The Alternative Rules
Issue # 2: 03/01/01
and Using Language in Fiction
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Anarchy -- absence of government
Aristocracy -- government by a wealthy, privileged
minority or hereditary ruling class
Caliphate -- government by Islamic civil and religious
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 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
Dictatorship -- government in which absolute power rest
with one person or a few
Duarchy or duumvirate -- government by two equally
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
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
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
Pantisocracy -- utopia in which all members rule equally
Parliamentary government -- system in which executive
(prime minister) is chosen by elected legislature (parliament) from among
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;
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