Establishing a credible political and social environment for an imaginary future isn’t an easy task. It has to be logically based on political structures that have come before, since humanity has tried most of them in various combinations. It also has to be conducive to the stories being told. A Stalinist environment works fine for a story with undercurrents of repression and rebellion, but works a lot less for one that centers on free trade between the stars. Monarchies are perfectly plausible, but the absolutist version will have a very different effect on a society than the constitutional kind. Would humanity regress from the various versions of representative democracy currently fashionable as it spreads across the stars? Probably. Humans are very good at forgetting the lessons of history and repeating the mistakes of the past. How else can one explain that Marxism is still fashionable among certain intellectual circles when history has recorded social and economic failure in its wake, watered by the blood of uncounted millions of dead? I have no doubt that some future societies will be as dysfunctional, decadent, repressive or repulsive as those we’ve already witnessed, but with luck, not all at the same time. There will probably be a Pol Pot in the future, or a Iosef Jugashvili, but also hopefully a Churchill or a Gandhi. The biggest problem I’ve always had with the Star Trek universe was the lack of dark corners. It was all light, peace and good will to all sentients. It basically ignored human nature, which isn’t going to change any time soon, and if reaching for the stars will be a struggle for humanity, it will be the same for any other species out there, which means the chances of them being wiser, more peaceful and more filled with good will than us are rather slim. Complacent societies don’t strive for the stars. Aggressive ones do. Again, look back at human history and contrast the societies that expanded and colonized with those that didn’t. Some of the societies that stayed home had a much longer history and were more advanced than the expansionist ones. Therefore, the aliens in my stories also have to be logically consistent, or they become so advanced that their actions are more like magic. With that in mind, I’ve tried to create a Commonwealth, a Shrehari Empire and other societies that sound logical. Or at the very least that aren’t so illogical as to clash with the story. I’ve read a number of books where the authors glossed over the wider socio-political environment, and that’s fine where such knowledge isn’t important to the story. I’ve also read some where the authors got so wrapped around the axle with detail that I got bored very quickly. And sadly, I’ve read a great many where the socio-political background simply didn’t make much sense. I’ve tried to define the various polities so that I could remain consistent in my story telling, and hopefully provide my readers with a bit more background, should they want it. It is a perfect example of political science (fiction)? No. Is my vision debatable? Sure – it’s politics after all. But it does amuse me to write down how I imagine my universe to be.
I envision the Commonwealth as a confederation that’s somewhat looser than the federal states we’re familiar with in the 21st century. Considering the distances between inhabited star systems, the time lag in communications, even with subspace radio, a strong central government can’t do a very good job. Therefore, the Commonwealth is managed on a decentralized model, akin to the British Empire of the Victorian era, where viceroys, dominion governments, etc, had considerable autonomy in running their little corner of the world, but the Imperial government retained sole responsibility for defence, foreign affairs, commerce, and other matters applicable to the Empire as a whole. Thus, in my Commonwealth, planets who have attained Level 3 self-sufficiency, i.e. able to survive at a technological level even if cut off from the rest of the galaxy, are self-governing member planets, with autonomy for everything other than defence, alien affairs, interstellar policing, commerce and criminal justice, as well as other regulatory matters that cross interstellar boundaries. They can field their own local defence forces/national guards and where there is no counterclaim, they can extend their jurisdiction over their entire star system. If they do not wish to have military forces on their soil, they have the right to refuse Navy or Marine bases. Their governments must be representative, but the Constitution leaves wide latitude to interpretation. In practice, dictatorships, absolute monarchies or tyrannies aren’t allowed, and can be removed by force, but other than repressive regimes, Level 3 planets are left to their own devices. Non-members, i.e. those that have not attained Level 3, are split in two categories: colonies founded and administered by member planets (non-charter colonies) and colonies founded under the central government’s charter (charter colonies). Level 1 colonies do not require representative government, and are generally under an appointed administrator or governor with limited local participation in the governance. Level 2 colonies require representative government, but under an appointed administrator or governor. In practice, non-charter colonies never get to Level 2 – the mother planet either holds them at Level 1 to retain absolute control, or colonies who are ready for independence revolt and jump from Level 1 to Level 3 with the help of their friendly neighbourhood Marines. Representative government across the Commonwealth is through the Senate, with two senators per member planet, and one senator per Level 2 colony. Member planets may appoint their senators through a variety of mechanisms, be it direct election, electoral college or by the planetary legislature. Due to the size of the Commonwealth and the widely differing circumstances and interests of the human worlds, the notion of representation by population was discarded. Level 1 colonies have no representation. Senators are appointed for a non-renewable eight year term, to avoid creating a permanent political class rooted on Earth and no longer representative of their home worlds. The executive branch is vested in the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, who is elected for a single eight year term by the Senate from among those former senators who put forth their candidacy. The SecGen appoints the various Secretaries running the central ministries, for non-renewable terms not exceeding eight years. Is this political system perfect? Far from it. Term limits have restrained the ability for individuals to entrench themselves in government, but because human greed and desire for power never rests, it has given rise to family dynasties more akin to medieval nobility than a republican state, and senators from planets that were colonized long ago and who have an entrenched political class tend to represent somewhat different interests than those from planets who until recently had not attained Level 3 . Mind you, the prior incarnations of the Commonwealth had even greater problems, and humanity suffered through two murderous civil wars, dubbed the First and Second Migration Wars, before coming to a compromise form of government. The Second Migration War ended mostly because humanity encountered the Shrehari Empire for the first time and realized that if the planets didn’t hang together, the Shrehari would assuredly make them hang separately.
