Many forms of government have existed, and now exist, in our world…many forms of government can be depicted in fiction (including ones we haven’t yet seen in reality, like, um, a completely fair one.) Epic fantasy is frequently criticized for having monarchies and aristocracies (and the writers thereof accused of romanticism about the Middle Ages.) So a reasonable question is “Why are the political systems in Paksworld what they are?”
And the answer is, “I studied history at Rice under F.S. Lear and K.F. Drew and C. Garside. That explains everything.” And I see a row of stubbornly frowning faces in front of me, with thought balloons over their heads saying “That explains NOTHING.” And I’ll bet the stubborn faces would still have those thought balloons if I added, “OK, there was also prehistory and cultural anthropology…”
Fine. Here’s the (partial–you never get ALL the details or I’d never have time to write fiction) explanation. Lear’s history classes focused on the political and legal history of Greece and Rome…with assigned reading that gradually made sense of what contributed to what bits of it. Cultural anthropology and archaeology classes dealt with social structure in specific situations (hunter/ gather societies, early agricultural societies, etc.) Studying history and pre-history and anthropology side by side filled some of the gaps in each. I could not ignore any of that when writing fiction; the world-building had to include a history that was more than events, the “clash of empires” kind of thing. In the meantime, after college, I’d had plenty of time to read more–in anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and yes, more history–to add more to the mix of things I felt had to balance in any fictional world.
Every size of culture (from a 20-30 person band up to the Persian Empire) has a range of likely political solutions to “How do we make this group thing work?” Roles and routines can be created from necessity and then become Tradition when the necessity no longer exists. Small groups can take the time to listen to everyone’s opinion (they may not, but they can) whereas in large groups, the time it takes (with no way to filter the input) may not be practical even if the will is there. (Where does everyone sit/stand? Who is going to watch the children while this is going on? Who’s minding the goats? Who’s harvesting the grain? Who’s keeping watch so the enemy doesn’t surprise us?) Even in small groups, there will be social pressure not to express a very divergent opinion, social sanctions against those who disturb too many people.
Some groups of each size are “looser” and some “tighter”–often, but not always, in response to environmental pressures (from climate, from weather, from disease, from contact–friendly or hostile–with other human groups.) A charismatic person finds it easier to influence others–and thus can gain power beyond what his/her talents and strength would suggest, and change group dynamics from more, to less, democratic. As societies enlarge (if they do) the organization does not scale up smoothly…new structures emerge, often with substructures that reveal the earlier, small-scale organization. Changes in the substrate–the environment, broadly conceived–stress existing structures and force change in them. The obvious (one-leader, all powerful) may in fact be different in reality (small group of powerful and competing individuals partly concealed by the one obvious leader, who is their puppet.)
So to Paksworld. I wanted a range of political situations that could reasonably exist in the same time period, in regular contact with one another, and having histories that made sense to me. As it’s a fantasy world, some of that history can be unreal in our terms. In our late medieval period, on one continent with regular contact among them, there were absolute monarchies, smaller principalities (also strictly hierarchical and headed by one person), theocracies, city-states independent (mostly) of outside political control and governed by councils of wealthy citizens, village clusters with a democratic bent, and more. Various invasions had affected the political system and legal system of different areas differently, but they all had a common experience of devastating conflict.
So–with all this rattling around in my head–there was Paks quarreling with her father on the edge of civilization–a farmhouse beyond the nearest village, very close to or over the edge of anyone’s map of what belongs under one name. Is it Fintha? Is it Tsaia? Nobody there knows or cares. She goes from her traditional family, past the little village–the first organization–small enough that every voice can be heard, if they’re willing (and they are, mostly.) Down the slope to the larger town where she meets the recruiting team…and that town is part of a larger domain. Rocky Ford is in Tsaia, on the map. That means it’s part of a monarchy, strongly influenced by religion. Why is Tsaia a monarchy? Because of the magelords and their beliefs about magery–one of the things they took from the elves (the wrong elves) who tutored them in magery was a belief that strong magery created a right to rule. Why is it strongly influenced by religion? Because Tsaia lost the Girdish war.
