This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.
If you’re creating a new world or a mythical one within our world, it would be wise to spend some time thinking about the government of that place. Even if your story doesn’t have much to do with politics, you still need to understand enough about the place in which your characters live to be able to write about their lives.
Let me just say, “Government? Not my favorite subject.” Still, this doesn’t have to be complicated. And I’m going to try and make it as simple as I can. If you choose a rare type of government for your storyworld, I highly recommend you do some research on that government to help you understand it.
On his writing excuses podcast, Brandon Sanderson boiled the whole mess down to a simple question that really helped me, and here it is: Who has the power?
Who controls the food and water? The weapons? If there is a disease, who controls the medicine? Whoever holds these things holds the power over those that don't. These people make the laws, usually to their own political and/or financial advantage.
So, asking yourself "Who has the power?" is a great place to start. And if you’re writing a book that has little to do with the government, maybe you don’t need to go much further than that. But since I know you all are trying to come up with really unique stories, I’d like you to consider using a different form of government than what's seen in most stories. For example, most medieval fantasy stories have a feudalistic monarchy. And most outer space science fiction stories have an intergalactic federation.
So here is a list that is not at all comprehensive, as I'm no governmental scholar. But I hope that it might inspire some interesting ideas on your current, or future, WIP. (My source for the gist of the following definitions was either www.dictionary.com or my own Websters from my bookshelf, so I give props to them.)
TYPES OF GOVERNMENTS
Anarchy – a state of society without government, law, or order.
Aristocracy – a government ruled by the elite, privileged upper class, nobility, or any group considered to be superior through education, ability, wealth, or social prestige.
Authoritarian – a government in which individual freedom is subordinate to the power or authority of the state and is not accountable to the people. Some types of authoritarian government do permit degrees of individual freedom.
Autocracy – a government in which one person (an autocrat) has uncontrolled or unlimited authority, power, or influence. Consider similar governments of despotism, dictatorship, stratocracy, fascism, and tyranny.
|Qui -Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi bring Anakin before the Jedi council|
Capitalism – an economic system in which people investment in and own their own businesses and property. Wealth is made and maintained mostly by private individuals or corporations.
Communism – a classless society in which private ownership is abolished and the means of production and provisions for survival belong to the community.
Confederation – an economic and/or political union or alliance of sovereign states in which membership of each state is voluntary. Consider the European Union of today.
Democracy – a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
Empire – a group of nations or peoples ruled over by an emperor, empress, or other powerful sovereign, established usually through coercion.
Federation – a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a federal government.
Feudalism – the political, military, and social system in the Middle Ages, based on the holding of lands in fief or fee and on the resulting relations between lord and vassal. Under feudalism, the land in a kingdom belonged to the king, who gave some (called manors) to lords or nobles that served him. The lord or nobles gave some of their land (called fiefs) to vassals, who served the lords.
Libertarian – a government that advocates the freedom of thought, expression, and free will and protects its people from coercion and violence.
Monarchy – a form of government in which supreme authority is vested in a single and usually hereditary figure, such as a king. There are different types of monarchies to consider: absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, diarchy, elective monarchy, emirate, and a federal monarchy.
|Spock argues his case against Kirk at the disciplinary hearing|
Oligarchy – a government in which the power is vested in a few persons. These people could be wealthy, powerful, and/or influential, and might share similar interests and/or family. Some other types of oligarchic governments are: ergatocracy, kritarchy, netocracy, plutocracy, stratocracy, and theocracy.
Polyarchy – a form of government in which power is vested in three or more persons. The word polyarchy is Greek for "many leaders." This could also be a triarchy, tetrarchy, or more.
Republic – a government in which the power rests in the body of the citizens who are entitled to vote for representatives to exercise their will—the will of the people. Some other types of republics are: constitutional republic, democratic republic, parliamentary republic, federal republic, and a socialist republic.
Socialism – an economic system in which the production and distribution of goods are controlled by the government rather than by private enterprise. There are many varieties of socialism. Some socialists tolerate capitalism, as long as the government maintains influence over the economy. Some socialists insist on abolishing private enterprise. My understanding is that all types of communism are socialist, but not all types of socialism are communist.
Timocracy – There are two definitions for this. One is a form of government in which possession of property is required in order to hold office. The second definition is a form of government in which rulers are motivated by ambition or love of honor. Plato described it as a government in which ambition for power and glory motivates the rulers.
Totalitarian – a government that does not tolerate differing opinion and that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life.
|Father from Equilibrium|
KEEP IN MIND…
I’m not a government teacher. And you are authors. Use your imagination! You can combine these and/or tweak them in regard to the storyworld, cultures, and magic you’ve already created. And you can add negative attributes too, like having your politics influenced by entities that are not part of the formal government, like corporations, banks, the mafia, thieves, mob mentality, terrorism, magical groups, crazy beasties, you name it. Fun stuff.
|credit Marie-Lan Nguyen 2009|
ANOTHER INTERESTING THING TO NOTE…
In The Republic, the Greek philosopher Plato discusses the five stages of government in descending order of moral goodness. They are: aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and tyranny. Plato suggested that each regime would progressively degenerate until reaching tyranny, which when overthrown, would return to aristocracy. I think that’s a pretty fascinating concept. If you’ve got some sort of rebellion or anarchy in your storyworld, you might consider his argument as to what might happen next. After all, the people in a medieval-type of world who've overthrown the evil king might not come up with something like a democracy. You can read Plato's ideas in The Republic (book VIII), which you can download for free by clicking here.
So, I've issued a challenge, all you spec fiction writers. Tweak the government in your storyworld in some way. You can do it! I've read that there are a virtually no countries today that rule solely on one system of government. Most combine two or more. (Click on this cool Wikipedia map that shows current types of government in our world.)
So play around with this. Mix and match and see what you come up with. Also keep in mind that these definitions that I cobbled together with the help of dictionaries online and at home are very brief. I strongly recommend that you do your own research to learn more about whatever types of governments you plan to use in your book.