What is the proper role of government? Galactic Edition

Mordanicus of Fascinating Future, a sci-fi blog, is musing over the purpose of galactic government. As Mordanicus points out, galactic empires are a staple of science fiction. They can be found in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Firefly and Foundation universes.

…the feasibility of a galactic empire is questionable.

In Asimov’s description of the galactic empire, it consists of 25 million inhabited planets and 500 quadrillion people, 20 billion per planet on average. It is hard to even imagine a planetary empire, and no such thing has ever existed in human history, let alone such enormous empire.

The fundamental issue with an empire of this size is effective control by the central government. Its sheer size makes it inevitable to delegate many administrative powers to “local” planetary official. But the more power is transferred to individual planets, the less power remains with the central government. The question is then what is the proper function of the imperial government?

What is the purpose of these empires though? In those sci-fi universes with aliens these empires serve some defensive role for our Milky Way galaxy, but in many sci-fi universes there is no clear visible external threat.  What is the purpose of the empire then? Or is it simply a way for wealth distribution by those living in the Saturn beltway?

I personally view merit in a galactic empire if it were able to maintain internal peace. I have no doubt that in a space faring civilization there will be pirates and I believe that there are economies of scale in galactic trade route policing.

There is also merit in an empire that can keep rogue planetary governments in check. A galactic empire would be restrained in its ability to govern on its own given the largess of space and would need to delegate many functions to different layers of government. An empire would however still serve as a last layer of resort for those petitioning against their planetary government.

What about NOL readers? Are you convinced that space piracy warrants an empire? Or would a space faring civilization be better government by planetary or sub-planetary governments?

Read the full post from Mordanicus here.

4 thoughts on “What is the proper role of government? Galactic Edition

  1. I think the best option would be a sort of planetary federal imperium of sorts, where planets or systems of planets largely govern themselves but still send representatives to a capital planet in order to (1) hash out disagreements they may have with other systems and (2) participate in efforts aimed at policing trade routes and protecting the imperium from other, non-aligned systems or empires.

    Basically, the United Federation of Planets from Star Trek.

  2. This is a really great question. Aside from its entertainment value, Stars Wars is actually a great exploration of the issues with a galactic republic (and empire), particularly system-wide trading.

    I almost think administrations wouldn’t have noticeable effects on the daily lives of citizens, with the influence attempting to cover such vast canyons of culture and distance. So, even with a “world order,” extended to a galaxy order, individual planets and colonies would have their own governments that, to nearly every degree, are the only source of political authority. A galactic republic would require either a benevolent oligarchy or, by sheer miracle, humans cooperating in belief and action across light-years. The republic would have to condone so much it would hardly be a government.

    In addition, once technology progressed past the existential need for technological discovery, a galactic government doesn’t seem very advantageous at all.

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