Fantasy cultures are often placed under monarchies. Dystopian cultures are often placed under autocracies or totalitarianism. But there are many government types to choose from, and what government you choose when building a fictional culture might be best influenced by the core values of that culture. So in this post I want to summarize several different government types, as well as provide some ideas of the cultural values that might support them.
Aristocracy comes from the Greek for “rule of the best.” An aristocracy can be ruled by the best craftsmen, the best warriors, or simply the most wealthy (see Plutocracy). This is a very flexible system which is ruled by a group comprised of the best of the best. Aristocrats could be elected based on their ability, or they could simply take office independently or by the decision of the existing aristocracy by virtue of their skill.
Values: You can use an aristocracy in just about any culture you want. They could value craftsmanship, combat skill, wealth, music, athletics, writing… An aristocracy is not likely to be chosen by cultures that value diversity in skills.
An autocracy is ruled by a single individual with few limitations, absolute power, and no input from the people.
Values: It’s unlikely that a culture would choose to become an autocracy, but if they did it might be because they dislike decision-making or there’s some outstanding value to their ruler (e.g. they believe he’s a deity or chosen by a deity, or he’s achieved some great act of heroism that earned him the spot).
Communism places total power over industry and the economy in the hands of the government, and the government supposedly distributes wealth equally among the people. There is no such thing as private property, since the government owns everything.
Values: Communism is likely to be chosen by cultures that value community and equality but don’t value/appreciate individuality and people’s unique needs.
A confederation unites several independent states or nations through a treaty or other agreement. These independent areas retain all authority except what is specifically delegated to the central government that unites them.
Values: A confederation is likely to be chosen by a culture that values independence and cooperation and/or unity.
A democracy is a government of the people. A plain democracy operates on strict majority rule, a democratic republic operates through representatives of the people, and a constitutional democracy sets specific guidelines in place that the people must follow in their decision-making.
Values: A democracy is likely to be chosen by a culture that values individual responsibility and independence.
An ecclesiastical government is one in which the church has authority. This might be benevolent, or it might lean toward legalism. It’s likely to crowd out religions that the ruling church doesn’t adhere to.
Values: Ecclesiastical government would be chosen by a culture that values a single religion, morality and, potentially, adherence to rules. It’s not likely to be chosen by a culture that values diversity of religions.
Like a confederacy, a federation distributes power among smaller areas--usually by means of a constitution--and the central government retains some powers over these sub-groups. While a confederation draws independent states together, a federation begins with a central point and delegates powers to its existing sub-states.
Values: A federation is likely to be chosen by a nation that values expansion and/or colonialism, leading to the practical need to distribute power. It may also be chosen by a nation that values individual responsibility and seeks to grant more power to the people under a ruling body, or that values community and wishes to foster smaller communities under its larger national banner. It could also be chosen by a nation that segregates its members based on race, trade, class, etc. and seeks to give each demographic its own authority.
An absolute monarchy gives complete control to a monarch who is chosen based on royal lineage. The monarch’s reign usually lasts for life.
Values: A culture that chooses absolute monarchy may value tradition, religion (if they believe the monarch’s family was chosen by God/the gods as in the case of divine right), or even just family.
A constitutional monarchy adds limitations to the monarch in the form of a constitution, providing accountability.
Values: Like above, values may include tradition, religion, or family.
Similar to an aristocracy, oligarchy gives authority to a small group of people, either individuals or families. These are generally chosen based on their prowess in a certain area or by their power and/or wealth.
Values: Like an aristocracy, this one is really flexible. Who your culture chooses to be the reigning few will be more influenced by their values than the actual choice of government.
In a parliamentary government, the legislative aspect of government is at the head and is largely one with the executive. Though there may be a separate executive branch (a monarch or an executive representative such as a president, usually), parliament usually has the ultimate authority to make decisions. A parliament may be one large group (unicameral) or it may be split into two (bicameral), and the members of parliament are generally elected by the people. A parliament is usually subject to a sovereign law such as a constitution and held accountable by it.
Values: A culture might choose a parliamentary government if it predominantly values law or morality.
A plutocracy is government by the rich. This may be overt or it may be a practical reality while the government looks on the surface like something else (i.e. those with money are the puppeteers for a monarchy, democracy, ecclesiastical government, etc.).
Values: Obviously, a rule by the wealthy would work only in a culture that values monetary wealth to one degree or another.
In a republic, the government’s authority is based on the votes of citizens, represented by elected representatives who make decisions on the people’s behalf.
Values: A republic might be chosen by a culture that values independence and individual responsibility but tempers them with values of order and restraint.
A technocracy is governed by those with experience and skill in the sciences and other technical areas. Essentially a more specific aristocracy.
Values: A technocracy would be chosen by a culture that values progress, scientific advancement, etc.
A theocracy is a nation that is ruled by its deity/deities. Often religious leaders will serve as intermediaries, but the deity is perceived as the ultimate authority, as opposed to an ecclesiocracy in which the religious leaders are seen as the final authority.
Values: A theocracy would be chosen by a culture that values faith, especially one that believes their deity instructs submission to the deity alone.
A totalitarian government goes a step further than communism by seeking to control individuals’ values, attitude, and beliefs as well as all politics and economic decisions.
Values: A culture might choose totalitarianism if they value uniformity (perhaps under the guise of unity) or believe that their mindset/way of life is certainly superior to others.
Which government types have you used before? Did any of these intrigue you? Did you discover a way to strengthen a well-used system? Go forth and write more dynamic governments!
Lavender Bleu is a young writer pursuing her goals of becoming published. She spends just as much time in the realm of "fiction" as she does "reality." While working through the process of writing her first novel, she also helps other writers through her blog.
Quote of the Month
“There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.”
Selected Poems, 1956-1968