The Alternative Rules


A look at two exotic forms of government, and the cultures in which they thrived

By Lazette Gifford

©2001, Lazette Gifford

Issue # 2: 03/01/01


Visualization For Writers
Feature Articles
Creating and Using Language in Fiction
By Damon M. Lord
A, B, C: Beith, Luis, Nin
By Bryn Neuenschwander
Genetics in Storytelling
By Allison Starkweather
Creating Character Extras to Enhance Your Story
By Shane P. Carr
At a Loss for Words
By Vicki McElfresh
The Alternative Rules
By Lazette Gifford
Fantasy: 
A Man in Beast's Clothing
By Sarah Jane Elliott
Horror: 
What Is Horror?
By Teresa Hopper
Poetry: 
How-to Haiku
By Jennifer St. Clair Bush
Romance: 
Research Flaws in Romance Novels
By Anne M. Marble
Science Fiction: 
Tuning the Universe
By Bob Billing
Stage & Screen: 
The Dual Landscape of Plot and Story
By Robin Catesby
Suspense & Mystery:
Scene of the Crime
By Shane P. Carr
Young Adult & Children:
A Question of Style
By Justin Stanchfield
Young Writer's Scene:
Befriending the Internal Editor
By Beth Adele Long
Book Reviews
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
Reviewed by Beth Adele Long
Web Site Reviews
The Forward Motion Web Site
By Lazette Gifford
Helpful Pointers for Community Members
By Jim Mills
From the Writers' Board
News from Forward Motion

 

Government is more than the sum of all the interests; it is the paramount interest, the public interest.  It must be the efficient, effective agent of a responsible citizenry, not the shelter of the incompetent and the corrupt.

Adlai Stevenson, 
Speech at Bloomington Illinois, 1948

 

This is not a scholarly look at forms of government, but rather a gathering of information to help writers gaze beyond the hazy democracies or easy kingships that rule the books we read and write.  Even on Earth the ways of governing are not only myriad, but constantly mutating as well.  Adapting any form of government to other worlds (either SF or Fantasy) is bound to create even more interesting variations.  Imagine something beyond the facts.

Government is also not simply a form imposed on a people. It grows from their culture, and changes with their history -- except in the cases of foreign subjugation.  But even then, the government will adapt over time.  For that reason I have tried to show background as well as how the government affected the people who lived within the system. 

At the end of this article is a list containing descriptions of several forms of government.  If you are a writer like me, just looking at the list sparks ideas for entire new civilizations. 

I have gathered this information from a number of sources, and found contradictions in nearly everything I read.  I selected what looked like the most interesting possibilities for fiction writers.

Sparta: Grace Under Fire 

The early history of Sparta is very similar to that of its famous rival, Athens.  The Bronze Age Mycenaean settlement fell into disuse in the 12th century BC, but began to grow again, in the form of four or five villages, in the time of the Dorians.  By the ninth century BC, the villages had become the town of Sparta. 

The Spartan form of government was a myriad blend of several systems.  At the top stood two kings, one chosen from each of the two most powerful families - the Agiad and the Eurypontid.  Every year five ephors (overseers) were also appointed, who had executive, administrative and judicial authority.  Added to this was the Geruosia, or Council of Elders, composed of about 30 members who were at least 60 years of age (and therefore retired from the military).  The Apella assembly was the most democratic part of the government, of which all freeborn Spartan males were members.  This group was also known as the homoioi -- The Equals or Like Ones. Each owned land, and together they formed the bulk of Sparta's famous hoplite army. Everyone else was excluded from government: women, slaves, the periokoi (Dwellers About -- foreign merchants and such), and the helots, who were serfs.

Sparta's renown as a military power eventually led to drastic changes in its citizens' way of life.  Sparta won two wars with its western neighbor, Messenia, but was left perilously weak.  It was at this time (the seventh century BC) that a severe military and communal system, known as the apoge, began to emerge.  In its final form, the apoge system had complete control of the lives of its citizens.  Children were examined at birth, and those deemed too weak were exposed or thrown from a cliff to die.  Exposure of children was not uncommon in other Greek communities, but only at Sparta was it a governmental function. At the age of seven, all male children were taken to military school where they lived, under extreme hardship, until they were twenty and became soldiers.  This weakened family loyalties, but strengthened the ties among peers who served together in the military. Soldiers were allotted a plot of land, and became citizens.  However, it is likely that most of them never saw this land, since they were forbidden to do agricultural work.  The helots farmed the plots, while the Spartan men continued to live in barracks until they were 30, after which they were finally allowed a home of their own.  Communal meals were still the law, however, and failure to pay the mess hall fees resulted in revocation of citizenship. 

