Two Consequentialists


Heigar is one of the Ryvius‘s consequentialists, and certainly the least emotional one. I’m not sure I’ve ever quite grasped his motivation, but perhaps he has a passion for efficiency. As someone who is sometimes too keen to keep things simple (blame Horace), I can sympathise.

Heigar serves a series of captains, but achieves his greatest influence under the story’s last captain, Ikumi. Ikumi, for reasons which I won’t spoil, sees protecting (certain) others as an absolute duty, a preoccupation which Heigar neatly manipulates to his own ends. Near the end of the story I think we see Heigar make a (very nasty) decision which appears have no proper justification, apart from his own antipathy towards certain other characters: I think he loses his integrity (which is a significant thing) here. Ultimately, his plans have to be defeated to bring about a (reasonably) happy ending.


Oberstein is one of Reinhard von Lohengramm’s admirals. He has a vendetta against the Empire’s ruling Goldenbaum dynasty, who not so long ago would have euthanised people with his congenital blindness. His hatred for the Goldenbaums might seem irrational, but with that as his end he sets about treating everything else as a means.

Oberstein’s thought-processes, as mechanical as his cybernetic eyes, seem completely alien to the attractive world of honour and emotion that Reinhard’s other admirals inhabit. True, Oberstein does have one emotional attachment, to a pet dog, but I don’t remember it ever affecting his decisions — indeed, judging from one of his lines in the last episode, he had to ignore his concern for it to do (snip! — spoilers) what he did. Ultimately, Oberstein’s plans had to succeed to bring about the resolution that Legend of the Galactic Heroes has, though whether or not that resolution counts as a happy ending is an open question.

* * *

Heigar serves his purpose within Infinite Ryvius‘s story, and serves it well, but I’ve always been convinced that he was wrong, and that the show itself agreed with me. Oberstein, on the other hand . . . I’d be boasting if I said the emotional, honourable world of Reinhard’s other admirals resonates with my own. It would be more accurate to say that I wish it did. It attracts me, anyway, and Oberstein repels me — but I’ve never quite been able to persuade myself that he was wrong. Thus the contrast that is really the point of this post: both characters are presented partly as representatives of a certain kind of ethical thought, but while one is condemned, the other is rather unsettling. (I should note that I’ve no problem with the condemnation of Heigar: I do not think that moral ambiguity is always a good thing in a story.)

Incidentally, the contrast between my attempts to sum up these two characters’ motivations interests me. Heigar is not nearly as significant a character as Oberstein, and Infinite Ryvius has less than a quarter of the Legend‘s length, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m not sure what drives him. If I didn’t feel like I needed evidence from the story itself, I’d suggest that he was (most of the time) doing what he honestly believed would create the best (by which he probably meant ‘efficient’) society possible on the Ryvius.

In Oberstein’s case, I’m struck by my own choice of the word ‘irrational’ to describe his ultimate motivation (I’m relying on some of the scenes in which he’s introduced, and I could be wrong). I think of him as a consequentialist, because he sees ethics as a matter of outcomes, but I wouldn’t call him a utilitarian, because he doesn’t aim for the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Actually, hatred and revenge are concepts straight from the world the other admirals inhabit. Am I using the word ‘consequentialism’ properly? If you believe that the ends justify the means, are you allowed to have some pretty irrational ends? I don’t know enough about meta-ethics to pursue this any further.

41 responses to “Two Consequentialists

  1. To me Oberstein is actually the most noble of Reinhard’s admirals, cause he is the most dedicated one when it comes to protecting Reinhard and his dream. As I think one of the characters points out somewhere in the series, Oberstein is quite a frightening person, but at the same time the idea of there being no one like Oberstein who does what no one else is willing to do is even more frightening.

    As to Oberstein’s original motivation revenge is as good a justification as any, but a little too simple after Goldenbaum has been defeated and everything. To me Oberstein is one of those individuals who accompanies the rise of empires. In the absence of military strength and charisma he instead applies the full, often obtuse weight of his mind to the goal he sees as most just, which in Oberstein’s case are the reforms and order that Reinhard’s dynasty represents. Random analogy: you can almost think of Oberstein as Reinhard’s Henry Kissenger, sans accent. Not the best analogy but somewhat works in their roles.

