Privately Owned Society: In what is now the Empire, long ago. Or now. Could go either way.
In its purest form, in the years immediately following the Drowning of the People. After deciding that democracy amounted to substituting a parade of replaceable jackasses for the old permanent jackasses on the thrones of tyranny – and subsequently tossing the first candidates for the position off a 400′ waterfall – society was indeed privately owned, there not being anything non-“private” left in the world. Law and contract enforcement was entrusted to for-hire and eleemosynary PPLs, justice and arbitration left in the hands of equally private deemsters, and pretty much every other necessary function that people not familiar with the theory of this sort of thing are now thinking of handled by one or another for-profit, non-profit, or cooperative (yes, kids, an internally syndicalist syndicate is every bit as much a free-market entity as a megacorporation) group.
Things evolved somewhat over the centuries, with various PPLs forming complex coordinating superstructure organizations out of efficiency, evolving towards de facto pseudo-monopoly in some areas, and for similar reasons ending up purchasing sovereign rights – which in Imperial parlance are a very limited subset of the bundle of property rights attached to real property, nowhere near as generous as what we would claim them to be on Earth – from their subscribers. These superstructures were, through evolution, the basis of the Old Empires and other pre-Imperial polities of Eliéra, and eventually for the Empire itself.
But is that a move away from a Privately Owned Society?
Well, the obvious answer is that the citizen-shareholders obviously do own the Empire and all its appurtenances. That’s what the shareholders part means. Hell, they can even dissolve it any time they like.
But a more sophisticated answer would be that the Drowning of the People marked a divergence point from our history in that it pretty much killed off all forms of legitimacy, governmentally speaking, as we use the term. You can look down pretty much every form of legitimacy/legitimate government mentioned in that Wikipedia article, and they’ve got a multi-thousand-year old philosophical tradition explaining how that’s a quaint slaver’s rationalization. You can’t legitimize the coercion of the non-consenting no matter how much bullshit you spread on it.
The only source of “legitimacy”, they would claim, is the free consent and contract of the individual, and that’s what they have. Their Divine Majesties’ Governance derives all of its power from literally every single Imperial citizen-shareholder having contracted its services – in the areas of law and contract enforcement, externality management, and some minor coordination functions – and clicked through to accept the terms and conditions of service – and, as Imperials point out laboriously to those missing the point, it has absolutely no existence apart from the sum of people who follow said service agreement…
(And, okay, the volume in which they own the purchased sovereign rights mentioned above. But even tenuous as they are, there’s an entire political faction – the Dissolutionist Tendency – which exists to argue that they should never have got into volume-management in the first place and should sell said rights right back to the citizen-shareholders.)
…and they have the seals and signatures on file to prove that, dammit.
All the terminology and practices reflect this. There’s no tax, for example, because the governance literally does not have the power to tax. All it can do is charge a Service Fee, and that service fee is strictly defined in the contract. And if you don’t pay, it’s not some special criminal offense of “tax evasion” with all manner of special investigatory powers and punishments attached; it’s plain old breach of contract.
Privately owned enough for you?