In the magelord era, therefore, Tsaia (and Fintha) were governed top down from kings through the hierarchy of nobility; magery’s limitations being such that a group of slightly lesser magelords could influence (even overcome) the strongest. So those monarchies were not as absolute as some, but more absolute than a constitutional one. In Paks’s day, the king of Tsaia governs with a council of nobles, under the watchful eye of the Fellowship of Gird. Neither the royal power–nor the law in Tsaia (the Code of Gird in Tsaia)– is as absolute as either is elsewhere. Gird is the patron, Girdish is the state religion, but several others are tolerated.
The pre-magelord Old Humans were “primitive” to the magelords and functioned in their small groups with simple democracy tempered by respect for age and ancestor worship. (This being a fantasy, they really did hear from their ancestors.) This simple democracy survived even after the magelord invasion, at the level of serf society…within the vills that a magelord claimed, the few decisions they were allowed to make were made by listening to all. Thus when resistance was organized–when magelord powers were failing–the “cells” of the resistance were initially all pure simple democracy. This changed with the pressure on them, and with the natural human tendency to prefer some over others. But Gird’s rebellion was based on the idea that all the participants were equally valuable (if not equally skilled) and every voice should be heard. (His was often loudest.)
As Gird’s organization grew–and especially because it had to be secret at first–it needed other levels, and the barton/grange system developed to meet the need. With the war won, with the shift from fighting to survive to administering a former kingdom under new laws, Fintha developed as a theocracy with a hierarchical bureaucracy and a lingering outcrop of pure democracy: the Marshalate. All Marshals could, in theory, attend, and all Marshals could cast one vote. Between meetings of the Marshalate, the Marshal-General made the decisions, but if those decisions ran against the Marshalate’s decisions, there would be a march on Fin Panir. Does this make Fintha a theocratic republic? I don’t think so…Marshals are not elected by the members of granges, but commissioned by the Marshal-General. That detail is a legacy that goes back beyond Gird, to the gnomes who taught him military science and helped him with the Code of Gird…they have a rule of law, in their way, and consider that the most important thing. Law is Law.
In Lyonya, simple democracy among the Old Humans prevailed until the elves came. Elves had their own hierarchy of individual power, with the elvenhome ruler imposing his or her vision on the others, who worked within that vision. Luckily for elves, their rulers were immortal, so they didn’t have to scramble between successive rulers, each with a different vision. Magelords who came to Lyonya and literally fell under the spell of the elves created a human monarchy within the elven monarchy (thus, to the elves, acted like proper elven younglings, keeping everything in order and sharing in a vision of beauty. They were clearly junior to the elves, but they were amenable to the overall vision. The influence of the Old Humans, via intermarriage, made a limited concept of equality and sharing power acceptable.)
Aarenis displays both magelord and merchant-ruled societies, with the magelords standing in for European nobility and the merchants as, well, merchants. Nearly all the magery of magelords disappeared centuries ago, but the older political structures survive in the places the last effective magelords ruled; Pliuni (until its destruction by Siniava), Andressat, Cilwan, Fall. In all these , the structures still show the influence of personal loyalty, fealty, as a guiding principle, and remnants of the old magelord nobility are still in place.
In contrast, many Guild League realms (Valdaire, Foss Council, Vonja, Sorellin, etc.) either lost their magelord rulers earlier, or were founded after the end of magelord domination in Aarenis. The memory of magelords lingered, making the guilds unwilling to allow a monarchy, and instead these city-states are run by relatively few–a council of wealthy merchants who elect a senior. (Think Venice and its Doges) They are technically republics (but the word is not known there) in being elective representative governments (with limited suffrage.) Each guild elects its representative to the Council, the masters of that guild in that city-state voting. Their guiding principle is profit.
In Cilwan, where both traditions are crammed together, this has meant increased vulnerability to political unrest. The same problem has caused unrest in the north, from time to time (and in the current books)–the more serious Girdish see law–the Code of Gird–as the most important guiding principle; those adherents to the feudal organization in Tsaia see fealty, personal loyalty, as most important. These big issues demand book-sized stories.
So…a variety of political organizations (and some not yet shown) because that’s what fit my understanding.
The so-far-unpublished Paksworld stories are set in various locations, allowing me to show more of areas that were just “there” or only lightly touched, in the books. The two sold so far are set in different times and places in Aarenis: one is in Fall within the time period of Crown of Renewal; the other at the margin of land claimed by Vonja decades in the past.