How possible is Star Wars: How’s that empire work again?

This is part four of a four-part series of columns written to mark Star Wars’ 40th Anniversary. Read Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

Man, government in the Star Wars universe is confusing.

Until the late 1990s it was pretty simple. The oppressive Galactic Empire, led by the Emperor and his righthand cyborg Darth Vader, controlled the majority of the galaxy and it fought with the Rebel Alliance, which counted heroes Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and Han Solo among its numbers.

Since the onset of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 1999, we’ve been introduced to the concept of democratically-elected monarchs, a senate that apparently has to work within the parameters set by a bunch of vigilantes (aka Jedi) and then later, in “Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” we have a “resistance” that wages a war against the remnants of the Empire which the triumphant Republic signed a peace treaty with.

I’m still not sure if I got that right.

But anyway, we’re not talking about how confusing it is, we’re talking about “if it’s possible.” And this is in regards to a Galactic Empire or Galactic Republic.

First off, which of those is more likely?

The Galactic Republic

The Galactic Republic is a democratically elected senate of intelligent beings from hundreds, if not thousands of worlds. The senators in turn elect a chancellor, whom I guess is the leader? I’m not too sure because the movies never make it too clear. From what I gathered, the chancellor didn’t do much aside from recognize senators when they wanted to speak and then act intimidated by everything else.

That was until Palpatine came along and brought some order.

But, would that sort of government actually work?

Maybe if it’s a few dozen worlds which have just a single government each.

But, if you go by Earth as an example, democracy even in a single city isn’t easy, much less a country.

Look at our own Congress. Despite being divided into two parties that could pass most things on a simple majority, it tends to move slow or winds up in gridlock. Which is fine, but when you get much larger, like India which has 790 representatives in its two-house parliament, things can grind to a virtual halt and stay there. Now imagine something like that, except it’s senate chamber with 1,024 floating pods with five or six representatives in each.

Getting even the simplest of things done would be a challenge. We expect compromise, where everybody gets a little something by giving a little something, but we don’t like it and our politicians reflect that.

If humans can’t reach agree on common interests, what happens when aliens are thrown in the mix? How would you be able to make rules that thousands of different cultures could abide? Even a common set of rights would probably be impossible to agree upon.

No wonder they decided to go with an emperor, who was elected quite easily I might add. It sounds much easier.

The Galactic Empire

Of course, a galactic empire has its own problems and we can look at the history of empires on Earth to tell us why.

Empires, by their nature, are pretty autocratic. After all, you have many countries answering to one sovereign, or governing body, that’s often very far away. The subjects of the empire often don’t get input how its run, instead they get a representative or emissary of some sort appointed for them. The subjects also get the rules of a foreign culture imposed upon them, like India in the British Empire, which often results in resistance if not outright bloodshed. So, that in turn requires a large military that has to be everywhere that the empire is. Europe was bogged down in war after war because of empires, culminating with the two world wars.

So, from the looks of it, both democracy and imperialism are technically doable, but one is really messy and the other is very expensive and often carries a toll of human life that eventually weighs down a nation’s conscience.


But that leaves the question “if not them then what?”

Because I like to speculate, I’ll pitch two ideas.

The first is one that we see the roots for today: Technocracy, where experts handle the governing.

This more or less means that economists handle economic policy, sociologists handle social policy, and so on. We see it in one form today when elected officials appoint people to head certain offices. It’s much more prevalent in Europe right now where appointed economists can have the fates of whole countries in their hands. The now mis-named Communist Party of China is also technocratic in how it runs that government. China, instead of acting on ideology, essentially engineers its society with most of its high officials having technical educations instead of socio-political.

The other one, which might sound sci-fi ridiculous and plays off last week’s column, is governing by artificial intelligence.

Off hand, someone might say “yeah right” and I don’t see it happening this century. But as we discovered, humans like it when they have one less thing to worry about, and for many people the government is the biggest worry in their lives.

So let’s say that an algorithm was developed that allowed a computer to instantly know how the economy needed to be adjusted, what needed to be done to avert an environmental catastrophe and what needed to be done to prevent a terrorist attack. What would you need a fallible human for?

A computer would be offering an “out of sight, out of mind” government. No rage-inducing elections. No speeches interrupting prime-time TV. No worrying if a leader will make a rational decision.

Yeah, it’s just science fiction now. But we’ll see where we stand in 2117.

So, yes, a galactic government such as the one in Star Wars is probably possible. I just wouldn’t say you can count on it being one “by the people” even if it’s “for the people.”

Originally printed in the Batesville Daily Guard

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