Paradoxically, while Spartan men had fewer freedoms than their Athenian counterparts, the women had more.  Spartan women were trained along the same lines as the men, so that they, too, had some military abilities.  But they were also the only Greek women to be taught to read and write.  Also, because the men lived in barracks, even after marriage, the women had far more freedom in their daily lives than in any other part of the Greek world.  A Spartan woman was expected to be able to defend her husband's property and to guard against invaders, while in other city-states of the time, women were not even supposed to be allowed outside. 

Spartan marriage, as can be expected, was unusual.  There may have been a regular ceremony, but the common ritual involved the woman being abducted at night, and her head shaved.  If prior to this she had been a 'girl' she was now deemed a woman.  Men might abduct any woman, which lead to polyandrous relationships. 

During the Persian invasion of 492BC, the Spartans found themselves slandered for not having sent their army to the Battle of Marathon, which was won without their help.  They redeemed themselves at the battle of Thermopalye in 480BC, when King Leonides and all of his men fell to the overwhelming power of the Persian army under Xerxes, although they had delayed the Persians long enough to save the Greek Fleet at Artemisum.  It was for this battle the poet Simonides penned his most famous epigraph, "Go Tell the Spartans, passerby, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie." (Legend says that when King Leonides was told that the approaching Persians were so large that their shields blocked out the sun, he replied, "All the better.  Then we shall fight in the shade.") 

In 464 Sparta suffered a devastating earthquake.  The helots took advantage of this to revolt, but were put down.  Despite their own troubles, Sparta so feared Athenian expansion that the two city-states came to blows, beginning the long and devastating Peloponnesian War, which lasted from 431-404.  Athens was finally defeated, and the Spartans turned their army on the Persians from 400-390BC.  It was not until the Battle of Leuctra in 371BC that they were finally defeated, this time by the army of Thebes.  

The city still held out against Phillip II, but fell to his son Alexander's army under Antigonus Doson.  In 146 it was joined to the Roman province of Macedonia.  But the timocracy of Sparta had survived for centuries, and retained its legend of invincible military strength into the modern age. 

Heian Japan: The Fine Art of Adaptation 

Japan is a nation of over 3000 islands, though only about 600 are inhabited.  The landmass of the inhabited areas is less than that of California, and it is a mountainous terrain, which encouraged regional, rather than central, governments.  The islands have a temperate climate, being on the Black current, which flows north from the tropics, but the region is also prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. 

During the Ice Age, Japan was still connected to Korea by a land bridge, and was settled by a preliterate Mesolithic culture that created pottery, which elsewhere in the world is associated with the later Neolithic cultures.  They survived by a hunter-gathering and fishing lifestyle, and lived in small tribal groups. The Jômon culture lasted, cut off as it was from any outside influence, from the 11th century until the 3rd century BC.   

Then the Yayoi, from Northern China, invaded.  They brought bronze weapons and agriculture, along with the first recognizable religion to the Islands, the roots of Shintoism. Yayoi clans were called uji and headed by a man who was both war-chief and priest.  Each clan was associated with a single god, and the leader performed the rituals for the clan.  The gods, called kami, represented forces of nature.  Marriage was polygamous, and according to Chinese histories, women may have served as the clan leaders and priests. 

But around 500AD another wave of immigrants arrived and brought new ideas of government, out of which the Yamoto state grew.  Situated close to the Korean peninsula, it is the richest agricultural region in Japan.  The rulers of Yamoto built tomb-mounds, including the one of Nintoka, which is longer than five football fields and has twice the volume of the Great Pyramid. 

Although the basic social unit remained the uji, Korean titles were used for the aristocracy.  There was an alliance with the powerful Paekche kingdom of Korea, which sent potters, metal workers, and other artists and workers to the Yamoto court.  Chinese writing was employed, and in 513AD a Confucian scholar was sent to the island.  In 552 the Paekche court sent an image of Buddha, scriptures, and a representative of the religion.  These three gifts -- writing, Confucianism, and Buddhism -- all came from Korea, and profoundly influenced Japan's future. 

With the fall of the Korean Paekche kingdom, Japan was faced with new immigrations and resistance within their own court.  In 573-621 Shotoku Taishi, regent during the reign of Empress Suiko, reorganized the Yamoto court on the Chinese model, encouraged Buddhism, and sponsored the writing and adoption of the Chinese Style Seventeen Article Constitution (Kenpo Jushichijo).   

It was at this time that the most pervasive myth of Japanese government began to unfold.  The emperor was no longer ruling by divine fiat, but was now believed to be divine in his own right and a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami.  It was her grandchild, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, who came to the island of Kyushu with a mirror, a jewel and a sword.  These became the symbols of royalty. 

