The Not So Good Republic

Posted: 2021-07-05
Word Count: 2438
Tags: settings space

In a previous article I presented a space opera setting that attempts to subvert standard tropes. Here I address the “Republic”, which is generally depicted as noble, or well-intentioned but flawed, or at worst riddled with corruption and about to fall to the Evil Empire.

Fictional republics often evoke the Roman Republic, which wasn’t exactly a paragon of democracy. The ancient Romans were always a militaristic people. Even at its height the Roman Republic existed to keep patricians above plebes, and Romans above their neighboring city-states and tribes. (And even the Roman Republic was also an empire, albeit much smaller.) But after the fall of the Western Empire, and particularly after the religious wars and plagues of Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Roman rule seemed like a vanished golden age. Italian republics of the Renaissance appropriated the architecture of ancient Rome while reinterpreting ancient Roman and Greek literature. This veneration of the Roman Republic continued through America’s Founding Fathers, and into modern American popular culture.

The term “republic”, however, comes from res publica, which if I recall high school Latin translates loosely to “public things”. So a republic conducts its business out in the open with published laws, as opposed to decisions made behind closed doors or at the whim of autocrats. Who decides the laws and who makes decisions is undefined.

So the “bad republic” below borrows from other historical parallels:

  1. The “democracies” of ancient Greece, in which only a fraction of a city-state’s population were “citizens” with the right to vote. In particular, women and the large slave population were excluded.

  2. Spanish colonies in America, which enforced a caste system that placed those born in Spain above those born from “pure” Spanish parents, and those with even one aboriginal ancestor even lower.

  3. The British Empire, in which a tiny island nation ruled over a globe-spanning empire of colonies and conquered nations.

  4. America in the early 19th century, which opened up new territories for citiens in the increasingly crowded eastern states. While those territories were sparsely populated (by white Americans) it’s not a stretch to imagine what would happen if Congress had neglected to recognize a heavily populated “territory” as a state. It happened briefly to Kansas, albeit over the question of slavery.

  5. The status of Washington D.C. and U.S. territories like Puerto Rico. The population of Washington D.C. exceeds that of Wyoming and Vermont; Puerto Rico’s population exceeds that of twenty U.S. states. Yet D.C. and U.S. territories have only non-voting delegates in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Absent a massive insurrection, the Republic below should be stable, but in many ways it’s more oppressive than the empire I described before.


The New Etanoi Republic

Compared to the overtly militaristic Empire, the New Etanoi Republic appears a model of democracy and self-rule. “Every citizen has a vote”, they proclaim.

Citizenship

But who is a citizen? Originally only those born in the core 17 worlds could be a citizen, and able to vote in parliamentary elections. As the Republic expanded, it established four criteria, at least two of which had to apply, to distinguish a “citizen” from a “resident”:

  1. Born on a Member World
  2. Raised from early childhood by at least two Citizens1
  3. Educated for at least seven years in an accredited Republic academy
  4. Sponsored by a Citizen of “good reputation” for seven years.2

The Republic consists of 29 Member Worlds, 44 Associate Worlds, and 171 “colony” worlds. If you’re born on one of those 29 worlds to two Citizen parents, congratulations. If one parent or primary caregiver isn’t a citizen but an immigrant from a lesser Republic world, too bad: no voting for you.

But even from the Republic’s inception, Citizenship has meant more than voting. Citizens have more legal rights than mere “residents”. They have more social services available to them. In the Republic, a Citizen is a valued member of Republic, while mere residents are allowed to live in its boundaries only so long as they’re useful.

The Republic Government

Parliament

The Republic Parliament consists of 500 Ministers, apportioned according to the number of Citizens in the entire Republic. Each Member World is guaranteed at least one Minister. A body of “Associate Ministers” represents all Citizens living in Associate or Colony worlds. While some Associate Ministers hail from outisde the Core Worlds, most come from a Member World.

Parliament meets on Telechos, at the center of the Etanoshur star cluster. When the Parliament calls for a new election, each Citizen in the Republic votes for the political party they support. Each party advertises its intended Ministers for each Member World, and for the body of Associate Ministers; sometimes the choice of Ministers sways elections, sometimes it doesn’t. When votes are tallied, each party fills the seats it’s won, usually as promised.

