Incapable of empire

This post is part of the EVE Blog Banter, a monthly EVE Online blogging extravaganza created by CrazyKinux. Any questions about the EVE Blog Banter should be directed to him. The tenth topic comes from xiphos83 of A Misguided Adventurer, who asks us: "Victor Davis Hanson argues that western culture, comprising of ideals such as freedom, debate, capitalism, and consensual government, are what make western society so successful at waging war. These ideologies create a warrior who's direct participation in government, ability to think freely, and desire to remain free, fights harder and is willing to suffer more than his conscripted foe. Though a military must remain a structured oligarchy to fight a war effectively, why in a world where military conflict is as familiar as breathing are there so few alliances that embrace these ideologies when governing their members?"

Consensual government: how many divisions has it got?
Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions. In mine, Victor Davis Hanson, here, instrumentalizes history (especially, I guess, the study of Ancient Greece, craddle of democracy); he has clearly a bunch of ideas to market and he contemplates history through ideological lenses. This text would not seem out of context in the mouth of a veteran from Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers. It is all right. Some of the values mentioned are dear to me. I would like, also, to believe that the current set of ideals that shape (sometimes) the decisions of our Western governments and fellow citizens are inherently superior in practice to any other one, including when it comes to waging war.
However, you could argue the exact opposite: that tyranny, coercion and fear are powerful motivators in wartime, while democratic values best thrive in peacetime. After all, Athens, the democracy, did lose the Peloponnesian War against the kingdom of Sparta. Yet, its citizens used to (temporarily and reluctantly) relinquish some of their freedoms each time they appointed a stratego as supreme commander. Two thousand years and a half later, the war against terrorism is used as a convenient excuse to limit our individual freedoms. And many more fictional thousands of years later, democracy can best be found in some institutions of the Gallente Federation and in a very few (as far as I know) corporations of modest size and certainly not within the major players of the perpetual war.
In this excerpt of The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides (431 BC, translated by Richard Crawley), Cleon spells out to his fellow Athenian citizens why they would not be able to keep their equivalent of a 0.0 empire if they were to tolerate dissent within their alliance (the Delian League):
"I have often before now been convinced that a democracy is incapable of empire, and never more so than by your present change of mind in the matter of Mitylene. Fears or plots being unknown to you in your daily relations with each other, you feel just the same with regard to your allies, and never reflect that the mistakes into which you may be led by listening to their appeals, or by giving way to your own compassion, are full of danger to yourselves, and bring you no thanks for your weakness from your allies; entirely forgetting that your empire is a despotism and your subjects disaffected conspirators, whose obedience is ensured not by your suicidal concessions, but by the superiority given you by your own strength and not their loyalty."
(In comparison to the fate that almost befell the people of Mitylene, the Tortugua pilots had it easy when Band of Brothers regained control over Period Basis.)

Built-in autocratic model
Alliances are the extension of corporations, that is, capitalist organisations. When was the last time you elected your boss at the office? Instinctively, just by the virtue of reading this word "corporation", players are going to mimic corporate life, which is anything but democratic. Plus, the way corporations are coded in the game largely incites the players to adopt an autocratic model, with an all-powerful chief (the CEO) and a clique of trusted directors. Had CCP named the groups of players "free communes" or something to that effect, and implemented a real elective process, you can bet the political landscape would be different.

The participation game
I do not challenge the part of Mr. Hanson's premise stating that warriors fight best when they feel committed. That's oh so true, in what is essentially a participation game - a game. Strength is found in numbers, but people will show up if they so wish; if they don't, they will just log off. In real life, the pursuit of fun is not usually your primary motivation, and you cannot log off when the hostile army is in sight. (Hey, there is an idea for a novel. Logoffski armies or soldiers.)
In a participation game, it is only natural that the players who invest more of their time reap more rewards and, for many, the ability to discuss and decide strategic-level choices is where the fun can be found. The first members of a corporation, or of an alliance, hold more power than the late-comers. They built a toy and they are not going to give it away. To some point, it is possible to rise in most organisations by proving one's commitment and willingness to get a share of the logistical headaches. However, many players just want to blow stuff up and, while not willing to commit time in decision-making, they would just like to be considered as partners and not as children to be herded.

Three imaginary corporations
My roleplayer's mind wandered and I somehow ended up sketching three models of governance that are not democratic, not efficient-minded, but come with a background a bit more developed than "let's do it".

The Base is an exercise in AI-assisted government. Except, the AI is crazy. Somewhere, hidden in the cluster, and communicating through the pervading instant communication network, lies a super-computer unlike any other. It has been authorized to evolve beyond its parameters through genetic computing technology. The Base is the name of the corporation which owns Shalmeneser. The word of Shalmeneser is the discussion-ending justification to decisions taken.
Organization: a player or a group of players are assumed to have contact with the super-computer. They can ask him questions and the answers are up to them to make up. They have then full authority to implement the decisions suggested by Shalmeneser. That backstory would fit a schizophrenic corporation, with multiple trusted directors / friends on an equal footing. When they actually need to debate a decision, the meetings would be dubbed reprogramming sessions.

The System is a meme bent on universal conquest. The System is a complex memetic algorithm that includes functions of government, fulfilling obedience and iterative thought reprocessing. If you have joined the System, the System will give you all the answers you need. The System makes individual thought slightly redundant. Oh, and the System is your Friend. Who is you Friend? (The System.)
Organization: this Borg-like sect has no prominent leadership role. Everybody can take decisions as long as they abide by the System. The nature and ideology of the System can be something very simple, transhumanism nihilism translating into full-blown piracy, for example. Everybody is supposed to adhere to the tenets of the System, and failing to do so would result in ostracism and eventual rejection from the System.

The Kingdom is what its name implies: a corporation founded on allegiance to a power-thirsty capsuleer. Its national anthem relates to growing corn on some planet or to heavy drinking, and its ultimate purpose is to make the nobility (capsuleer members) affluent.
Organization: every player is supposed to respect the hierarchy of the Kingdom, which includes a queen, knights, counts, dukes, etc., and to take oaths each time he or she is promoted. Harsh taxes can make the life of the lowly commoner difficult, but the King promises and delivers riches to his most-beloved followers.

Check other Eve Blog Banter articles on the same topic.


  1. I wonder if I am the only one who read this and thought that the Base looked a fun place to be?!

    Interesting, and intelligent response to the topic, I tend to agree with many of your thoughts.

  2. Thanks for the comment Chain Trap.
    The Mittani published yesterday Senates in Space, the latest article in his Sins of a Solar Spymaster series and it seems relevant to the conversation. He associates democracy to "flaming disasters".