Politics for Worldbuilders

This is a work in progress. I will be using this page to collect and organize my various posts on politics, and to help figure out the structure of the eventual how-to book for authors that I mean to write. Feedback and commentary is most appreciated! (Sign up here if you want to know when the book is finished.)

Future topics will probably include stateless bands, ideology, social capital and trust, population density, the relationship between outside threat and regime type, self-enforcing bargains and balances of power, warlords, the importance of different types of economies and taxation for institutional development, dynamics of warfare, etc.

Who Rules? Part One—The Palace

Power and Legitimacy

Identity, Boundaries, and Conflict

Wealth, Power, and Social Orders

Legibility and Power

Keeping Power

Class Conflict, Part One

The Power of Guiding Metaphors

When Do Societies Face Unrest?

The Talents of Others (on economic competition, envy, and social legitimacy)

The Social Effects of Weapon Technology (and How to Use in Writing)

On Revolutions in (Some) Fantasy Fiction

Tax Farming

Coordinated versus Liberal Market Economies

Bills of Exchange, Banking, and the Little Things

What’s the Point of English Aristocrats, You Ask?

Why Must Fantasy Always be Set in Huge Worlds?

Geography, Travel, and Power Projection

Discussion of wages, inequality, and social unrest [my older blog]

 

Further Reading:

James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed or else Against the Grain

Margaret Levi, Of Rule and Revenue: A good companion to Scott’s emphasis on “legibility,” Levi focuses specifically on the machinery of taxation and how it dramatically affects the power and legitimacy of a regime.

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State

Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization. Major ideas of which are summarized in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, which is much shorter and also free; but Mumford is worth reading in the original as well.

P.W. Singer, Children at War

Leites and Wolf, Rebellion and Authority (a study of insurgencies)

Bueno de Mesquita and Smith, The Dictator’s Handbook

Jane Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations. A brilliant study of how economies actually work, and how states’ economic policies often harm their own ability to generate prosperity. Written in the 1980s but still very much applicable.

Michael Taylor, Community, Anarchy & Liberty. Examining how egalitarian societies function and maintain their egalitarianism, and looking at the spectrum of groups from egalitarian to semi-egalitarian to the emergence of hierarchy. Not the last word, but a good overview.

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations. Begins with a quick overview of his Nobel-Prize-winning theory of collective-action problems, then examines the implications for societies: over time, accumulating interest groups and corruption will lead societies to collapse under the weight of their own elites.

Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars. While there is some dispute as to how “new” such wars actually are, Kaldor provides a descriptive look at wars such as in Bosnia where the most important objective was not military victory, but forcing a civilian populace into an ethnic identity that forces them to follow a specific set of political elites.

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