    • Was it Hilda who made that comment about Oberstein being both frightening and very necessary? She and Oberstein seemed to me to sometimes be struggling with each other over the direction of Reinhard’s actions, but I suppose she’d be well-placed to judge Oberstein’s contribution, since she isn’t part of the general clique of the admirals either.

      I didn’t really want to give too much of the story away while considering Oberstein’s motivation, but you’re right that revenge doesn’t fully explain his actions after the end of the Goldenbaum dynasty. Partly I suppose he’s just a gifted administrator exercising his skills, and I suppose too that Reinhard’s reforms are, for Oberstein, an attempt to prevent the return of Rudolf’s policies.

    • Incidentally, on the subject of parallels, I hadn’t considered finding some historical figures to match him. I’m afraid I know little about Kissinger, except that he liked Realpolitik (which sounds accurate to Oberstein as far as it goes — though I feel that most the political players in the story go in for it to some degree). My instinctive parallel for Oberstein is Oliver Cromwell, who seems to me to have been something like what Oberstein would have been if he had had some of Reinhard’s qualities, and had been a Christian.

  2. I agree with you that Oberstein can be classified as a Consequentialist, and as a man of his nation his first ultimate goal is the Societal Welfare.

    The other generals and Reinhard are concerned with a code of behavior which must be upheld no matter what, but Oberstein is not limited to their code of honour and therefore any action for him that works towards the Common Good, is good.

    As for his repulsive (as compared to the other generals) disposition, I feel that is because he only cares for what is good for his nation. The other generals care about their code of honour, but Oberstein is willing to get his hands dirty. IF he could have appeared to be more honorable, I feel as though he could have made the best leader of the four of them.

    • I’m not convinced that Oberstein works for the common good as an absolute thing, but I would definitely agree that he sees good as a communal, rather than an individual, thing much more than the other admirals. He might be focused on the common good, but my memory isn’t bringing up any conclusive evidence for that.

      Would Oberstein have been as effective, though, if he had been more honourable? I have a suspicion that there’s an unavoidable trade-off there.

  3. [ah, to be finally able to remark on one of your LotGH posts!]

    Paul von Oberstein is one of my favorite characters in LotGH – not because I agree with his methods, but for his consistency.

    He’s another character who never ‘develops,’ but whose character is inexorably reinforced through revelation and in his actions playing his role in shaping the galaxy’s future.

    I too am not confident in tagging Oberstein’s ethics, but consequentialist seems appropriate.

    Though revenge, may be his only inconsistencey. Otherwise, he acts always in the service of the future of the empire, which I assume he holds as the best possible government for the whole galaxy. Wouldn’t this be a utilitarian flag?


    I do wonder if I’m alone in mourning his passing, not that his passing isn’t a beautiful moment. He really made LotGH so much more interesting, a dynamic foil to the likes of Mittermeyer and Reuental. (Never mind my boy Fritzie)

    • Oberstein is in a way a favourite of mine: I dislike him, but I think he’s a really, really well-executed character. You’re spot on about his consistency, which means he retains his integrity to the very end. Good point about his lack of development, too. I have a suspicion that sometimes characters just don’t need development, unless they’re in a story written for teenagers who are developing themselves. (And LotGH isn’t specifically for teenagers, though I’m sure many of them would enjoy it.)

      As I said in reply to Demian and Q Agent, I’m not clear on Oberstein’s motivations later in the series, so I’m not entirely sure I’m happy to call him a utilitarian.


      I was saddened by his death too, I have to say. It did make him admirable. His concern on his deathbed that his dog would be fed the right kind of meat was a small touch, but it indicated his relentless eye for detail and the fact that he’d abandoned emotional attachment — to his dog, and also to his own life — to support his chosen cause.

      The story would have been weaker without him.

      • Ah well, I’m speculating wildly about utilitarianism and dear old Paul’s motivations.

        Your comments after your spoiler warning… great. Well said!

        In a (not-that-)weird way Paul was an enabler for Reinhard, and even as the Kaiser became more and more repulsed by him to the point of his publicly berating him (which he very seldom does to any of his admirals) Paul just soldiered on. Paul made the dynamic within the Kaiser’s staff what it is.

