In my setting, religion is an incredibly big deal, mostly because the 'God' of my setting (which I call 'The Creator', I'm so freaking imaginative), actually actively did things and brought my humans into existence, but no longer does. The humans all used to live together in a gigantic city, which was ruled by religion - and still is. However, several thousand years ago, there was a religious debacle (Think Catholics vs Protestants, but more intense), and the people who came up with the new idea lost, and were exiled from the city, doomed to die in the forests.

Many of them did die during their exile, but there were enough of them who survived, that they eventually found a safe place to begin anew, and there they built their new city. In an act of spite, their newly elected rulers set up the laws of their new city to actively go against those of their founding city, outlawing religion and praising things that the religion once deemed heretical. Due to how the old religion was, this meant that this new city became rather liberal in their ideas, casting aside (not easily, but eventually) their old prejudices and striving to live in peace with other races.

Now the new city is a shining beacon of modernity, though not without its own flaws and problems (increased crime and corruption).

That's the backdrop - now the question is : Is that idea realistic? Can a city be founded on concepts of spite and hate, and work out in the end? If it isn't, are there any ways that it could?

If any additional info is needed, post in the comments, and I'll update the post accordingly.

EDIT #1: In light of @plagueheart's comment, I'm not proposing that the new city folks be pillars of love and care, simply that they opened their gates willingly to races otherwise reviled by their old city.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know that I can expand this much, but I think the answer is no, it can't work. If you spend a considerable amount of your emotional energy reviling the other, you will not be a pillar of tolerance and caring elsewhere. It's more likely you'll gradually expand your category of "the other" from "those specific guys over there" to "everyone not like us". Take <x> Supremacist groups (fill in the <x> yourself) as an example of this behavior in action. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2015 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ What are these races you're talking about? $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2015 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ You really need to re-think, or at least provide a plausible explanation for, the "doomed to die in the forests". Forests are really quite nice places to live, MUCH better than cities. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Feb 13, 2015 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like New York City. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Feb 14, 2015 at 0:10
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, okay, so you mean pluralistic in a more narrow sense of "they just happen to let other guys in who their former religion repudiates". In that case it seems a perfectly natural mud-in-yer-eye reaction, rather than "they magically became tolerant of differences". $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2015 at 2:00

3 Answers 3


I find myself disagreeing with the extant answers. I'll therefore go full contrary here, so expect a bit of exaggeration and hyperbole (take it with a grain of salt, heh).

Hate and spite are the foundational bedrock of most, if not all modern civilizations. For instance, the (North) American settlers were, by our modern standards, hateful and very much Taliban-like, and they left England and the Netherlands because they thought the Crown was NOT bigoted enough against fun OR Catholics to please them. Many of the new colonies were essentially little theocracies (we would call them cults these days and set the FBI on them).

Don't take this as me hating on the Puritans or whatever. Remember, the past is an Alien World. Everybody was crazy back then. Killing witches was all the rage, bleeding someone to near-death was what you paid doctors to do, and the French still thought that burning cats alive was a fun way to spend an afternoon. (I like cats. If that were happening today, I'd send in the bombers, or charge them myself armed with my keyboard, but I'm getting side-tracked here.)

Most modern nation-states are what Benedict Anderson (one of the most famous modern political scientists) called Imagined Communities, namely people who have invented and largely believe a common origin story of some sort:

  • Common ethnic origin myth in much of Eurasia;
  • Immigrants pursuing the American dream, motherhood and apple pie (which us Europeans know as Apfelkuchen) here in the US;
  • The flying-spaghetti-monster knows what in Canada and the Commonwealth.

Now, in theory, you could build a nice, loving and inclusive community that welcomes all those who share its values. But it's SO much easier to build a community on a sense of US-vs-THEM, since people are genetically predisposed to think in those black-white terms from the days (well, few million years) they spent as feuding ape-bands in the savanna. Once you get the printing press and mass literacy, the idea/meme can get mass traction. Hence, Nationalism was all the rage in Europe for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, and if you visit East Asia, it's still burning bright and likely to get people's undies tied up in a bunch, the kind of bunch that gets missiles flying and tanks rolling.

