Politics for Worldbuilders

This is a collection of my posts about how authors can use ideas from politics in their writing. Many of these posts have been deepened and expanded into a book, Beyond Kings and Princesses: Governments for Worldbuilders, which is Book One of a planned series on politics for writers. I am currently working on books Two (working title “Tyranny for Worldbuilders”) and Three (“War for Worldbuilders”). Sign up here if you want to know when more books are finished.


Conflict in Politics and Fiction


Before the State: Egalitarian Bands

Wealth, Power, and Social Orders

Keeping Power

Who Rules? Part One—The Palace

Who Rules? Part Two—The Nobility [Note parallel with warlords, East India Trading Co, etc.]

Who Rules? Part Three—The Forum

Who Rules? Part Four—The Clergy

The Restraints and Imperatives of Rule

Legibility and Power

Geography, Travel, and Power Projection

Warlords and Frontiers

Power and Legitimacy

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

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

How Not to be Overthrown by Your Army

Manipulating the Perceptions of Elites

Empires versus Nation-States

Types of Tyrannies

Dimensions of Tyranny

How Tyrannies Use Gaslighting

Political Bargains

Why Do Tyrants Sometimes Have Political Parties?

Control, Capital, and Political Bargains

What is the Function of a State?

Taxation and Finance

Tax Farming [Note: draw parallel with East India Trading Co.]

Turning People into Power Resources

Coordinated versus Liberal Market Economies

Bills of Exchange, Banking, and the Little Things [Note to self: probably too niche, except maybe as an aside]

Other Economy Topics

Interest Groups, Winning Coalitions, and an Autocrat’s Economy

Building an Economy: Energy

Building an Economy: Cities and the Wealth of Nations

Building an Economy: Types of Cities

Building an Economy: Capital

Building an Economy: Money, Part 1

Building an Economy: Different Property Regimes

Moral Economies

Group Identity, Patriotism, and Nationalism

Unity, Division, and State Formation

Group Identities in Politics: Ethnic Groups

Social Conflict

Class Conflict, Part One [To do: expand discussion? How far?]

When Do Societies Face Unrest? [To do: another post discussing value of manpower, population density, Herbst. Figure out where to bring in Herbst/Scott.]

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

The Talents of Others (on economic competition, envy, and social legitimacy) [Probably too niche for the guide, unless I can fit it in a paragraph or so]

Group Identities in Politics: Ethnic Groups

Identity, Boundaries, and Conflict

Worldbuilding, National Beliefs, and Punishment

[To do: discussion of trust and social capital, and the salience of threat, and how it affects the way regimes play out]

War and Rebellion

Rebellion, Part One

Rebellion, Part Two

War in Fantasy Fiction

On Revolutions in (Some) Fantasy Fiction

Audiences for War

War as Negotiation

Is War Good for States?


The Power of Guiding Metaphors

Worldbuilding, National Beliefs, and Punishment

Why Must Fantasy Always be Set in Huge Worlds?

Fiction Case Studies

Creating Story Conflicts with Politics [Mixed colonial and stateless setting]

Further Reading

James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed (Amazon here) 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: A discussion of the “High Modernist” plans of central governments, seeking standardization and legibility no matter what they break in the process.

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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