Worldbuilding 101: Governments

Worldbuilding 101: Governments

Okay, every society, large or small, has some form of hierarchy. Even animals who live in groups tend to have an Alpha. Human governments come in four basic flavors with almost infinite variations. Basic divisions are: Rule by the many (or all), Rule by the few, Rule by the one, and Rule by none. In human societies, neither the first or last work well long term on a large scale. There are a couple cities that still practice direct democracy, where every citizen votes on every issue. I imagine they are very small cities. Rule by none, also known as anarchy, is basically chaos, and frankly, a frightening concept. Someone has to provide the framework. You may have some groups, say a group of friends who hang out, where no one is ‘in charge’ but even then, there is some form of leadership. Perhaps a temporary leadership that trades out, but leadership none the less. Someone makes a suggestion, others agree, and it happens. I imagine that in most groups, a leader forms anyway. “Let’s ask __, he/she will know what to do.”

A quote I read once that has always stuck with me, even if I don’t remember the source goes something like this, “When two people ride a horse, someone has to sit in front.” Someone will take charge in every situation. Not always the same person, but without someone making a decision, nothing gets done.

Now what’s really interesting is the way that Rule of the few and Rule of the one seem to intertwine. In every committee, every congress, every council; there is one person who is above the rest, making sure everyone follows the rules, choosing who speaks, and just generally trying to form order out of chaos. And when you have one person in charge, usually there is a small group of people who put him there. So really, who does have the power?

Leaving philosophy aside for a while, let’s talk variations. Is the Law, whatever that Law may be, sacrosanct or can whoever is in charge adapt it? That is a vital question, the difference between an absolute king and a constitutional monarch. Interestingly enough, the idea of even the leader(s) being under the law is not a new concept. You may have heard of the law of the Medes and the Persians. Once the law was in place, even the King himself could not repeal it. Remember Daniel and the lions’ den? Even if you doubt that story actually happened, it is an account from an ancient source of a ruler who was actually bound by law.

How did the leader or leaders end up in charge? Is this a hereditary position? Were they elected by the people, or chosen by a small group? Were they chosen by a magic artefact, ala the sword in the stone? Was it a computer algorithm chose them? Chosen by lot? Does gender matter? Is your society patriarchal, matriarchical, or egalitarian? Are they chosen, supposedly or actually, by the gods? Did they win the position because no one dared challenge them, or they won the challenge against the previous leader?

It is also worth remembering that every human has an agenda. No, agendas are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but it does affect the way people see the world and the priorities they have. If some stranger popped up and gave you a five dollar bill to give to your favorite charity, where would you give it? Assuming you are honest and do indeed give the money to charity, there are almost endless possibilities. Health groups, religious groups, educational groups, sports groups, rehabilitation groups, ecological groups, etc. Where I would chose to give the money may not be where you would chose, but that doesn’t mean either of us are wrong. It simply means we have different hot buttons.

Let’s pretend for a moment that we have a list of five organizations. One is a children’s hospital, one is an animal sanctuary, one helps veterans, one is a literacy group, and the last provides clean water in third world countries. I think I can say without controversy that those are all good causes. Now, let’s pretend we are on a committee to determine funding for those organizations, and we only room on the budget for three. Which two get cut? That would get controversial very quickly, because we all have different agendas, different worldviews, and different priorities. Honestly, I am very glad I am not having to make a decision like that.

Another thing to remember with humans is that Lord Acton’s Dictum is a little too close to the truth. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Everyone has seen it happen. People who let a taste of power go to their head. Yes, there are people who manage to resist. I applaud them. And maybe you don’t have humans at all, but some other race that is totally immune to the temptation of power. Have fun.

Government is not always on the large scale. Sure every country has a leader of some sort, but so does every city, town, moon base, etc. Often there is an official leader. A mayor, governor, foreman, elder, etc. Sometimes there is an unofficial leader. A priest, a soothsayer, a wisewoman, the villager that’s lived forever and knows everything. Sometimes there’s both and they aren’t the same person. Isn’t that fun?

So, how do you develop a government? Research! And research some more. The place and role of government in various civilizations is fascinating. Rome went through several forms of government in a few short centuries. The ‘Time of Troubles’ in Russia, the period between the death of Ivan the Terrible and the start of the Romanov dynasty could be a novel in its’ own right, having imposters, a tsar elected by the nobles, and people claiming to come back from the dead. Recognize that it essentially has all been done before and there is only so far you can go to make it original. But since we are writing speculative fiction, there are ways to add flavor that aren’t available in a more ‘realistic’ book. I’ve mentioned a few possibilities and would love to hear your ideas.

My contest, mentioned in my last blog post, is still open, and will remain open until someone wins.  As previously mentioned, Secrets of the Moon Fox is available both in print and kindle format. If you want to help, but can’t afford to buy the book, than please help spread the word.