Would a Technologically Advanced Civilization Have A Monarchical Government?

Is there any reason to suppose that a very advanced civilization 9in terms of technology) would prefer to be governed by an emperor? We seem to think of democracy as a superior form of government-and forgettje corruption that often accompanies democracy.One of my all time favorite Sci-Fi series is the FOUNDATION sries of Asimov. In it, the Galactic empire presides over an advanced civilization that is able to travel between stars, synthesize materials, and create automatons indistinguishable from human beings.
Are ther4e any advantages to a monarchy? if everybody were toenjoy an upper-class lifestyle, would people really care about democracy? maybe an enlightened despot would be better?

I’ve read commentary to the effect that one of the best governed countries in history was England during the late 1700s early 1800s. The rationale being that the landed gentry took public service as a duty. We can debate whether or not this era was exemplary, but setting that aside, there is some merit in the concept of a natural aristocracy - of merit and education - to run a government.

The problem with hereditary monarchies is that the concentration of power without challenge causes the wrong sort of people to associate with the monarchy - hence the corrupting influence expressed in the old saying about absolute power.

To me, a more interesting and germaine question is: do we have a class of people who by education and upbringing are natural political leaders? Once can observe certain families in the U.S. in which politics is the family business. Why have we allowed this to happen?

Sorry I can’t think of the name, but one science fiction novel (by Heinlein?) had characters from a near-future returning to Earth after millenia of relativistic travel. Earth/Solar System was ruled by a hereditary monarchy based on scientificly provable genetics, not “noble blood”. If character traits and aptitudes could really be shown to have a genetic basis, then something like that might be possible.

This is driving me nuts. I read a scifi short story years ago about a group of youths who were sent out into space. I can’t recall if if was because earth was at war or if they were on an exploratory mission. While in space, they bio-engineered themselves into a race of near gods. I wish I could remember it!

I would assume that the real problem with a monarchy is that it can bring the wrong sort of person to power. Of course monarchies have worked at times in the past, but the entire concept is, in essence, a flip of a coin. If soneone is destined at birth to become king, then whatever forces shape their life, be they good or ill, shape the life of the king.

You can try a limited monarchy, to cut down on the damage that a bad king can do. But the obvious disadvantage there is that your limits may also impede a good king. Presumably we can agree that throughout history, some of the best leaders became great because of their bold and dynamic choices, choices that created sweeping changes for their society (and at times also the rest of the world). And in all those cases, there were those who opposed such changes. But many of history’s worst leaders were also trying to sweep in a tremendous set of changes. So when you limit the powers of the king, you are basically pushing both the very good and the very bad leaders towards a common average.

One possibility might be to set up a “king test” of sorts. That is, when the old monarch dies, the prince in line for the throne has to pass a test to prove their intelligence, logical thinking abilities, crisis management skills, and whatever other abilities we care about. If the prince passes the test, they become king. Otherwise, they get removed from the order of succession and the next person in line for the throne takes the test, and so forth.

As mentioned above, monarchy also brings corruption, and has the added disadvantage of there being no good way to remove a corrupt leader (short of assassination or coup).

I haven’t read the Foundation series, so I have a quick question about your description. When you say the king could “synthesize materials”, is this basically the ability to create an effictively infinite amount of wealth? It seems to me that, under that condition, any society with a meager redistrobution system and non-draconian law enforcement system would seem much like utopia to us. In this situation, a monarch might work just fine.

However, it seems to me that if we are to institute a monarch, it won’t be human. The best (or maybe not the best) way to do this would be to create some benevolent super-computer capable of dealing with the massive amount of information that is required for a society to run. With enough computing power, intelligence may not even be necessary, just the ability to simulate the outcomes of millions (billions? more?) of possible situations, and choose the best based on a set of parameters.

Eeek! SkyNet.

No thanks.

Even a Super-Intelligent Computer would have to be programmed by humans - who have their own power agenda.

I’d like to believe that a remarkably advanced civilization would have found away to abolish government without any detrimental effects.

One of the advantages of a monarchical setting for a SF narrative is that an American-style constitutional republic is, quite franky, boring. Unless it’s really dysfunctional. Also, the monarchical milieu allows you to bring in an element of predestination or heavenly annointment.

Monarchical settings also appeal to the human instinctive tendency to seek out a leader – one of those holdovers from our earlier evolution, where having an Alpha who really had it together meant your tribe thrived; and since in all likelihood said Apha was the sire of your clan, you had a sense of filial duty to that father figure. Until and unless the human psyche evolves to not crave unipersonal leaders, monarcy (or stringman rule) will retain its fascination.

