This is sort of a vague question, and I do not have a specific setting in mind. However, if you had a society whose members were immortal, how would you ensure that the leadership was dynamic and efficient? Do you have mandatory term limits, and replace a certain part of the leadership every year? If so, how would you implement it? The officeholders would probably resist giving up their power, due to both greed and because they would probably see the new bureaucrats as stupid and inexperienced. Would you have the old officeholders and new office-seekers compete freely? If so, few young people would get into positions of power, as the old guard would be more experienced and would be able to use the accumulated influence and experience of eons to keep their posts. Also, getting rid of the old would be disruptive to the functioning of government, as they know how to run society smoothly, but not rotating them might result in stagnation, as they hold fast to old ways and reject progress.

  • $\begingroup$ I'll take a page from good old tabletop RPG system GURPS, 1st edition: everything else being equal, leadership would be based on physical strength. $\endgroup$ – Renan Oct 13 '18 at 3:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Renan Dorothy Parker said if physical strength counted for everything, then stevedores would run the world. It's noticeable they don't. $\endgroup$ – a4android Oct 13 '18 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ GURPS... @Renan, that really takes me back.... $\endgroup$ – JBH Oct 13 '18 at 5:31

Good leadership is a quality that we find elusive even now, after millennia of trying, in part because we all have a different view of what 'good' leadership is.

Is it the ability to choose to do what's best for the nation?
Is it the ability to get things done, no matter the cost?
Is it the ability to compete with neighbouring nations?
Is it the ability to preserve the cultural heritage / religion of the nation?
Is it the ability to conquer one's neighbours and assimilate them?

To be frank, I'm not sure what good leadership is and none of the people I respect have any idea either. There are only two things that all my friends and I agree on;

1) None of us want to be leaders as the responsibility is too much
2) There's no way we'd trust anyone seeking leadership with the position if it was up to us.

All this having been said, the answer to your question largely relies on defining what good leadership is to you.

If it's strength, then leadership would be a contested position, probably via a fight to the death in an arena. An 'election' (and I use the term loosely) would be an event between two candidates that you sell tickets to, and both candidates (probably an incumbent and a challenger) fight for the right to lead. The strongest is the one who's still alive when the other isn't, and then takes on the role.

If it's sacrifice, you have a mechanism where leadership is paid for through the removal of one's immortality. In other words, you can live forever as a subject, or you can live a normal lifespan as a leader. This would have the added advantage of ensuring renewal in the role on a regular interval.

If it's the willingness to give back to the people, then you offer leadership as a calling rather than a job. You can only become leader if you give up all personal belongings and live on the goodwill of the people. You get no wage, you get no house, no palace, no warm blankets as part of the job. You only get clothes, food, blankets, shelter from those willing to contribute to your wellbeing. If they're having a bad year and have nothing to offer, then your year is going to be a lot worse.

If it's command, you can only become leader through the military chain of command. You must start at the base rank, and work your way through the ranks until you reach a flag rank, at which point there is a regular general election among the officers as to who from flag rank should be the leader for the next period, and you're now eligible for election.

If it's scientific prowess, you might make a person's candidacy for leadership contingent on the number of papers they publish on a given topic, or the number of times they are referenced in the papers of others. As someone gets more references (because they are writing more relevant work) they get the leadership.

Ultimately, the answer comes down to what you think are good and bad ideas, and what you mean by renewal. Things like economic policy have to change with the reality of resource availability, innovation and international diplomacy. On the other hand, the basic tenets of the criminal code (murder, theft, assault, etc.) have been in societies for a very long time because they work.

The important thing here is that you know what's important to your nation and the health and prosperity of its people. If you know that, then you design your leadership selection process around that and you're good. If the selection process emphasises what you want your leader to do, then it's far more likely that you'll get the leader you need (but not always the leader you want).

This last point is perhaps one of the most important, and one of the chief failings of democracy as a selection process. The leader of a nation HAS to have the best interest of the nation at heart, not necessarily the best interest of its people (especially as individuals) at heart. Democracies struggle with this because sometimes necessary reforms are deeply unpopular, and therefore those suggesting them are never given leadership. Often the reason why it was necessary is only evident to most of the populace with hindsight. Whatever your selection process, retaining the faith of the people in the office if not the officer is paramount.

