesthood. In this sense, the title of Lisan al-Gaib is a form of Christ-centered leadership.

The ending scene places all of the fictions together in a stream of a rapidly succeeding glimpse into each persona Paul Atreides assumes in the course of his time on Arrakis. The Duke Atreides promises protection for the Emperor’s person following the Great Convention.[38] However, Muad’Dib sentences the Emperor to his prison planet as its siridar. Muad’Dib does this despite the Duke’s protection because Muad’Dib is not bound by the Great Convention in the way that the Duke (who is an imperial kinsman and the leader of a House Major) is. Although the Emperor’s entourage is protected by the promise of the Atreides Duke, Muad’Dib challenges the Emperor’s definition of what constitutes his entourage in order to draw out the Fremen enemy, (the newly recognized) Baron Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen.[39] Muad’Dib promises the Fremen that Arrakis will have “oases rich with good things,” but that there will always be desert on Arrakis.[40] The Duke Atreides gives Gurney Halleck Caladan as an earldom and every Atreides follower a title and the attendant power that goes with that title.[41] Muad’Dib states that he will dispense to Fremen what is appropriate but at a later time except that Stilgar will be the Governor of Arrakis.[42] While the Duke and Muad’Dib must wed the Princess Royal Irulan as a political matter in order to enlist the support of the Houses Major, but Usul will treat Chani as his real wife.[43]

As one can see, Paul Atreides sets a metaphorical example of how an individual is a vacuous entity that can act only through any number of fictitious religio-legal personas. Through the titles of Duke (Paul) Atreides, Paul-Muad’Dib, Usul, and Lisan al-Gaib, Paul Atreides is able to negotiate the legal landscape he finds himself in by switching the role he acts through. Each role is governed by a different set of rules. Duke (Paul) Atreides is governed by the Great Convention. Paul-Muad’Dib is governed by the laws governing all Fremen. Usul is governed by the laws of his Fremen stietch. Lisan al-Gaib is governed by Fremen religious protocol and legend. Fictitious religio-legal personas serve as a useful mechanism to separate out loyalties and responsibilities that an individual has. Dune sets for an example that explains how and why this is so.

Works Cited:

Herbert, Frank. Dune. Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965.

Kantorowicz, Ernst H. The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.

 Endnotes:

 

[1] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 307.
[2] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 306.
[3] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 406.
[4] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 209.
[5] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 461.
[6] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 406.
[7] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 419.
[8] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 316.
[9] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 316.
[10] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 316; Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 428.
[11] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 323.
[12] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 428.
[13] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 322.
[14] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 209.
[15] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 208.
[16] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 520.
[17] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 428.
[18] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 231.
[19] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 412.
[20] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 307.
[21] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 418.
[22] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 382.
[23] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 412; Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 469.
[24] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 382.
[25] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 306.
[26] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 306.
[27] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 406 and 408.
[28] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 461.
[29] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 461-462; Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 406 and 408.
[30] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 461-462.
[31] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 382.
[32] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 525.
[33] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 43 and 49.
[34] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 522-523.
[35] Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957) 43.
[36] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 406.
[37] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 441.
[38] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 487.
[39] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 480.
[40] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 488.
[41] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 489.
[42] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 489.
[43] Frank Herbert, Dune (Randor: Ace-Chilton, 1965) 488-489.