The Shrehari Empire
It’s been generally accepted that the current Shrehari Empire is not the first space-faring civilisation built by that proud warrior species, and that in fact the Shrehari are a much older race than humanity. The legends speak of them building a large empire at a time when homo sapiens had yet to leave Africa and when homo neanderthalis still dominated much of Europe and Asia. Little, if any evidence has been found, but many speculate that the Shrehari might have visited Earth before that elder civilisation collapsed into millennia of darkness, seeding legends of sky gods among primitive humans. Most scientists agree that stories of an older Shrehari empire, centered on a part of the galaxy very different from the current one, are more likely to be based on fact than Earth legends of vanished empires such as Atlantis. Some xeno-archaeological finds, including ancient fortresses on far-flung worlds are thought to have proto-Shrehari origins. Interestingly, many Shrehari lend little credence to these legends and believe their species originated on the planet now known as Shrehari Prime, even though the fossil records are scarce, and none are thought to be older than approximately one hundred thousand years. It is believed that Shrehari religion plays a large part in the denial of an elder civilisation that gave birth to the current one. Shrehari society is based on multiple loyalty lines, the strongest being that of the clan, followed by those surrounding the more prestigious professions, especially the Warriors. A semi-feudal polity, the Empire has sharp class divisions and no knowledge or traditions that would promote anything close to humanity’s universal sufferage principles. Clan Lords sitting as a group form the closest thing to a parliament the Empire has, and are the counterbalance to an Emperor who might want to seize absolute power. When the Emperor is weak, the Clan Lords dictate policy. When he is strong, politics revolve mainly around each side attempting to gain the upper hand. The unfortunate results of a power imbalance or outright power struggle can result in interstellar war, with the side that holds the greater loyalty of the military using conflict to enhance prestige and enlarge territory. The great war in Dunmoore’s day resulted when the old Emperor, who had the Clan Lords’ support, died leaving the Empire to his infant son under the regency of the new Emperor’s mother. She, in turn, fell under the sway of the adventurists who wished to cow the Clan Lords by forcing them to divert their resources and attention to a war effort. Angry at the imperial government’s failure to prosecute the war properly, a rising movement within the Deep Space Fleet was attempting to turn the tide on the corrupt and power-hungry surrounding the infant Emperor, to the point where whispered talks of acclaiming a military dictator were beginning to surface in the sixth year of the war. Although the Empire looks strong from the outside looking in, thanks to its powerful fleet as well as the occasional brilliant commanders such as Brakal, it is even more riven by internal factions than the Commonwealth, and that is likely the only thing that has prevented the Shrehari from imposing their terms on humanity. Unlike the Commonwealth, the Shrehari Empire conquered a number of worlds home to other sentient species and incorporated them. The home world is content to let the subject species govern themselves, so long as they remain loyal to the Empire and obey all orders. Many provide levies to the Imperial forces and are quite reconciled to being under Shrehari rule. The Shrehari put a high value on personal and clan honour, as well as on courage and loyalty. They are fierce fighters but their military leaders by and large lack the human ability to adapt to changing situations. Doctrinal primacy is enforced and the Shrehari expect humans to be just as rigid, something officers like Dunmoore have begun to understand and use against them. Before the war, regular trade between Empire and Commonwealth largely defined a relationship that was characterized mainly by benign neglect rather than open engagement. The Shrehari could never get over their puzzlement at what they perceived to be the sheer anarchy of human politics and government while the Commonwealth regarded the Shrehari as nothing more than a sophisticated version of the technobarbarians that plague the other frontiers.