This usually means a good education system and the ability to explain policy choices to people in a way they can all understand. This is a lot easier said than done, which is why I wouldn't make a great leader and I know it. That said, there's a lot of poor leaders out there who think they're spectacular at it. The real trick, regardless of your final selection process, is weeding out the latter.


Are you sure there'd be much of a government?

The single biggest problem with immortals is that you must strictly limit (if not outright prohibit) progeny — otherwise in very little time you have a planet-sized population. Let's assume you don't have this problem for whatever reason. What this means is...

  • No babies
  • No children
  • No teens
  • No schools in the traditional sense
  • No driver training
  • No geriatrics
  • No minor healthcare
  • No welfare (as we understand it)

It literally means that a proverbial 50% of the reasons government exists ... don't exist. But what's really odd is...

It appears you're applying mortal behaviors to immortal people

Which isn't all that uncommon. You'd be surprised how often people make god in their own image. I found it curious when you said, "officeholders would probably resist giving up their power, due to both greed and because they would probably see the new bureaucrats as stupid and inexperienced." Except the newcomers are immortal... which has the effect of evening out inteligence and experience over the millennia such that nobody is particularly better at anything than anybody else.

Let me give you an example: I'm in my 50s. It's actually difficult for children to sneak up behind me and startle me by screaming, "boo!" Why? Because I've experienced the moment so many times that even when I'm not prepared to experience it again, my brain simply reacts with a yawn. I don't see the world like 10-year-olds do (who still see most of the world as something they've never experienced... something new).

Now imagine a whole culture of people who have lived thousands of years, experienced basically everything thousands of times over, who have become educated in scores of careers, lived those careers, and become bored with those careers. People who very frequently never think through what to do next — they simply react to it based on what an unfathomable amount of time has taught them to do.

  • Relevant movie/TV quote #1: Groundhog Day, "Maybe God has just been around a long time and knows everything."

  • Relevant movie/TV quote #2: Agents of Shield, "That's why you'll practice it over and over until you've got it down cold. Muscle memory. Don't think about the action; let the action help you think."

  • Relevant movie/TV quote #3: Star Trek: Voyager, after hearing no dialogue in the Q-continuum... "Because it has all been said. Everyone has heard everything, seen everything; they haven't had to speak to each other in ten millennia. There's nothing left to say."

I'd be surprised if much government was needed at all

What does it mean to be in charge? From the base-human perspective, it means having the power to do what you want, when you want. From the somewhat more enlightened perspective, it means meeting your population's needs for safety, residency, productivity, education, and entertainment.

Honestly, the base-human need is the funniest to think about. A bunch of immortals (gods, perhaps without the convenient thunderbolts) are all listening to some bragart trying to impress them with his/her strength, mental accuity, whatever — and yawning after they've been momentarily amused. They've seen it all before, know perfectly well how to rid themselves of the nuisance, and move on with their daily lives.

Because the base-human leader needs to foce the population to his/her demands, and that requires power. In small communities, this can be achieved by your own sword arm. In bigger communities it requires sycophants/devotees/zealots/followers. It helps to have a military dedicated to the ideology that happens to reflect your personal tastes for power. They think they're supporting the nation. But remember — immortals — they've seen it all before, know who you are (really well!), and are a whole lot less likely to be convinced to simply follow Simeon (you know, "Simeon Says...") when he/she proves to be a megalomaniac.

  • Relevant movie/TV quote #4: Star Trek: Voyager, "Oh, we've all done the scarecrow. Big deal."

By the way, that ST:VOY episode is "Death Wish." You should go watch it. Watch it so many times that you can quote it without thinking. Then you'll understand why your statement about newcomers being stupid and inexperienced was so odd to read....

The more interesting government is one who meets everyone's needs, but what needs do immortals have?

Not education, they can supply that for any junior member quite readily. In fact, rather than K-12+college schools, all you'd have are research centers, and all too likely personal research centers where a few like-minded individuals gather to hash out stuff I can't even imagine thinking about.

Not welfare, if they're still alive after a couple of millennia then they've worked out how to feed/clothe/house themselves without dependency on the government. Perhaps there's no greater crime than living thousands of years and STILL being unproductive.