With the establishment of Japanese Imperial Rule, the Emperor exercised absolute authority.  Japan now became, in theory, a unified land, although outside of Yamato the country was still basically Neolithic and wild.  It would be centuries before the Japanese nation was really born, partly because communication was so poor.  Only a few people understood the Chinese written language, which the government had adopted.   

But it was during this time that the incredibly complex, and highly civilized, Heian court came into being.  The Emperor was already settled into a paradoxical role: a supreme ruler, descended from the Goddess, but at the same time more of a religious symbol than an actual head of government.  The control of administration was in the hands of the prime minister, a position that was fought over by several clans.   

Other problems grew from the importation of Chinese religion.  While the upper classes turned toward Buddhism, the lower classes, especially those far removed from the capital, were still clinging to their Shinto beliefs.  Theologians were quick to reconcile the two religions, since the Imperial Family was descended from the Shinto sun-goddess, and without that authority, the control of government would fall apart. 

One of the important, and eventually far-reaching, government measures was to declare all agricultural land the property of the throne.  It was allotted back to the peasants in small plots.  The peasants paid taxes in the form of part of their crop and with labor for public works.  Many of these plots were given to aristocrats for their own tax collecting, and became a new way to gain wealth.  The edict spread slowly in the areas away from the capital, however. 

This redistribution of land had one truly adverse effect on the peasants.  If they did not have a local lord in control, they were at the mercy of the imperial tax-collectors, who conscripted men for labor and military service.  The latter was the worse, since a soldier had to supply is own food, clothing and weapons.  Having a son in the army often ruined a peasant family. 

Prior to 710, the Emperor's capital was hardly more than a large village, and it moved from place to place, since at the death of an Emperor a location became ritually unclean.  The Buddhist influence changed that, however, and a permanent site was chosen on the Yamato plain.  The city was laid out on the same plan as the Chinese T'ang capital, but within 18 years the court moved again. The reason was that the new Emperor wanted a city that was away from the many Buddhist temples and monasteries that had grown up near the palace.  He built the beautiful Heian-kyo, meaning "the capital of peace and tranquility."  Later it became known simply as The Capital, Kyoto. 

The city was an island of civilization in a land where most of the five million inhabitants were simple peasants, and their backwoods aristocracy and officials were hardly more cultured.  Within the city, however, one of the most refined civilizations in history reigned.  Despite the hostile world outside, Heian-kyo managed to survive in relative peace, possibly because of the nonviolent influence of Buddhism.  Even the soldiers within the city were only the ceremonial imperial guards, and more harm was done with intricate poems than with a sword. 

The Fujiwara clan dominated the Heian Government from the ninth to the eleventh century, establishing a unique way to maintain their position.  They wanted the Emperor to maintain all the pomp, majesty, and mystic of his position, but at the same time they wanted to make certain they had him in their control.  They did this by presenting generation after generation of charming, intelligent, and prolific daughters, whom they successively married to the reigning Emperors.  Within a few generations, the Emperor's ancestry was almost entirely Fujiwara, and he knew where his power base lay. It was, in fact, the Fujiwara clan's lack of a suitable daughter that finally led to their downfall, and the influx of a new bloodline -- though, as always, the genealogy was carefully kept, so that a direct line could be shown back to the grandson of the Goddess.  By now the emperor's main work was to perform the long, sacred rituals considered necessary for the welfare of the country, and to be present at other court functions and festivities. 

Life in Heian-kyo was so appealing that noble families abandoned their strongholds to live in the city.  Of the population of about 10,000 only around 3,000 were the high-ranking aristocrats, and they were very careful of their rights.  People belonging to a certain rank wore distinctive clothing, and only ranks above the fifth were allowed to enter the Emperor's audience chamber.  Commoners were considered semi-human, and lesser bureaucrats weren't much better.  However, within this small group, an incredible flowering of culture, style, grace and manners was maintained for centuries. 

The homes of the nobles were simple wood structures with moveable walls and little privacy.  Secondary buildings for family members and servants were built nearby, and reached by covered corridors, which made each estate a maze of passages and courtyards. There were few furnishings, but one of the most interesting was the kicho.  This was a six-foot high, portable curtained frame, behind which a high-ranking woman would conceal herself from view, appearing as only a shadow through the cloth.  An important part of a Heian love affair came when the woman allowed her male visitor to come behind her kicho. 

The people held to strange superstitions, despite their Buddhist and Confucian beliefs.  Divination was very important, and days that were counted lucky and unlucky were very seriously observed.  In the Imperial Palace, the guards twanged their bowstrings at regular times to frighten away the demons. Even the site of the city was chosen with care, to have the Mt. Hiei and its Buddhist monastery as a barrier to the northeast, the direction from which demons were most likely to attack. 