So, to get back to your setting, just replace Nationalism with Religion-Secularism, and it should be a straight shoot from there. Good nice hatreds to keep people focused and united against the eeevil other. That gets your walls built, your border manned and people shouting and waving flags in the Capital's large, statue-decorated squares.

  • $\begingroup$ +1. Hate to others is what defines many current religions or nations. Also, after few thousand years language would diverge enough so they would not understand each other - which makes it easier to hate each other. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2015 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but the pluralistic society we have now wasn't a direct lineal descendant of Puritan ideas. Your fifth paragraph (after the bullet points) is essentially recapitulating the idea that it wouldn't end in a society that was all-inclusive and welcoming to everyone except those guys over there who were religious. $\endgroup$ Feb 14, 2015 at 1:58

The more intense the hatred, the more likely it is to eventually start resembling the exact thing it hates, except in a different aesthetic. The initial conflict will carry on more as a strongly felt identity than an actual philosophical difference.

This may sound like arbitrary moralising, but I can back it up. It's the easiest thing in the world to proclaim a more liberal social order, but in order for it to stay so (rather than be eroded to a liberal-in-name-only "reverse" tyranny), there must be space for internal conflict. A lot of internal conflict, actually; one that could result in civil war were it not balanced out by a shared insecurity about a common enemy. If, on the other hand, this common-enemy mentality dominates the public discourse, then eventually it becomes exploitable and the most manipulative become the most powerful, simply by being the most adept at labelling their opponents traitors and agents of the old enemy.

Of course there will always be "voices of reason" raising the alarm that "we're becoming just like them, except with the signs reversed", but in anything resembling a real-life society, these purely philosophical/moral objectors always lose, unless backed up by the more down-to-earth interest groups. A liberal and pluralistic society is reinforced by conflicts of purely selfish interests between various groups within that society, the limiting factor being only that each side is interested — selfishly, again — in settling the conflict by reasonable means. That is not impossible in a society whose essential cohesion is provided by hatred for an external enemy; however, it's more or less inversely proportional to the intensity with which that hatred is expressed in the public discourse.

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    $\begingroup$ Very nice answer, though I'm a little confused at the end... Could you summarise it please? I want to make sure I'm not misunderstanding. Have a +1, though. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2015 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ @FeaurieVladskovitz There must be a plurality of conflicts, and the overarching hatred must not lead to enforced unanimity and abandonment of competing self-interests. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2015 at 8:00

If we assume that The Creator has agency and desires in creating her people, what were those intentions? What were The Creator's ideas that she saw fit for her people to exemplify? To see how a city could exist in opposition it must be very clear what it is they are in opposition to. The way that this could then exist should be reasonably self evident assuming that the original city makes some kind of sense.

So if one was imagining that the original city is a centre of authoritarian religious orthodoxy of the kind preferred by Wahabists or the american right, where the power of the church/state/military is all-important and religious distinctions of caste, race, gender or whatever else they favour are strictly enforced both culturally and through legal process.

A city in opposition to that might be very much more in favour of personal freedoms and to consider how this might operate you could just invert the power structures of the first- where people serve the religion in the Old City, in the New City the religion exists in service to the people. Where Old City society strictly regiments who you can marry, trade with or talk to, citizens of the New City have the freedom to commune with whoever they wish.

It sounds like you are conscious of this, but there is no reason why one or the other of these would necessarily be a better place to live, if you are careful in your design. Perhaps in the Old City the high temple takes care of the poor so that the most degrading levels of poverty are eradicated, whereas the freedom to climb higher in the New City comes at the price of the freedom to fall further. Perhaps in the Old City children are welcome to play where they will and the strong guard presence means that nobody would dare to cause them harm, whereas the weaker policing of the New City might put them more at risk. It will add a lot more nuance to your setting if the two cities have some degree of moral equivalence between them.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer! Yeah, I was planning to ensure that the 2 cities were essentially grey and gray morality, its just that I didn't feel it was important to the question. The question is more about whether a secondary city could in fact be founded on spite and unhappiness as its pillar. $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2015 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ It seems more credible to me that the goal of a different people would still be happiness and the disagreement would be about the path to happiness or the form it should take. $\endgroup$
    – glenatron
    Feb 13, 2015 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ Wait, yeah, that makes sense. :> $\endgroup$ Feb 13, 2015 at 15:50

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