“The fundamental question we must answer before operating is this: are they barbarians because they want to control each other; are they barbarians because they’ve been conditioned to someone’s ownership; or are they barbarians because they have to be controlled? Different diseases have different cures…”

– Cordane Viriaz,
External Rectification & Clarification Ad-Hoc,
architect of operations ICE SHADOW, HIGHWATER MINT, and BRASS DANCER

Trope-a-Day: Realpolitik

Realpolitik: The Ministry of State and Outlands would love to be able to pursue such interests as the Empire has (which generally excludes its private interests, who tend to pursue their own foreign policies) with this much ideology-free pragmatism, but since the Empire is a strongly ideological libertist-technepraxic state, they have more often to confront the reality that they’re working for a governance, on behalf of a people – and drawn from that same people – who find some polities out there just too disgusting to deal with.

Played rather straighter with the Presidium of the Conclave of Galactic Polities, which is much more pragmatic – despite the ideological slants of its members – in the interest of preserving the stability of the Associated Worlds and the approximate neutrality of its institutions.

Ultima Ratio Omnia

It seems perhaps worth, in light of that last trope, describing one of those situations in which the Empire leaves people free to pursue their own foreign policies, if they so desire, so let’s skip right to the big one.  It is, if you will, an argument in two parts. The former runs like this:

1. It is an established principle of ethics that there is no alchemy which grants to groups greater (or lesser) rights than the sum of those of their constituent individuals. The form of their exercise may change; their essential nature does not.

2. The sovereignty of a polity, therefore, is no more than the collectively-exercised sovereignty (self-ownership) of its citizenship.

3. The right of a polity to make war, therefore, is no more than the collectively-exercised right of an individual to engage in the use of force, and is legitimate for equivalent purposes: namely, the defense of his own/their own sophont rights and/or the sophont rights of others. (Wars carried out for other purposes, as in the case of individual use of force for other purposes, are eo ipso illegitimate.)

4. By simple equivalence, an individual sovereignty (whether or not part of any polity) also possesses “the right to make war” on his own behalf for the defense of his sophont rights, inasmuch as this is ethically equivalent to any other use of force.

Such is merely standard Imperial jurisprudence. Here, though, is where it gets messy:

1. By the principle of consent, as derived from the right of domain (liberty and property) and that of contract, no sophont may be obligated against his will.

2. From this, therefore, we know that every sophont comes into this universe free and unencumbered by any obligation whatsoever, since no individual can bind itself previous to its existence.

3. The legitimacy of a polity’s governance, therefore, rests upon the voluntary (and explicit) assumption of the associated obligations by its citizenship, in accordance with the principle of consent. These polities we refer to as Societies of Consent.

4. It further follows that where such obligations are imposed upon sophonts without their consent, such as by birthright citizenship, descent citizenship, annexation, majoritarianism, or other force majeure, such governance is illegitimate by reason of violating the sophont rights of all its claimed citizens.

5. And as eo ipso illegitimate sophont rights-violaters, such nonconsensual governances are therefore legitimate targets for the exercise of the Right of Common Defense.

Most people, perhaps fortunately for galactic stability, treat this particular piece of ethical reasoning in much the same way as we do our “yay, democracy! boo, dictatorship!” fillip – namely, as something that’s obviously true, and always good for a denunciation at the Conclave, and handy to tack on to whatever other casus belli you might have this week, but it’s not like it means they have to go out and rough up every example of the kind right now, any more than we here in the Western democracies feel the need to go to war with every dictatorship on the planet just because they happen to be one.

On the other hand, it is due to the small number of people who look at said argument and add:

6. (insert plan here)

7. PROFIT!!!

…that the Empire still manages to produce the odd filibuster [1]. It is, after all, not actually illegal *there* to make war on icky dictatorships and icky democracies and other tyrannical so-and-sos with no respect for the rights of the individual soph, and indeed, it would be a severe violation of the Contract and the Charter were anyone to actually try and make it so [2]. As their delegation to the Conclave of Galactic Polities has regretfully explained on more than one occasion.

[1] It almost never works, mind. Experience has long since shown them that you can’t liberate people by force when they’re not free inside their heads, and so more practical types stick with subversion and snakeheading when it comes to kicking the slavers where they live. But even advanced, wise, and ultratechnological civilizations are not free of a certain quota of young, idealistic idiots who will convince themselves that surely it will work this time, even if it never has before.

[2] The very unofficial policy of the Imperial government, Navy, et. al., on this sort of thing is that it’s not illegal, no, but it’s also not official Imperial business and if you’re heading out to start something, you’ve pretty much voluntarily doffed the cloak of Imperial protection. If you deliberately pick a fight with a government and lose, it’s not their job to haul your ass out of the fire either – because you don’t have the right to potentially drag the rest of the citizen-shareholders into your private little war. You go a-conquering, you take your chances, win or lose.