The human craving for a family-based leadership is strong and quite obvious. Look no further than the continuing fascination with the Kennedys or the political ascendancy of the Bushes in the US, or India’s Congress party so centered around the Nehru-Gandhi lineage it even requires a non-Indian in-law to take over lest it fall apart, or Uruguay where every generation in the last century has sees a President or at least candidate from the Batlle family. Or the conspiracy-theorists that argue that the Fed Reserve is controlled by specific families, as if that made it worse than being controlled by corporations. And never mind the Republics-in-name-only where the Presidency is hereditary, as Kim’s N. Korea or Assad’s Syria.

BTW, a prime example of a Republic-in-name is the early Roman Empire. Augustus refused to be “King”; rather he was Princeps, “First Citizen”, Imperator, “Supreme Commander In Chief”, Consul-for-Life, etc. and simply made it all hereditary. But even when the Republic was in full swing, it had strict birth-status divisions of power between the patricians, equestrians and plebes. Even “modern” Republics need not do away altogether with the trappings of nobility and aristocracy – see for instance modern France, Germany and Italy, with all their Counts, Barons and Princes)

A writer who does not want to set their world in a parliamentary republic need not use a monarchy – he can use something that is still a Republic, but is ruled plutocratically by great corporations and financial interests, or on the basis of a meritocratic elite, yet is still benign. Or if he really wants a Royal Family, the writer can instead make it a powerless, nothing-but-figurehead, virtual-prisoner-of-the-system royal house in the style of the Japanese Emperor under the shogunate.

Of course, there are other settings where having monarchical settings is useful: for instance the monarchical/feudal goings-on in Dune tie in with the story being based on a grand experiment in eugenetics, requiring a set of Royal Families each bred for a special set of strenghts and weaknesses.

Then there’s The Mote In God’s Eye. You have a King and a house of peers, all bred and brought up to govern. There’s no particular reason why this should be worse than a political system in which those who govern are not selected for their ability to govern but to persuade people to vote for them.

In theory monarchies provide stability. While now the norm amongst “advanced” societies (for six decades (count’em if you want)) is to have peaceful democratic turnover of power with the losers accepting their lumps and the winners accepting victory gracefully (without proscriptions, confiscation, etc). There are certainly plenty of instances of democracy leading to big man rule or oligarchic rule, and then leading to chaos when the question of succession comes to the foreground. During portions of the Roman empire, father-son mini dynasties were islands of relative stability between civil wars. Having a clearly designated and small pool of legitimate successors minimizes the number of ambitious folks who can muster support for their bid for power. (Granted, there have been plenty of inter and intra dynastic wars that have gotten quite nasty after a monarch dies without a sufficiently clear or sufficiently powerful heir designee). I have seen it argued that part of the reason for the resurgance of the French monarchy through the latter part of the middle ages was their genious at having exactly one son per generation.

(I am not sure I want to go into the relative influence of contingency on the triumph of democracy. A slightly different 1914 or 1918 might have changed our views on the viability of monarchy in the modern era)

A second point is that even if the hegemon/rulers have a democratic style of government it may be that local governments under strong men are preferred as being easier to deal with than a bazillion levels of devolved democracy. We see more than a little of this today.

Funny that so many are putting the criteria of intelligence and mental capacity as the most important for a would be Monarch… I think most leaders are extremely intelligent (with a glaring exception nowadays)… the issue is not only intelligence and competence… but much more Honesty and Motives. Is the Monarch serving the best needs of the nation or of his agenda… or someone else’s agenda ? Is he just maintaining his “class” in power ? How corrupt is he ?

Even a corrupt and self serving monarch can be a good monarch… but ideally they shouldn’t. The reason democracy wins in the long term is avoiding the extremes. So a technologically advanced civilization might have a Monarchical Government if somehow they didn’t wield too much power IMO. Some sort of defanged Monarchy like the Brits had.

Seems to me, this most recent election was more about who the electorate related to and didn’t… I don’t know what to call it. “I voted for Bush 'cause he thinks just like me and likes families just like me!”

So wouldn’t that be a desireable characteristic in a supreme unelected leader? Wouldn’t the people follow someone more willingly if that person was just like them in most ways, except, I dunno, smarter and wiser?

