I'm building a world with an interplanetary empire (with an emperor as head-of-state), but I wonder how realistic it is for one to even exist.
An empire, according to Google, is defined as:
an extensive group of states or countries under a single supreme authority, formerly especially an emperor or empress.
But there does seem to be a limit as to how big an empire can functionally be before it implodes/fragments. For example, restrictions based on relativity make it incredibly difficult for an empire to function in an interstellar and especially intergalactic level (assuming no technology could circumvent the proverbial speed limit). But what about an interplanetary level? That is, could a solar system realistically be organized as an empire with an emperor?
Here a list of what arguments against the likelihood of an interplanetary empire ever existing:
- Humanity's need for the illusion of self-governance: while certain nations in existence today are obviously not free, they maintain the illusion of democracy and free elections to justify their right to rule. Emperors and empresses cannot conceivably exist in the future as it is so ingrained in the modern psyche that the individual/common citizen provides consent to rule.
- Size matters: this is a very logical argument. The bigger an empire becomes, both in size of land and population, the harder it becomes to manage. A single, solitary emperor cannot possibly rule tens of billions of his citizens in an interplanetary empire across potentially diverse habitats
- Exorbitant administration costs/corruption: this feeds into the prior point, although this can be a significant issue for any government save for a loose confederacy of interplanetary empires. Law enforcement, tax collection, bureaucracy, and basic public services are inherently difficult to implement at a grand scale for an interplanetary empire. It is nigh impossible to not have the government collapse or be abused to the point of ineffectiveness.
- Communication and transportation time-limits: let's say on a remote colony, that an uprising sprouts up and spreads to adjacent colonies. How long could it realistically take the emperor in his palace to be notified, formulate a response, and act upon his response? This hinges on the state of technology, of course, but is a factor nonetheless.
However, I've observed some tropes/characteristics in fantasy empires that justify the inception and maintenance of empires. And to some extent, this applies to sci-fi empires as well. They are the following:
- Divine Right: a trope not entirely outside the realm of possibility. In ancient times, emperors would proclaim that God or the Gods or Heaven has provided them the right/mandate to rule. If the candidate for emperor is charismatic, skilled in diplomacy and war, and has strong military/economic/religious backing, he could rightfully seize power and rightfully keep it. If the emperor manages to cultivate a cult of personality (whether by outright worship or extreme reverence), many citizens would be averse to plan revolting against him. Note: this doesn't mean that people are necessarily irrational, but myths and legends still play a part in many people's belief systems and therefore their decision making.
- The inevitable lapse into autocratic rule: a democratic government comes with its own issues, and many artists/historians can attest to this. The fall of the Wiemar Republic and rise of Nazi Germany, Julius Caesar and the fall of Roman Republicanism, Babylon 5's President Clark, Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine... these are some of the examples where democracy dies and it is done legally and sometimes even by the consent of the ruled.
- Control through fear and dependency: a strong military that ruthlessly crushes opposition, a secret police that turns you against your neighbor, and economic slavery (e.g. dependent upon a welfare state that enables you to subsist) are sufficient de-motivators to keep people from rebelling. Note: while historically speaking, empires don't generally last long through fear and intimidation, it is a common trope.
- Control through pleasure and prosperity: Conversely, Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, painted a dystopian future where the use of sex, drugs, and recreational activities placates the masses. This would be a more generalized version of "Bread and Circuses". Also, if the vast majority of an empire's citizens live comfortably under an emperor's rule, why would they feel the need to rebel? Indeed, it seems that the health of an economy sets the mood for its populace.
- Control of information: this one is a bit obvious. How could people be outraged at the emperor's brutal crackdown of such-and-such protest if they never hear about it? How could people reliably communicate and organize themselves to resist the emperor if the emperor's government controls all means of long-range communication?
- Overdose of information: Another salient point made by Aldous Huxley was the "overdose of information". Ancient and modern dictatorships rely on strict control of information in order to maintain control. But, if the populace is inundated with meaningless information non-stop, they would be too distracted and tune any important information out. For example, an article discussing corruption by the emperor, will be tuned out as they read about a certain celebrity's extra-marital affair, or watch amusing cat videos. People aren't necessarily apathetic to government abuse/corruption. But people could remain "unaware" or too distracted because any useful political article is among hundreds of articles that talk literally about nothing.
But based upon this reasoning, could an interplanetary empire realistically exist in the future? If you have anything to add in the for or against argument, please share!