Trope-a-Day: Heroic Neutral

Heroic Neutral: This is the way the Empire’s foreign policy, to the extent that it has one, is supposed to work.  (See Awakening the Sleeping Giant, Hegemonic Empire, et. al.)

Of course, where it all falls down is that that’s the way the Empire’s foreign policy is defined.  Imperials foreign policies, on the other hand, often differ quite remarkably… and most of the more strongly governed states we’re used to would be appalled at just how much the minuscule and laissez-faire Imperial government lets the average yahoo get away with when it comes to defining their own interstellar foreign policy.


And here I answer a comment in the long form, because I think it deserves a longer and more general answer than would fit in just the comment post:

To fill in some background first for those who aren’t regular or long-term readers, the thing that is particularly important to point out, here, is that by human standards the Imperials in general and the eldrae in particular are sociopathically disinterested in the consequences of their actions.

Okay, that’s not strictly true, since they have a very great care for consequences which might impinge on someone’s life, liberty, property (which includes concrete externalities), or the obligation of contracts, but as far as consequences which are mediated through someone else’s volition go – well, there’s a P. J. O’Rourke quotation I’ve always liked: “One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.”, and as very strong believers in free will and valxijir, the Imperials are very, very good at owning their own actions and their own mistakes.  But they’re also equally good at the implied corollary, which is that other people’s actions and mistakes are their responsibility.

And so, to put it the way they would, arrogance included, “when you decide to throw a planet-wide riot or found a religion when you saw the lighthugger scout backing down into your system, hey, no-one made you do it, right?”

“And sophs have an unalienable right to life (and hence to self-defense), to property, and via liberty to freedom of information and freedom of contract, so if your people are willing to defy your laws to buy immortagens, weapons, and smuggled goods, conceal their money by taking advantage of banking privacy and nomomachy services, and get hold of all kinds of information, dangerous or “dangerous”, that you’d prefer they not have, well, then, that’s their right according to us, and we can’t ethically do anything to stop them.  Or anyone who helps them.  And if your society is so badly constructed that letting people not die, bear arms, hold on to their rightful earnings and know things makes it fall over, then your society sucks, and it almost certainly deserved what just happened to it.  Do better next time.”

“And we don’t, by and large, sell technologies to people obviously just off the cackling-evil bus, but the inventor of the match isn’t responsible for arson, any more than the inventor of the gun is responsible for where the bullets end up, or the inventor of the drug is responsible for the addict.  We invented nanotechnology, and ubiquitous law enforcement, and noetics, and applied memetics, and any dozen other technologies you care to name to put them to use in benign, responsible, rational ways, and that’s how we advertise them.  It is in no way our fault or responsibility if y’all let a bunch of idiot jackasses who got their application concepts from dystopian fiction reverse-engineer them and do horrible things to you with them.  We don’t have to stuff the fire back into the bottle and go back to shitting in the woods just because we’re surrounded by morons, thugs, and moronic thugs.”

“And finally, when it comes to ‘cultural imperialism’ – and for that matter the spread of dissent and subversion and revolutionary ideals – it’s definitely not our fault if your people find libertism-technepraxism and its wacky cultural corollaries preferable to whatever they had before.  It’s evolution in action, sweethearts; if you can’t make your culture more appealing, at least try to sell the product better.  But it’s not our job to hide, or be worse, just so you don’t look so bad.”

“You have the same free will we do.  We got our shit together, and we, unlike you, had no example of how.  Go and do likewise.

And, yes – and the foreign policy that it and their strict internal laissez-faire implies – this creates pretty much the blowback you might imagine it would from people who like a little archy with their nutritious breakfast.

“The path between over-regulated societies, and the Empire’s style of enlightened libertarianism (which requires, as they themselves admit, properly sane smart and enlightened citizens), is a rocky and potentially unbridgeable one. Somalian style warlording chaos is not out of the question. Does the Empire then move in to help restore public safety and trade routes when that happens? And if so, how do they deal with the blowback from the other major powers?

So, to narrow in to the specific, they would acknowledge that their laissez-faire, not respecting what they see as illegitimate law, openness, etc., etc., does tend to be, ah, corrosive to more regulated societies, with consequences that tend to break them in one way or another – even for values of “another” equal to “completely”, Somalia-style ungentlemanly anarchy included – but, as the above suggests, they certainly wouldn’t acknowledge any responsibility for it.  You broke it, it’s yours, you fix it, in other words.

(Although it’s by no means universal – a lot of polities see what’s coming and, acknowledging the problem, try adapting to at least the necessary chunks of the Imperial Way of Life, on the grounds that it’s better to be inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in, and some try and split the difference, in an analogy to the Chinese economic-freedom-without-political-freedom approach, with varying degrees of success.  The Empire actually contains a number of companies that specialize in helping polities do this, “sociocultural uplift consultants” and the like, as while “Obviously everyone wants to be wild, rich, and largely tax free, just like us!” isn’t any kind of policy, it’s still very widely believed.)