I think most rulers had to find that fine line, yes. You need to maintain the sense of connection to you that’s vital to maintain your powerbase, and here I’d like to clarify that you don’t need to be like everyone, just those who can keep you afloat, but you can’t be too common or people begin to wonder why they need to follow you at all. The finest rulers in history have pulled off the demi-god/demagogue paradox without breaking a sweat.

The reason democracy wins is that it provides a mechanism of disposing “monarchs” without resorting to violence.

Technologically advanced empires is a common, reoccuring theme in science fiction - Asimov, Hubert, Lucas. The reason is that it makes for an interesting story - beautiful princeses, evil and nobel knights (with lightsabers instead of swords), corupt and all-powerful emporers, petty bickering between minor nobles, etc, Machiavelian manipulations, coupes, collapse.

This all makes for good fiction but in reality it’s not the best system to live under. At the end of the day, the role of government is to fix the roads, run the schools, defend the borders and keep the people from robbing and killing each other. Two minor dukes bickering over a love interest is amusing to the masses until they decide to make war over it in each others kingdoms. Most of the bullshit that keeps people so entertained with the aristocracy can be easily acomplished through a class of highly paid but mostly harmless entertainers. Kind of why Americans treat our entertainers as a sort of aristocracy.

In a high enough technoligy society, it is possible that the skills required for rulership may be so specialised as to require the ruler to be trained from birth in the ruling arts, and that ruler may need to be genetically identified for competency at ruling. Such system could create an Emperor by birth situation, even though there would be no reason that the next Emperor would be related to the current emperor, inperial blood lines would immerge which have frequent occurences of suitable genetic types for imperial office.
This reminds me of the situation in the Dune books, where promising bloodlines are manipulated by several competing factions to attempt to produce an ultimate emperor for the Universe.

Ok… I agree… but are there ways of disposing of rulers or presidents besides elections that don’t inevitably reflect power bases and manipulation ? Democratic elections by the very chaos they are mean its never a given who will be elected ?

The thing about Monarchy is that it’s rarely absolute, and has been pointed out that Democracy is barely different from feudalism. There are families with power who maintain power who pass that power onto the next generation. Certainly we elect the King(President) and that makes SOME difference, but there certainly is a noble class in every society. I doubt an Imperial society would be a Monarchy.

I’m working on a Sci-Fi/Fantasy setting where there is no definite age limit for humans, and some live very long lives and others do not. The most powerful are the ones that live for thousands of years, whereas the ruling aristocracy underneath those are the families that were able to implement their rule through long lives, and the power structure is determined by many different factors, like one family in a particular city had a longer line of people who lived a couple centuries, with overlap and have been able to do a lot with that, whereas the family that built the city takes second string, even though the City’s patriarch lived more than twice as long as the longest lived member of the ruling family.

The Society is overall run by the Breeding Guild (Which is sort of a eugenics kind of thing), the Banking guild, and the Mail guild.

There are so many different ways to consolidate power, that the style of oligarchy changes, but the overall nature of oligarchy is a relative constant. Even in an anarchist society you’d have oligarchic principles at work, the only difference would be that it would be more difficult to quantify their power and influence. I think in a setting where Galactic colonization is a factor, the system would be so extremely complex that it would not really matter. For instance, a relatively peaceful apolitical mining planet would have nothing to fear overall from the Empire. People would get spooked when they see a stormtrooper, but for the most part it’s unlikely that people will even come across a stormtrooper, as long as the planet’s accounts are kept in reasonable order and they can pay their taxes to the Empire. For this planet being part of the republic or part of the empire is probably wholly irrelevant, whereas on Coruscant it would matter quite a bit.

In the end society is run by Mafias, and those mafias have different affiliations, they make up new words to describe their ideals, but essentially it’s always the same thing.


That should be “I doubt a SPACE empire would be a Monarchy”

I doubt a technologically advanced civ would have a stable absolutist or feudal monarchy. It might have a parliamentary monarchy, elected either via the rich or via the masses. But the easy availability of powerful weapons and technological advancements means that keeping yourself in power either via holding the means of production or the means of war is very difficult. After all, today we see dictatorships, but rarely monarchies that last very long, since firearms equalize the difference between a noble and a commoner.

On the other hand, a feudal monarchy might be possible if technology enabled that difference with vastly expensive and hard-to-use equipment, such as BattleMechs. Then having the knights in hereditary BattleMechs support a king in return for economic status would be possible, since even a peon with an IED, or a hand weapon, or even a tank wouldn’t be able to take down a BattleMech.