  4. Maybe you’re down with Heigar because of the different ends.

    Heigar: Survival
    Oberstein: Domination

    Or perhaps it’s a matter of alternatives.

    Without Heigar: Chaos
    Without Oberstein: Less efficient domination

    • True, their different ends do alter my reactions, but Heigar’s ends aren’t entirely clear to me, and he’s much more minor a character. I think Heigar’s loss of integrity weighs on my mind as well.

      I think your second contrast may be right, though.

  5. Oberstein is one of the LEAST repulsive characters in LOGH, but only once you break out of the identifications that the show creates. THE pivotal moment is when Oberstein lays out how all Reinhard has really ever wanted to do was defeat Yang in combat to prove that he is teh bestest admiral EVAR, and in that process articulates how Reinhard has been responsible for the deaths of literally billions of people. And then that casts a whole different light on all of Reinhard’s reforms. He raised up untold numbers of people, but needlessly killed untold many as well. Yet until Oberstein says it, we only notice when the “bad” kaisers do it.

    • I think I have broken out of the identifications that the show creates, but I still have the option of willingly placing myself back within them, if I find them preferable. Oberstein unsettles that feeling of preference, but, even appreciating the truth of his criticism of Reinhard, I still find Oberstein’s thought processes too alien to easily agree with him.

      Reinhard’s desire to overcome Yang is silly, and perhaps hubristic, but I can understand it. Oberstein will (and does) willingly cause the certain deaths of a few million people to avoid the probable deaths of many more millions, and I’m not sure I can understand that.

      I’m sure you’re right to point to Oberstein’s puncturing of Reinhard’s career as the pivotal moment (along, perhaps, with the moment when the strength of Yang’s commitment to obeying his government is put to the greatest test), but one of the honourable, more deontologically-minded of Reinhard’s admirals would reply that the ‘bad’ Kaisers were, well, bad.

  6. Well, to be honest, Heigar’s motivation seemed to stem from his background – to keep everything in order and tidy. But yeah, he snapped as well toward the end, and like how you felt, I too decided he was wrong from the start. Sure there is to be order for things to continue smoothly, but he went too much by the book.

    When Ikumi became the leader, he not only found himself under the atmosphere and environment he wanted to be in, but also full of more power, possibly feeding his ego in the process. Since it has been quite a long time when I watched Ryvius, I cannot remember if he really did feel more powerful and thus sought to use that power, but I have feeling (or memory) that he did. That power must have intoxicated him, and thus led him down the wrong path. His thoughts and actions would have been good had he not allowed himself to be distracted thus.

    • Interesting suggestion — if I read you right, you’re saying that Heigar achieves great power under Ikumi, and falls victim to the old chestnut about absolute power corrupting absolutely. From my memory of the show, that sounds plausible. It’s neat how Heigar and Ikumi have very different ways of doing government, but each provides the opportunity for the other to go badly wrong.

      Legend of the Galactic Heroes, of course, has a rather more nuanced attitude to absolute power than Infinite Ryvius.

  7. I quite liked Heigar through most of the story and was annoyed when he did that thing you describe near the end where he lost his integrity. I think we call this “jumping off the slippery slope,” and it felt quite engineered. And I don’t even subscribe to consequentialism.

    • I had some respect for Heigar while he retained his integrity. And, of course, seeing anyone on the Ryvius who could keep a cool head was quite impressive.

      His slip-up was engineered, I suppose, simply by virtue of the fact that the show was written. It’s hard for me to distinguish between engineered decisions and natural ones in characters like Heigar, because I don’t think I know any truly consequentialist people in real life. Heigar may be partly a caricature, in the show to make a point, but Infinite Ryvius has a large enough cast that I’m willing to forgive that.

  8. Despite not having watched LoGH, I can’t help but respect a guy who’s willing to publicly sully his name if it means less loss of life in the end. Especially in a situation where the more overtly noble’s actions caused far greater loss of life for far less admirable reasons.

    Or maybe he’s just very good at putting things in perspective.

  9. What I mean by engineered, as it LOOKS like you took from my words but I’m not sure, is that it didn’t really flow that naturally from his character, but they needed a certain conflict in the story at that point to make it flow properly so they picked him out as a sacrificial lamb. In and of itself I suppose this could have gone well, since if they had more space for it a conflict that came about naturally from his perspective would have worked just as well, but whether it was because of time concerns or whatever his deal was handled kind of hamfistedly.

