What does the “rule of two” mean for the concept of Sith domination?
Reserving the topic of definining the Sith as ethnicity or as fallen Jedi for another discussion alongside presentations of older Sith Empires, I will focus now solely on Darth Sidious’ Empire from the Star Wars movies. Unlike the brute-force approach of former Sith Lords, Darth Sidious came as the culmination of Darth Bane’s infamous “rule of two” – a master to embody power and an apprentice to crave it. As an undercover organization, the Sith in Bane’s line renounce magic and outward violent conflict (Palpatine saw light-sabers just as a way to humiliate the Jedi), for political machinations and subversive tactics against the Jedi (who had envelopped the Republic in a mantle of Light Side Force Energy, that was fractured by Darth Tenebrous, Plagueis’ master).
The “Grand Plan”, the essential coordinate of the “rule of two”, foresaw Sith enlightened dominance through the Force and an “iron grip” type of peace. Albeit not well developed some details are given towards why Sith mastery of the Force was perceived as better at keeping peace than the Jedi’s “narrow, dogmatic view” (according to Palpatine) – by in-depth meditation Sidious and Plagueis had willed the Force into action, which, unlike the contemplative study of the Jedis, meant a more concrete application. Striving for some kind of an “enlightened monarchy,” the Sith saw themselves as masters of the Force, not mere guardians as the Jedi, thus being better suited to power. Breaking almost all ties with Sith alchemy and magic, the “rule of two” was essentially a “divide and conquer” strategy.
The Sith Empire – theocracy or secularized rule?
“Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed, the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force!”“Don’t try to frigthen us with your sorceror ways Lord Vader! Your sad devotion to that Ancient religion has not helped you […]”“I find your lack of faith disturbing!”“We are an Empire ruled by the majority! An Empire ruled by a new Constitution! An Empire of laws, not of politicians! An Empire devoted to the preservation of a just society. Of a safe and secure society! We are an Empire that will stand for ten thousand years!” – Palpatine/Darth Sidious
The term “religion” from these memorable lines in the movie “A New Hope” point to an interesting discussion: was the Sith Empire a theocracy or was “the rule of two” a secularized form of political domination? While Sidious reigned supreme and unchallenged, Vader seems something between a second-in-command special type of enforcer and a regular Imperial high-ranking member. The dialogue shows that reverence for Force users had greatly declined after the Great Jedi Purge (at the end of the “Revenge of the Sith” movie), but in general directions are very vague to whether Sidious had built his career because he revealed himself as a Sith lord – during the Naboo crisis the Trade Federation heads were aware, but when Dooku reveals to Obi-Wan (in “Attack of the Clones”) that the Galaxy was falling to a Sith Lord the dialogue hints that not many people knew that the rising power was a Sith. On the other hand, Sidious reveals to Luke Skywalker (in “Return of the Jedi”), that the Rebel Alliance attack had been foreseen through the Force, thus suggesting that the Emperor’s rule was partly based on his ability to continuously grant peace and rewards.
As shown previously, the Sith believed themselves to be the ultimate holders of knowledge. However, their source of knowledge, the Force, was ultimately a religion among a myriad of beliefs, yet one that seems to have been known, and feared, by almost all the Galaxy. The previously quoted dialogue between Vader and his generals seems to hint that the Empire was perceived as some sort of a secularized power (perhaps even militantly so if one looks at the impressive efforts put by the Empire to hunt down Jedi purely from a political perspective, and not as mere Sith vengeance), but ultimately ruled with an “iron fist” by some sort of a theocrat. On the other hand, neither Jedi nor Sith, nor Force-Sensitives in a wider understanding, were seen as “priests” throughout the saga. Somewhat glossed over is the possibility of Sith rise through simple bribery and patronage (Hugo Damasc/Plagueis we are told was one of the most influential bankers in the Galaxy for instance). Unlike a classical theocrat, the Emperor does not demand submission to the Force, but a simple non-ideological personal servitude. Certainly, when this is not offer Force-induced coercion was used. Yet, read between the lines the “rule of two” involved the highest possible secrecy so that the Jedi remained unaware that their monopoly on the Force was being eroded. Conversely, lavish details are given in both short stories and wider volumes (like the 2005 J. Lucarno Plagueis book), that the Sith were masters at hiding themselves in the Force (both spiritually and physically as although Palpatine’s body decayed under Dark Side influence his appearance was kept steady until it broke in the duel with Master Windu).
The Empire is ruled by the Sith, whose Jedi Purge and “monopoly on violence” (which they saw as legitimate, to keep to the Weberian justification, because Sidious believed Sith teachings better at “understanding the great mistery”), seems something in between an intra-religion personal vendetta and a more down-to-earth militant secularization process (albeit targeted to the only religion that was seen as an “enemy”). If one is to purely follow the intra-Star Wars belief that “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view” (Obi Wan, “Return of the Jedi”), then the Empire can be concluded to be a secular power, whilst a more general, outside-saga should not miss the religious overtones of this power.