A member of the Rolemaster List once said, "...communism and democracy are very recent happenings."
That may be true in the case of communism, although the concept is more than a century old, but the concept of democracy can be traced to ancient times—where it was often disparaged as mob rule. In any case, many more workable forms of governments or societies can exist than those two plus the monarchy and feodality typical of fantasy realms.
For instance, republics are not required to be democratic. Relatively few world-builders create fantasy realms governed by an aristocratic republic, though that institution appeared often in the real world—granted, usually in a degenerate form like an oligarchy. Further, mixed forms of government are always possible, though seldom seen in fantasy worlds.
Consider the example of the (nominally) communist government that ruled the Soviet Union, known before and after as Russia, for seventy years. It featured much more than political propaganda and secret police. For instance, the Communist Party's ideology took the leading position in all things, even the natural sciences. Viktor Belenko, a Soviet MiG-25 pilot who defected to the West, said that one of his scientific reports had once been marked "unsatisfactory" because it had failed to mention the "vital role" of Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev.
What are the differences in application between a Soviet-style government and a cruel, totalitarian king and vassals in a harsh feudal system where the serf owns nothing? Well, the main difference is the means of advancement. Nepotism was certainly common during the later decades of Communist Party rule, but throughout its duration, the main route of advancement for an ambitious individual was to join the Communist Party and work to advance its interests. In that sense, the Communist Party functioned like the typical theocracy, in which advancement is tied to one's ability to follow dogma and to play the institutional political game. Certainly, a bishop's son might have some advantages within that theocracy, but he would not automatically inherit the title, as would be the case in a typical feodality or monarchy.
Another difference is the degree of lawlessness that was present during Communist Party rule. Legally, in a feodality, serfs and semi-free peasants typically had some rights. Granted, they were often violated, but they did exist and many lords were forced to acknowledge them. In Soviet Union, even a high-ranking Party member (equivalent to a titled noble) could be killed, exiled to a slave labor camp, or just made to disappear. This reign of terror was the normal state of affairs, not some exceptionally bad leader violating ancient and "inviolable" rights.
So, what kind of fantasy realm can be based on this example? Melding the decades of the Soviet era, though the regime of 1919 was very different from that of 1989, will give the proper "feeling" to this realm.
The first requirement is a dogma. Most people would think of a religion at this point, but that is too easy. The dogma does not have to be religious, nor does it even have to be true. What it must be is a grand, unified theory, able to explain everything on its own terms, which possess an internally consistent logic. Since a good one is hard to create while waiting for programs to compile, let us pick a rather flimsy one and see what happens.
Let us try, "magic use is wrong; it leads to all the evils in the world." So it has been done before, but it is still better than the stereotypical concept of feudal lords in their castles with Elves in the neighboring forests.
Now, let us create a Committee for Security from Sorcery. It will be the ruling body. It will have many more rules and a complete ideology, a subject for a far more complete than a brief article can detail. It can have such further teachings as:
The Committee has complete power (except as detailed below) over everyone and everything. It controls who works in what job and who gets what resources. There is no market in which to buy and sell things; the Committee takes all products and passes things out to people as it sees fit. A citizen can go to the Committee and try to formally make his case for something, or he can find a friend who can sneak it to him. The system is based not on the market, with prices that reflect supply and demand, but is based on influence and pull.
Of course, corruption is bad, though it is probably caused by being descended from a mage, or by knowing a spell, or just by living in a magical environment. So, the Committee needs a secret organization to ferret out mages, corruption, and other threats. The State Protectors Against Mages (SPAM) will have the power to arrest anyone, anywhere, and interrogate them. They will have Magents (the use of mental powers is not considered truly magic, especially when authorized by the Committee) to probe into everyone's lives. The SPAM will have the ability to recruit agents, even among Committee members. If a potential agent refuses, he will disappear into the system. The SPAM will even have other agents watching the first agent to make sure that he actually does his job.
As a check upon the power of the SPAM, the Committee has the power to select the officials at the top two levels of the SPAM hierarchy, and it can fire any of them at any time. So there is a (rough) balance between the two organizations. Next, the State needs an Army to defend itself against the "magicalists" surrounding it. The problem here is that an army might decide to take over the government, since it has the armed might. So, the Committee needs a way to control the Army. Since the SPAM can recruit agents within the Army, these agents serve as a partial check, and fear of them is especially effective at preventing conspiracies from forming in the first place. That might not be enough control, however, especially when the Army is actively fighting a war. Therefore, the Committee will add political officers at every level of the Army hierarchy. These political officers will be members of the Committee who once served in the Army but later joined the Committee. The appropriate political officers must approve all orders given by regular line officers.
Now the State rests upon a stable "three-legged stool." The Committee can hire and fire the top-level officials of the SPAM, and it controls the Army through its political officers. The SPAM can recruit agents from within the Army and the Committee. The Army has the greatest raw strength. Thus, the Union of Sorcery-Secure Republics is born.
Let the magicalists beware!
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