  10. I have not seen Legend of the Galactic Heroes in awhile (I’ve watched it all the way through twice so far, but its hard to retain all the information given), but here are a couple things I always found interesting about the character Oberstein.


    I am not really good enough with words to type the following spoiler-free, sorry.

    – In the first movie, I recall that there is a nice scene where he shows contempt (well, as much as he shows anything outwardly, Ferner wasn’t around to articulate Oberstein’s cold glances for the viewer at the time) for the way soldiers are so casually treated as fodder by the Goldenbaum Dynasty (I think it is a scene with Flegel or something). I mention this because I think the later scene where he denounces Reinhard for sending so many troops to their death when a bloodless solution (for the Empire anyway) was possible mirrors this one pretty well.

    And then there is the time where Oberstein (and Reinhard, who to me ultimately had the final decision even when taking into account Oberstein’s manipulation and misinformation) is involved in the Westerland Incident. Done to not only bring Reinhard closer to his goal but also spare soldier deaths (of course, try explaining that to the poor civilians at Westerland). To me it seemed like Oberstein always thought more about the common soldier than any of the other more likable/relatable admirals did, but I guess that is just another aspect of his efficient behavior.

    – Oberstein was the ultimate blame magnet. Westerland, “No room for a number 2”, anything involving Lang (even when he was dealing with Rubinsky rather than Oberstein), anything unsavory. Then again, this was always his intention since episode 8 (I always liked the title: Cold, Clear, Cybernetic Eyes).

    In one episode Reuental (usually one of the first to place the name “Oberstein” near the phrase “up to no good”) quipped about how even Oberstein isn’t responsible for everything unseemly that happens. Reinhard needed to be a golden, untarnished leader, and Oberstein made that possible.

    – I also always liked the episode where he helps save Annerose by turning off the lights. The other rescuers (I believe Reuental and Mittermeyer, but I could be wrong) go in ready for a shoot out, but its Oberstein’s crafty manipulation of a light switch that truly saves the day.

    I probably got a lot of facts mixed up (and all the things I wrote are just common observations that didn’t even need to be mentioned), but this topic makes me want to rewatch the show (there were so many interesting characters, even the minor ones).

    I also enjoyed Infinite Ryvius (and I found Heigar to be one of the most interesting characters), but its been even longer since I’ve seen it, so I can’t really comment on it.

    • Since Oberstein saw through (or didn’t see the value of, perhaps) nobility, he probably had a better appreciation for normal soldiers. And, of course, there are just more of them, so their interests would naturally outweigh the interests of their leaders. I absolutely agree that Oberstein was a blame magnet, and that he planned that himself.

      I’ve begun rewatching the show slowly myself, so that I can follow Emperor J’s heroic attempt to blog each episode, and I noticed the episode with the attempt on Annerose’s life too. Each of the admirals has a different reaction:

      Mittermeyer hits the homosocial, emotional note (‘We have entrusted our fates to Count Lohengramm!’); Reuenthal is analytical (‘How will you find [the car] if we don’t identify it?’); and Oberstein stays behind the scenes and does something sneaky at a key moment.

      . . . and of course Oberstein’s intervention was vital.

      • As other people have begun to suggest, isn’t he better understood as part of a whole? Japan has traditionally had its underhanded ninja as well as its honor-bound samurai, with the understanding that a wise ruler knows when to employ which. Though no single ruler dictates the actions of these men, we might consider them in service to the state (or some other abstraction), and that their contributions are simply very different.

        In making an unlikable character such as Oberstein vital, Tanaka makes a nuanced statement: for all the glory and romance of the path of the honorable warrior, other paths exist and are needed. However, just as the honorable warrior is not the only one needed, the path of cold judgment must be tempered by human concerns: failure to do so leads to tragedy.

        • Hmm. It seems to me that there has to be a limit to the degree of nuance somewhere. ‘Tragedy’ is a word that seems to me to sit outside both honour and consequentialism, but it’s surely a moral term. Do we find the limit in the wise ruler’s value judgements about the people he or she is employing? Is it the ruler who decides what a tragedy is?