They had, however, created one distinct problem for themselves.  By adopting, and clinging to, the Chinese characters for writing, they made it very difficult to develop their own literature.  The Chinese language is made of monosyllabic words, which were each written by a single character, and these numbered in the thousands.  However, Japanese was easier to write phonetically, since it had only 47 syllables.  Two forms of this phonetic writing were actually created, both called Kana.  However, high-ranking men shunned them, since the older Chinese system was a sign of their rank.

This did not, however, stop the women from using it.  Kana was even called 'women's writing' at times.  They used it to write letters, diaries, poems, and the first true novels in history.  It was a lady in waiting to an 11th century empress who began writing a love story to pass the time.  630,000 words later, she had completed "The Tale of Genji" which is the first major novel in history. 

The fall of the Heian Empire came through many sources.  The Fujiwara clan had grown so large that they began to feud among themselves, and the main branch of the family failed to produce enough daughters to marry all the Imperial male descendents.  In 1068 Emperor Go Sanjo came to the throne.  His mother was not a Fujiwaran, and he was not a child.  He took the rule away from the long-established family, and then abdicated in favor of his own son. This allowed him to move away from the symbolic structure of being Emperor, and set up his own offices where he could control the government. 

It was a time of change.  Beyond Heian-kyo, chaos had grown.  The Minamoto and Taira clans were becoming more powerful, and a new figure was making its presence known in Japanese history.  The age of the Samurai had arrived. 

 

Some Forms of Government:

 

·         Absolute Monarchy -- kingdom in which monarch has complete power

·         Anarchy -- absence of government

·         Aristocracy -- government by a wealthy, privileged minority or hereditary ruling class

·         Caliphate -- government by Islamic civil and religious leader

·         Civil government -- government established by laws made by citizens or their representatives; nonmilitary, nonreligious authority

·         Coalition government -- temporary alliance of members of two or more parties to form governing majority

·         Collective -- group or institution organized and run by all members equally

·         Commonwealth -- government in which ultimate authority lies with people

·         Constitutionalism -- government based on written constitutional principles

·         Constitutional monarchy -- government headed by monarch and regulated by constitution

·         Democracy -- government by the people with majority rule exercised in periodic, free election of representatives

·         Despotism -- government in which ruler exercise absolute power

·         Dictatorship -- government in which absolute power rest with one person or a few

·         Duarchy or duumvirate -- government by two equally powerful rulers

·         Dyarchy -- dual responsibility shared by colonial government and native ministers

·         Empire -- several territories, nations or peoples governed by single sovereign authority

·         Fascism -- government based on establishing oppressive, one-part, centralized national regime

·         Federal government -- system in which political units surrender individual sovereignty to central authority, but retain designated powers

·         Feudalism -- political system in Europe from 9th to 15th century in which lord owned all property worked by vassals

·         Gerontocarcy -- rule by elders

·         Gynecocracy -- government by women

·         Hagiocracy -- government by group of persons believed to be holy

·         Hierocracy -- rule by priest or clergy

·         Isocracy -- government in which all individuals have equal political power

·         Matriarchy -- government or monarchy in which power rests with females or descends through female line

·         Meritocracy -- government in which criterion for leadership is skill or intellectual achievement

·         Monarchy -- government with absolute hereditary ruler who serves for life

·         Ochlocracy -- rule by the multitude or mob

·         Oligarchy -- government by small group of privileged individuals

·         Pantisocracy -- utopia in which all members rule equally

·         Parliamentary government -- system in which executive (prime minister) is chosen by elected legislature (parliament) from among its members

·         Patriarchy -- government or monarchy in which power rests with males or descends through male line

·         Plutocracy -- government by the wealthy

·         Principality -- state ruled by a prince, often part of larger state or empire

·         Regency -- reign of non-monarch during youth or indisposition of monarch

·         Republic -- government in which power is vested in elected representatives of citizenry

·         Sovereignty -- political autonomy and freedom of state from outside authority

·         Stratocracy -- government by the military

·         Technocracy -- government run by experts and technicians

·         Thearchy -- government based on divine sovereignty

·         Theocracy -- government by church officials, who believe they have divine authority

·         Timocracy -- government based on love of honor and military glory or on requisite ownership of property

·         Totalitarianism -- authoritarian political system in which citizen is totally subject to will of state

·         Triarchy -- government ruled jointly by three person; triumvirate

·         Tyranny -- government by single absolute authority, especially one exercising oppressive power

·         Unitary government -- system in which power is held by single central source, and local governments are merely administrative agents, the opposite of federalism

·         Welfare state -- system in which ultimate responsibility of government is well being of all citizens 

 

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