Not a lot of things. What would be the point of incarcerating people for eons? Capital punishment would be the only thing that meant anything to immortals, so your judicial system becomes very simple. Mind your manners or we take your head.

  • Relevant Movie/TV Quote #5: Highlander, "Each man's thoughts and dreams are yours to know. You have power beyond imagination. Use it well my friend. Don't lose your head."

In the end, what leadership would be necessary would be driven by the all-too-predictable actions of the inferior mortal races

You really don't need much of anything other than an oversight committee to make sure there's water in the pipes and a general to rally the troops when the Morlocks and Vogons come marching. (Yes, this is a bit simplistic, but you know what I mean....)

What most people don't realize is that, unless things in Heaven are very different than here, immortality would be unbelievably boring. How long can you play Halo 4 a harp, really?

It might be the most egalitarian society on the planet, because everybody really is equal. Only in the most dramatic cases will one intellect outstrip all others, and so forth for all other skills/talents. But why would such people strive for leadership when there are so many competent people to do the boring stuff?

  • Relevant movie/TV quote #6: Flash Gordon, "Ah, well, who wants to live forever? HAHAHAHAH! DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!!"

In an immortal society everybody would sooner or later have a chance to be part of the government. Therefore, members of any government could be chosen at random from the population. They would serve for a certain number of terms, then leave government. This would continue until everybody else had their chance to be in government.

Please note this system describes appointing people to government. Leadership is always more difficult. Leaders would have to be chosen from among members of the government. Essentially this is based on a parliamentary system of governance.

With a random selection process to chose government, there will need to be mechanisms for some people to opt out on either a voluntary or compulsory basis. There will be many who never want to be in a government. There will also be people who should never be allowed to govern. For example, persons with authoritarian personalities. That way dictatorship lies, so it should be avoided.

Also, persons who have been in government and prove themselves manifestly incompetent at running a society at whatever level they held. These types of persons will need to be identified and proscribed from government.

On the converse is also true. There will be some persons who are exemplary in government. However, they should be kept in office forever. It would be better if there was a sufficiently large body of persons competent at government who would be prime candidates for selection. A slight bias in favour of their selection to ensure there is always a core body of them in any government.

There is every practical reason that the government of an immortal society should be a unitary entity. There can be many tiers of government, each with their own periods of office. Plus there will need to be a public service, probably, public services plural, to support the arms of government. By having overlapping periods of office and tiers of governments and public services will allow continuity and stability of governance.

Since being part of the government there will be a civic duty and responsibility of all immortal citizens, there can be high levels of education and training in all areas of government, leadership and public administration. Also, the members of an immortal society will all have opportunities to fill every level of governance and administration. From garbage collector, parking ticket inspector, being Lord Mayor, clerical duties, planning committees, and upwards to the premiership of their nation.

The random selection process will prevent cliques and cabals forming within governments. It will also block corruption of officials and members of their parliaments.

In conclusion, leadership is nebulous concept, therefore, this answer has concentrated on sketching a form of government where all citizens can participate in its running and at every level of governance and administration. The random selection of citizens into government positions will ensure maximum experience and knowledge of all levels of government.


The following assumes that the discovery of immortality happens in free market post-modern society in which we live now. In this settings, the leaders don't lead in a way to define values, the good and bad, the way of living. Since the end of Cold War ideology has negative connotations. Instead, MONEY drives everything, allows WILL TO POWER to rule all values: the stronger apply their power onto weaker and the leaders are no exception. Today, the constant grow of consumption and waste became the true religion and as a such, it is the main tool for world leaders (the oligarchs) to manage others including politicians. I think that the immortality would change this, but it depends on the type of immortality. I would consider three classes of it:

  • A: Immortality as cure of death by age people still could be killed and can die by disease, could went paraplegic, could kill themselves. Eventually some kind of death would happen, so there would be something like statistical lifespan.
  • B: Immortality as a perfect body could involve many improvements like perfect regeneration (to fix limbs or eyes lose, heart attacks, cancer, maybe even death by gun or fall), perfect immunity (no diseases), perfect resistance (to avoid death by radiation, explosion, too high or low temperatures, vacuum). The chance of death by unfortunate circumstances would be lowered, but end of life could happen with some effort.
  • C: Immortality as a consciousness preservation or as a life backup by means that death would be impossible.