          In practice, there are no wise rulers in LotGH; as JPMeyer has already pointed out, Reinhard’s bound up in the world of honour. Yang might make a wise ruler, but he never achieves high office (and he would probably refuse it).

  11. To continue on the Oberstein debate, I will do some pop philosophy and quote “kingdom of heaven” (Lord forgive me): “it’s a kindom of conscience or nothing”. And there lies the problem, the personnal ethics of the admirals are admirable. Most of them make great leaders, good husbands and fathers and all in all decent human beings. You would like them instantly if you met them in the street.

    Oberstein is none of these things, he’s effective and perhaps right but that didn’t make him a “good person”.

    Oberstein showed the disconnect between personal ethics and statecraft. He’s pretty much a living incarnation of Machiavelli’s argument. And there’s no good answers, in the end I prefer the admirals. Perhaps Machiavelli’s more effective but I prefer to remain a decent human being. But there always will be some Oberstein to remind us that in the end it’s a costly hypocrisy.

    • It sounds like my reaction was similar to yours, then. I don’t know if I’d like all of the admirals (Reuenthal is a bit of a sociopath, though not without reason), but most of them are decent, humane people in person. (Here Oberstein would doubtless point out how many deaths they’ve been responsible for!)

      In some ways, LotGH actually diminished my cynicism about politicians. The story is a reminder that sometimes cock-ups happen not because of incompetence, but because the choices at the top are impossible.

  12. They were both very important characters within their respective animes. Oberstein is one of my favorite characters in LoGH for many of the reasons stated by everyone else. (As an aside, has anyone thought that Severus Snape in the movies is very reminiscent of Oberstein? I wonder if Alan Rickman ever saw LoGH :) )

    I think the point of both the Oberstein and Heigar characters is plain. They both serve as the ‘voice of logic and reason’ within the respective stories. They are both wholly logical beings, devoid of emotion. Meanwhile, their logic is guided by the general idea of doing the ‘right thing’ overall, rather than doing something stupid.

    In real life, to do ‘the right thing’ as in these stories will frequently require being a bit ruthless. All too often in our lives, we’re presented with choices that appeal to a more emotional ideal rather than not.

    In our current world situation, one could say that the ‘best and most logical’ way of dealing with bank defaults is to just let all the banks fail on their own. The more ‘moralistic’ and ’emotional’ arguments call for bailouts to prevent suffering.

    All of us are conditioned in our lives to at least consider the ‘moralistic’ kind of view in our lives. We are told we should help people, and that being good to others has it own rewards. But deep down, we all think to ourselves, perhaps there’s a better way?

    It is precisely for this reason that characters like Oberstein and Heigar are important and interesting for all of us. They present those ideas of the things that we might think but would never dare to do and then they actually follow up on these ideas to it’s limits. For this reason, they keep the viewer on their toes by presenting an alternate option, and showing in their own way that while the logical and ruthless way may sometimes be correct, there may be unforseen or at least powerful consequences to their actions (there can’t be 2 leaders in LOGH, and Heigar’s actions in the last few episodes).

    • Oberstein and Heigar are definitely both there partly to stand for a certain kind of thought, yes.

      In a sense the key contrast I wanted to draw in this post was that while Infinite Ryvius doesn’t believe that that kind of thought is sustainable — so ultimately Heigar loses his integrity, he doesn’t follow up on his ideas to their very limits, and his consequentialism seems bankrupt (like most of our banks, in fact!) — LotGH allows Oberstein to take his consequentialism to its ultimate, rather shocking, conclusion. I don’t think Infinite Ryvius is inferior for taking the easier way out, but it definitely is the easier way out. LotGH is much more challenging: it asks us whether we can really despise and reject Oberstein. I think he’s meant to be included in the ‘Heroes’ of the title.

  13. I’m sure I’m going to get lynched for saying this, but I tend to like Oberstein for the same reason I like the rise of the Catholic church. There’s a certain aestetic to his ruthlessness.

    That said, I agree he’s a ends justify the means kind of person.

    Although I gave up on LoGH after I found out my favorite character died. So…

  14. I ma an idiot…… I just realized after two years that Westerland is in fact Hiroshima. The reasonning used by Oberstein is identical, the moral consequences just as problematic.