While the Republic has over two dozen political parties, only six win more than one seat in Parliament, and only four parties win enough delegates to influence policy: the pro-status-quo Conservatives, the corporation-friendly Prosperity Party, the ethnocentric Citizens First Party3, and the Progressive Party which opposes them all and sometimes itself4. The Membership Now party usually wins a large fraction of Associate Ministers, but usually not enough to enact its eponymous central tenet.

After each election, the party or coalition with the most members elects a Prime Minister who effectively runs the government. Other ministers, mostly in the ruling coalition, head other parts of the Republic bureaucracy. A majority of Parliament may vote out a Prime Minister or trigger a new election at any time.

Governors

Citizens of each Member or Associate World also elect a Planetary Governor. The Governor commands space-born and ground defenses, maintains civil order, organizes elections, and oversees the bureaucracy. Member Worlds and some Associate Worlds have their own elected Assemblies that counterbalance or constrain the power of planetary Governors.

Colony worlds in the same system as a Member or Associate World fall under the jurisdiction of the closest world’s Governor. Otherwise, the Republic Colonial Service appoints an Acting Governor, and as many Republic Marshals needed to keep the peace.

Laws and Courts

All worlds in the Republic adhere to the same legal system, derived from several sources. In order of precedence, these are:

  1. The Uniform Legal Code (ULC), a Confederation-era document defining basic minimum laws for all Confederation worlds, which the Parliament established as the foundation of all subsequent laws.

  2. Laws passed by the Republic Parliament.

  3. Rulings of the Republic Supreme Court.

  4. Laws ratified by a legally5 elected planetary Assembly, which apply only to those within the Assembly’s jurisdiction.

  5. Edicts of a Governor, which apply only in the Governor’s jurisdiction.

  6. Local laws, customs, and precedents.

This tidy hierarchy has several holes.

Ministers of Parliament has threatened on multiple occasions to replace the ULC with a legal code completely under Parliamentary control, or even (horrors) one where the Supreme Court has final say. No such effort has ever come to a vote.

Republic Worlds

Member Worlds

Member Worlds have full representation in the Republic Parliament. The seventeen “core worlds” have billions of inhabitants each, mostly clustered in cities at the pinnacle of cultural, social, and technological achievement. The remaining dozen Member Worlds, while less populated, still boast industry, communications networks, architecture, and environmental mastery to rival the “core” worlds.

Citizens comprise at most two-thirds of any Member World. The remaining “residents”, immigrants from inside or outside the Republic, do most of the hard labor that keeps Member Worlds running. Even those residents who do specialized, highly-paid work make a fraction of what a Citizen might, and serve entirely at the pleasure of the corporation that employs them. Conversely, most Citizens working lower-paid jobs, or none at all, do so almost in spite of all the services available to them.

Supporters of Citizens First complain that non-Citizens take Citizen jobs, and are a burden on the Republic Health Service. However, most low-level med-techs in the RHS are lower-paid non-Citizens, and without them the RHS would cost more and provide less. Likewise, only Citizens receive Basic Income. Non-Citizens apply to the Republic Labor Exchange if they can’t otherwise find work, receive at best a one-time unemployment stipend while they wait for an opening, and are unofficially encouraged to “go back home” even if they were born (to non-Citizens) on a Member World.

Officially, Member Worlds have little or no crime. Citizens First usually ascribes nearly all crime to non-Citizens, in defiance of actual crime statistics. Non-Citizens convicted of a felony are deported to a colony world. Citizens convicted of felonies serve their sentences in “re-education centers”, which use behavioral conditioning to prevent further offenses. Thus, hypothetical successful must be too clever to get caught, too well-connected to get convicted, or too warped to remain reconditioned.

Associate Worlds

Associate Worlds have no direct representation in Parliament. Citizens do live on them, and agitate for full Membership, but Parliament last granted Membership 182 years ago. Eleven Associate Worlds once belonged to the Confederation; six worlds' manufacturing and technological capabilities rival Member Worlds. Yet Parliament votes against motions to elevate them to full Membership, time and time again … when the motion comes up at all.