Price of immortality as a tool to manage ("lead") others

A: It would be more expensive than space travel. The price could resemble 50 years mortgage affordable only by high society people. Leaders would be more powerful, but eventually they would die. Power shifts in society would be less often.

B: The risk of dying would be much lower, so the price could grow much higher: if high society people needed to sign a contract to pay all their money for 1000 years, it still would be too cheap. The slavery period would probably be shorter at the dawn of the technology since nobody is planning that long, but later when immortal merchants were selling it, it might constantly grow to 50.000 years and beyond (it is still worth it). The leaders would find a business model to enslave others, the hope for eternal life (supported by market) would be a new opium of humanity and used to replace religion.

C: There could be no price tag for this since the advantage has infinite potential. It would be obtainable probably only by power. The very few most powerful people at the dawn of the technology would ensure that nobody else would get into the club, so the cake of power is not divided anymore.

Effects on society and immortal "leaders"

A: Jails would lost their meaning, other punishments (death penalty, slavery, limb cutting) would need to replace it. Mortgages and student loans period could pass 50 years, but since the leaders still could easily die, there would be no qualitative difference from the world we live in.

B: Same as A plus education period as "preparation for life" could be prolonged. People would work less if they could go without food or bed. Everything mandatory or necessary would be way more expensive, because people could work for that for extended period of time. This would make the standards of living worse for 99%. Many strikes would happen, but the 1% would be too powerful to be overthrown. Eventually, the power distribution would remain settled and rigid and people would get used to slavery in time. They would probably sooner or later lose interest in most things that we connect with certain age, including having babies. The Earth capacity for people would grow multiple times. In space time the limits of environment on planets would grow much faster than the number of human beings.

C: The struggle for ultimate power would start as everybody knows that it is the last war and the winner will be eternal. Eventually, there would be only one or very few god-like immortals, the rest of the world or universe would be enslaved by their "laws of physics" which would create the ultimate barrier for their growth and make them to create resources for the deity. If some infinite energy resource were discovered, the free market would lost its point, the gods would lose their interest in humanity and start to live without them, ensuring that they can not follow their way in the future to threaten them.

  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting essay on the impact of immortality on society, but I don't see where you are addressing the question of leadership. $\endgroup$ – Law29 Oct 13 '18 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Law29 if the model of "free market" prevails in the future, then "leadership" is nothing but struggle to power. In modern western society, the leadership doesn't mean more than that (the leaders don't lead, they implement their power onto the weaker). From that perspective, the "leadership" is just the fight for power and immortality would supply new tools for that fight, which I fantasize about. $\endgroup$ – Jan Turoň Oct 13 '18 at 11:17

The Old Monsters Never Die

I am going to assume by immortal you mean "Cannot Die." This is a very, very terrifying prospect. Imagine Hitler, and Genghis Khan have a few beers and end up deciding they're bored with year 45888 of their existence so they decide to start the 27th Reich back up for shits and giggles. If we have a horrible monster walking around today we know that at the very least if nothing else works we can just wait a few decades for nature to take its course and rid us of them. Not so in a world with true immortality, Caligula would still be burning Christians alive at his garden parties, and worse yet, they can't die either. So if you fall into the clutches of such a person guess what? You have centuries of misery and suffering to look forward to performing as a mad man's screaming garden torch.

Point being, in a society with true immortality on an infinite timeline everyone would eventually have the opportunity to be in charge of the whole shebang. This prospect is terrifying to me, because not everyone SHOULD have the opportunity to be in charge. Imagine if a guy like Kim Jong Un could keep coming back to terrorize humanity every few centuries or so for all eternity. Perhaps a method of punishment would need to be devised that if it can't kill them, can at-least remove them from the equation for a long, long time. Perhaps if somebody proves them-self a horrible enough person we could entomb inside of a reinforced concrete block and then dump them off into the deepest part of the ocean to keep them from public influence for at-least a few thousand years. Of course, when they come out they might be stark raving mad and even worse to deal with than when they went in.


Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.