    The only major difference is that Truman certainly was no Oberstein.

    • It seems obvious once you’ve noticed, but it was only at the (very) beginning of this year, months after I finished the show, that I realised.

      There are I suppose a few other differences which might be worth mentioning. The main one I can think of is that Westerland (this might be pushing it, but isn’t Japan technically to the west of the US?) is not where the rebellious nobles are based, it’s a third party, and the nobles launch the nukes themselves. So maybe this makes it look like Japan launching the nukes at a third party, and the US permitting it, or maybe it portrays Japan (if Japan is Westerland and not the nobles) as an entirely passive victim in the process.

      Hmm. Throwing the atom bomb at anime as a means to get an interpretation out of it often feels to easy to me, but at the same time it’s hard not to do so in this case.

  15. I was thinking about the atom bomb references, and about how, perhaps logically speaking, killing x innocent via taboo nuclear warfare is somehow ethically inferior but pragmatically superior to spilling the blood of x^2 soldiers.

    Is that reasoning so clear cut? That 100 civilians is better than 10,000 soldiers, just in terms of numbers? I think you have to factor in innocence; yet this poses another question – are soldiers innocent? Indeed, LoGH is very sympathetic to the Young Soldier:


    the young lad that killed Walter, and perhaps ironically, the young lad that Walter saved during the breakout of Yang. As an aside, I do like the play on youthfulness with Walter/Poplan/Attenborough!


    Maybe civilians don’t necessarily imply innocence, and the two-sided nature of people (even Lang, who was rather philanthropic, a touching surprise IMHO) really questions if we can reduce peoples to a static label of “innocence” and, thus, maybe killing civilians really does justify the saving of soldiers?

    • *BROFIST*

      Crusader’s reaction to Iknight’s ‘War Sucks’ post offers interesting commentary re ‘innocent civilians.’ I’m no longer using it, preferring instead ‘noncombatants.’

      The dynamics of the ethical dilemma aren’t necessarily changed. I mean, who has power over whom?

      Those noncombatants are pretty screwed, while the future soldier casualties – they are granted a temporary reprieve from their own deaths. And the kind of deaths they get are something they signed up for at least to some degree.

      They can die fighting, leave a legacy on their terms as victors or valiant losers on the field of battle. The noncombatants? Nuked while they shudder together in their homes – wailing bitterly about their fate, or praying with futility to a God that has less influence on Reinhard than Paul von Oberstein has.


        I’m sure I’ve read people arguing that by signing up soldiers increase, rather than decrease, their worth. I’m thinking of the idea that came up in the comments to ‘War Sucks!’, that in some Greek city-states part of being a citizen was demonstrating your willingness to defend the city. (I’m reminded of the story that Aeschylus’s grave mentioned that he fought at Marathon, but not that he was a successful playwright.) In a rather blunter way, I understand that a similar idea appears in the novel Starship Troopers (I haven’t read it).

        I don’t actually agree with the idea, though.

        I think you elided the choices of the noncombatants: they might have to die, but they don’t have to die shuddering and


        later in the story of course someone takes a certain amount of psychological revenge for them. Though since that event is what finally makes Reinhard properly notice Hilda, it’s probably risky to try to draw big moral conclusions from it. Otherwise we’ll wind up with one of those Advice Dogs saying ‘Permit nuking of Westerland — Bang Hilda’.

        END SPOILERS (and comment)

    • Ghostlightning’s already pointed out Crusader’s argument that there are no innocent civilians, so I won’t do that. Good point that the show likes young soldiers. I’d add Julian to the examples you propose.


      I suppose one extra pragmatic factor in the Westerland incident is that it was during a civil war: the soldiers on both sides were eventually going to be Reinhard’s soldiers, so killing enemy soldiers was less sensible than normal.


  16. As for Oberstein being blame magnet, I’m reminded of a saying in A Song of Ice and Fire: “The King eats, while the Hand takes the shit.” (the Hand of the King is like a Prime Minister or something)

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  18. im not an expert on the situation around Catholicism however it does sound right. however your telling the story so im guessing so

  19. Pingback: The Genius For War and Legend of the Galactic Heroes | We Remember Love


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