Most Associate Worlds are under-populated. Others are populated with the “wrong sort” of people: xenos, aborigines, immigrants, former colonists, half-castes, and children of Citizens who lived too far from “civilization”. The Member Worlds often stereotype Associate Worlds as rustic wilderness. In fact, all Associate Worlds have at least one city, typically the seat of government, and most of the amenities of full Members.

An accredited Academy can turn even a lowly aborigine into a full Citizen, with at least one full Citizen’s sponsorship. But each Associate World has at most one Academy, and tuition is expensive. Without a scholarship, only the wealthiest get in. The rest make do with sometimes excellent but not “accredited” public education systems.

Colonies

While some Republic colonies had no sapient life before the Republic, many had non-human (“xeno”) sapients who might have gone unrecognized. Many more had human inhabitants who lacked the technology or numbers to resist colonization. Either way, once established, the Republic officials who “discovered” the colony set themselves up as its governors, administrators, and defenders. The remaining population – imported non-citizens, convicts, and aborigines if any – work to extract the resources that justify the colony’s existence: animal, vegetable, mineral, and/or something more exotic.

The Republic Citizens and their offspring in a colony form little enclaves. They might hire aborigines (if any) as house servants for minimal wages.6 But sponsoring them? Schooling them? That would cut into profits. And woe unto the half-caste child, either left among the serving class or only provisionally accepted among the masters.

Military

Republic defense fleets lack the size and standardization of the Empire’s. The Governor of each Member World and Associate organizes and maintains a fleet for its own defense, answerable to the local Governor. Its size and scope – planetary or system-wide – depends on the wealth of the Member World or Associate, and the Governor’s budgetary priorities.

Colonies rely on the Republic Colonial Service, funded primarily by colonies with contributions from the rest of the Republic. Thus the defenses of Republic worlds depend on that world’s individual wealth, or in the case of colonies the wealth they provide to the Republic.

Theoretically the Republic Parliament can call upon planetary defense fleets to form a Grand Fleet of the Republic to address some urgent threat. The last such fleet, however, barely repelled pirates harassing one of its more lucrative Associate Worlds.

Conclusion

The Republic’s political machine is just as nakedly imperialistic as the Empire’s orbital threats. Unlike the Empire, the Republic not only extracts wealth from its colonies and “Associate Worlds”, it uproots existing cultures and civilizations which the Republic doesn’t consider Culture or Civilization. Colonies and Associate Worlds become anemic reflections of the culture imposed by the Citizen colonists and their government.

Citizens in these far-flung outposts of the Republic do “vote” … but their votes make little difference, and their Ministers of Parliament too disconnected from their constituents. Those who are not Citizens, even in Member Worlds, have no vote at all.


  1. The Citizens need not be related to the child by blood, nor married to each other, as long as they are primary caregivers. But two caregivers are the minimum. Courts have ruled against children of married couples when one partner spent long periods away from home, never mind mixed marriages of Citizens and non-Citizens. ↩︎

  2. A sponsor must register their intent at the start, submit to intensive background checks, document their efforts to “civilize” the prospective Citizen for the next seven years, and sign an affidavit for the Citizenship Board. In practice only the rich and powerful with copious free time ever qualify as sponsors. ↩︎

  3. Allied with “Humanity First”, a galaxy-wide movement to exalt human achievement, exclude aliens from government and interstelar society, and ban “anti-human” practices like gene splicing and body mods. Each cell of the movement varies as to what policies it promotes, and how far it will go to enact those policies, which gives the group as a whole plausible deniability. ↩︎

  4. The Progressive Party contains multiple factions: resident rights, colonist rights, aboriginal rights, labor rights, anti-corporate environmental protectionists, multiculturalists, social reformers, legal reformers, and anarcho-syndicalists. They spend as much time fighting each other over specific policies as they do the political opponents. ↩︎

  5. The ULC defines criteria for a legal Assembly. Desperate or tyrannical governors have challenged an Assembly’s legal authority, usually on minor technicalities. None have survived review by the Republic Supreme Court, but that’s of little comfort to the dead. ↩︎

  6. Divergent human cultures and some xenos may find the concept of “wages” difficult, so to simplify matters colonial governors enslave them. ↩︎