So there’s no moving in to “restore public safety” or any such thing – “nation-building” has never been in style, and old-fashioned imperialism went out of it once they’d unified their homeworld – it just gets left alone.  Protecting trade routes, that happens, but really just in the sense of a step-up in the intensity of the IN’s regular anti-piracy patrols, which is routine enough not to be complaintworthy; and if there’s a need to trade with someone in the broken area, it’s usually left up to the traders in question to hire as many of UARC’s finest mercenaries as they feel they need for their personal security.

Regarding such blowback as is caused, though, and such as is caused directly by the issues above rather than the response to them, it breaks down something like this:

When it comes to the other acknowledged Great Powers, which maps pretty well onto “the other members of the Presidium”, there’s usually not too much of a problem.  The Photonic Network is a very solid ally, there, because they aren’t too bothered about organic internal affairs anyway, and since they are the other accepted polity that takes the same position as the Empire on digital slavery (“never acceptable, ever, not even a little”), they’re a pretty reliable voting bloc.  The League of Meridian and the other two probably wouldn’t mind sticking it to the Imperials over these issues, at least sometimes, but there, it’s mutually assured destruction.  All the Presidium powers have a good grasp on where the other guys’ bodies are buried, and understand that it really doesn’t pay them to start an open conflict over someone’s points of fundamental principle.

Especially because if they’re looking for someone willing to set fire to the Galaxy over a point of principle, they know exactly where to look.

The Voniensa Republic, which isn’t a member of the Accord but does count as a Great Power by sheer size and weight of metal, already hates them about as much as it’s possible for them to hate anything, because as a good Federation-expy, the Vonnies regard the Imperials as a horrid, horrid example of Everything That Is Wrong With The Galaxy, Especially In Re Ethics, Economics, Science, Misapplied Technology and Decadence all wrapped up into one neat package with a bow on top.  So they don’t care about any blowback from that direction, since they can’t possibly make it any worse.

As for the rest of the Accord – well, there, it’s the time-honored “carrot and stick” strategy.  The carrot isn’t all money – the Imperials, after all, are nice people in person, and always willing to make a deal, and even those legionaries in their power suits are Your Friends, inasmuch as if there’s a big earthquake on your planet while the patrol is in-system, they’ll call you and offer to be down there shifting rubble off people and cleaning up toxic spills before it even occurs to you to consider asking them.  But a lot of it is money; getting into a big conflict with the Empire is a bad idea simply because they’re a big part of the galactic economy and financial system, and a major exporter of capital to boot.  It’s like trying to economically sanction the US or China, for most countries; you may be able to hurt them, but you’ll hurt yourself worse trying.

(Plus, on a corporate level and on the stick end of things, Ring Dynamics owns and leases a frighteningly large part of the extra-Imperial interstellar transportation infrastructure, Bright Shadow owns and operates a similarly large part of the extranet, and so forth.  While in both theory and practice the Imperial Couple’s powers to make them do anything hostile extend to asking nicely, there’s absolutely no penalty attached to them saying no, and in any case they are utterly devoted to the obligations of their contracts, in practice (a) there’s a decent overlap between things you could do against the Empire and things you could do that would annoy its corporations, and (b) polities with more high-regulation governments don’t really grok that, and since they’re going to have the notion anyway, the Imperials don’t mind playing on it…)

And finally the stick, most applicable, they would say, to non-governmental blowback, which is just the traditional Big Stick.  They do, despite all those things they “regret they cannot stop”, work pretty hard on the hearts-and-minds, being loved part of being feared and loved, but they hardly neglect the feared part, either.  While they don’t have to make many examples, they also make no secret of the fact that unlike us, they Never Leave Anyone Behind, practice Disproportionate Retribution, and so on and so forth.  They’ve got a good record for not engaging in offensive wars or otherwise starting trouble, but their record for finishing trouble – and anyone who overtly or implicitly supported trouble, and anyone who let trouble hide behind them, and so forth – is equally impressive, and that’s the one that turns a lot of bowels to water at the thought of Starting Something, and indeed positively encourages a lot of governments to round up assorted terrorists and the like and hand them over preemptively just in case they find themselves The People Hiding Trouble the next time the Imperials pull Caliéne Sargas off the beach and tell her to go shoot it.

Trope-a-Day: Awakening the Sleeping Giant

Awakening The Sleeping Giant: Played mostly straight with the Empire, who despite qualifying as a superpower prefer not to have to referee the world (and, indeed, much of their participation in such transnational organizations as the Conclave of Galactic Polities is to avoid having to, as far as that is possible.)  At least in the public sector – your private organizations may vary.  And nevertheless, if someone is determined to start something, and keeps trying to start something, they’re happy to finish it with the Doctrine of Disproportionate Retribution.

Thus, their foreign military policy looks much like America’s back in the old sensible days, i.e., much like a hibernating bear’s:

Poke.  Slap.

Poke.  Slap.

Poke.  Slap.

Poke.  Slap.


(This also exists in something of a dynamic tension with No One Gets Left Behind, which see.)