The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the prequel novel to the Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I have blogged about the Hunger Games in my post here. I have also blogged about Suzanne Collins’ other series, The Underland Chronicles. In all of these books, Collins does a great job portraying war. The good and the bad: the courage, strength, and unity between people and the anger, hurt, aggression, destruction, and death.
I am not sure Ballad would be a great book on its own without knowledge of the events in the Hunger Games Trilogy. The book is about eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow’s experience mentoring in the 10th annual Hunger Games. Those who have read the trilogy know that Snow will eventually become Panem’s tyrannical and ruthless dictator. It was interesting to read about the events of his childhood that formed some of his opinions about society.
Ballard occurs right after a civil war, where new governmental ideas are formed due to this war. This book addresses many philosophical questions about the structure of society or, better yet, what should be the structure of society. The characters have many conversations about this issue. There is even a Q&A with Collins in the back of the book where she discusses some philosophical theories of human nature that influenced the characters in the book.
I don’t have a background in anything philosophical, so I will address this book as a layperson reading a novel and what I gathered from the story. I might be wrong on the philosophy, but this is how I interpreted the book.
The storyline addresses the central question: What is human nature?
The characters in this book claim the answer to this question determines the type of government for the people.
Snow, the main character, believes that human nature is chaos. If people lived in a society with no rules, laws, or consequences, people would lose all self-control, and absolute chaos would occur. His proof of that is the Hunger Games. Put people in an arena with no rules, and the result is people killing each other. The solution to this chaos is a social contract, an agreement between the people to live in harmony. However, people might start challenging the laws, so there needs to be an enforcement of the laws created for this contract to work. This results in the need for absolute control over the people.
Snow meets two people who challenge his ideas: his best friend and his girlfriend.
His best friend argues that everyone is born with inherent rights such as life, freedom, equality, free will, etc. Through human reason, we can all live together equally and independently; we need to let people be. Only when these rights are being challenged does chaos or war occur. The government’s sole job is to protect the rights of its people.
His girlfriend argues that everyone has a “natural goodness.” Most people understand when they are not acting by this goodness, and “life’s challenge” is choosing goodness. She does seem to believe that life’s experiences or situations play a role in our choices, and at times bad things need to be done for good reasons.
I will admit that Snow’s viewpoint is the most straightforward: the government determines the rules of society. You will be thrown in prison or killed if you don’t follow them.
The other two viewpoints are open for debate:
What are the inherent rights of humans? Where do they come from? What happens if one’s rights infringe on another?
What is good? What is evil? Who determines this? Are they absolute: is good or evil consistent regardless of the situation?
Where does the Catholic Church land in regards to these three characters’ ideas about society? Probably lands on all three of them to a certain point. The human community, social justice, common good, and society are addressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraphs 1877-1948.
To Snow’s point, the church does acknowledge the need for authority in society.
To his friend’s point, the church teaches we live as a society and each person in the society is born with fundamental rights. Each person has a role to support the common good of society such as, taking care of your family/possessions, working, and participating in public life.
To his girlfriend’s point, one has to understand all of Salvation History which is the point of Christianity. If you wanted a brief overview you could read the graphic novel The Big Picture which I blogged about here.
I mainly want to address two main points about the teachings of the church and social structure.
First, the church as a whole does not intervene in politics or the structuring of society. The church teaches it is the faithful’s vocation to act in society. The faithful should always act with the “message of the Gospel” and the “teaching of the Church” (2442). The church only speaks on faith and morals.
My second point is my main point. I no longer see it being promoted or discussed in society anymore and this is really concerning. All of society needs to be directed towards the human person, “the human person is and ought to be the principle, the subject, and the end of all social institutions” (1881).
The order of concern is the person – the family – the common good – then the state/government.
This is the principle of subsidiarity which states, “a community of higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (1883).