I would like to create a steampunk world which society has the following base structure:

  • Power is pretty decentralized to cities or small areas containing some cities
  • There should be no great wars (small conflicts between areas might be possible, but nothing that would deserve the name war)

I am trying to figure out, why the world stays (for at least some hundred years in that state). I am not a sociologist (or historian), but my real world assumption are the following:

People tend to build larger groups (than just cities or small areas) as countries or similar. I guess, they try to cover enough area to be able to do as much living requirements (husbandry, etc.) within their own border without the need to exchange with other countries?

Also at the borders of these areas people often tend to fight against each other (over ground or whatever [silly] reason).

What reasons could the people in my world have not to build that large power groups, but a way more decentralized world? It would still be okay if larger formal groups exist, as long as the real power is decentralized.

And what reason could prevent them from fighting each others at the border for a longer time.

Could you give me some plausible long term view on that society that has let to that stable situation or are my basic assumptions about what happens in the "real world" wrong?

  • $\begingroup$ Hi, Tim, welcome to Worldbuilding. As it currently is, your question seems to be one of idea generation, which would be off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Apr 3, 2015 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I surfed around other "society" tagged questions, and honestly I cannot see much difference, on what they are asking. Especially since I am asking for plausible explanations why a situation won't collapse like I described. Could you elaborate more on how the question should be improved? $\endgroup$
    – Tim Roes
    Apr 3, 2015 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ There are a lot of society questions like this; I could be improperly evaluating your question. I'm honestly not quite sure how to improve it, if it needs to be improved. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Apr 3, 2015 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is IMH that a lot of people are misusing the tags, especially society $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Apr 3, 2015 at 23:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think this question is ok, although I agree it's a little broad. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Apr 4, 2015 at 14:43

6 Answers 6


Ancient Greek City States had a system somewhat like this, but this was mostly due to the geography; the classical Polis was defined for the most part by a valley or generally small area of land which was fertile enough to support it. There were some exceptions which eventually overturned the concept, but more on that later.

The other thing which limited conflict in ancient Greece was the fact that 80% of the population were farmers. When threatened, they could all turn out together to defend the land (the origin of the classical Hoplite phalanx), but because they needed to tend their crops, an informal arrangement between all the Greeks was a battle was decided in a single day (so everyone left alive could go back to the farm).

This situation was unstable. The Spartans conquered and enslaved the people in the lands around (creating the Helots), and developed an aggressive warrior society to police the Helots and prevent a slave revolt. The Athenians expanded their sea borne trade to such an extent that they did not need to defend the lands of Arcadia to keep everyone fed, so restraints against the use of force began to fall away. What tipped the scales was the Persian Wars, where an outside power threatened all of Greece, and Greek military tactics, logistics and social organization evolved to meet a large scale threat, creating massive standing armies and fleets, which ambitious politicians used for their own venal ends once the Persians were defeated...

So for your organization to work, much of the population needs to be gainfully employed in such a fashion there is no real surplus to man a large standing army. Each city state should have evolved a set of common customs shared with all the others to limit the scale and scope of conflict, and there should be few exceptional areas where the system can expand outside of these limits, nor should there be an outside threat of such magnitude that they must band together and create standing armies and fleets.


It sounds like you're describing polycentric law. Polycentric law is a legal structure in which providers of legal systems compete or overlap in a given jurisdiction, as opposed to monopolistic statutory law according to which there is a sole provider of law for each jurisdiction, i.e. modern nation states.

Ancient Ireland was like what you described for thousands of years. There were numerous clans called tuaths. Individual members were not bound to any one tuath. In fact members were free to, and often did secede from one tuath to join a competing tuath.

In contrast to many similarly functioning tribal societies (such as the lbos in West Africa), preconquest Ireland was not in any sense “primitive”: it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe.

As for war between tuath, the closest thing would be the occasional raid on livestock. When threatened with conquest by centrally commanded armies, the tuaths would form defense pacts. This way they even managed to defend themselves from conquest by the Romans. However, in the 17th century they were finally conquered by the English.




The trick is to downplay the importance of the borders.

It's not the borders that cause conflict, its the disagreement. Borders make it easy to create a society with strong disagreements along the outside edges. Create a more fluid society, and the disagreement along borders becomes more muted.

The trick is that its very common to define a boundary and say "everything within this boundary should have the same rules and beliefs." When you do that, now you have reason to create sharp disagreements along borders.

Another important trick is to put borders along hard to pass lines. If you just divide the map along straight lines (like much of the Western US), the borders are arbitrary. If the borders are more geographical (like Afganistan was before the Western world pushed it to define itself more "normally"), then the geography helps deal with the strain of disagreement because people don't want to cross the border.

  • $\begingroup$ I think that the loose borders and border you don't want to cross are an excellent idea. Unfortunately that question really was too broad (as mentioned in the question comments) and I had to select a correct answer, which I gave Thucydides, due to the imo very good historic compare. Thanks for your answer! $\endgroup$
    – Tim Roes
    Apr 4, 2015 at 15:28

If you didn't mind all the involved groups sharing the philosophy that: "we don't truly own this", then that would greatly reduce tensions, and therefore, the likelihood of a war. What I mean by this is that all the separate collectives of people may USE the land, but they don't truly OWN that land. A major factor of human aggression is the perception that something of ours has been wrongfully taken from us - if there is no perception of "mine", then the chance of flaring tempers is reduced.

You may want to consider such things as the principles of non-possession in Satyagraha as put into practice by Gandhi.

  • $\begingroup$ I agree, that this could be a solution, but unfortunately it won't fit with the rest I am trying to create, since it would really on communism to work. And for my personal believe (and the one of the creating world) as good as the idea might be, it just does not work for a longer time. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Roes
    Apr 4, 2015 at 15:23

This sounds rather similar to 16th century Japan. After Ashikaga shogunate gradually lost power over the Daimyos (Local Warlords), who in their own right became more powerful than the Shogun could maintain control over. With little power over these powerful warlords and their armies, thigns were bound to go south. A Dynastic struggle between the Hosokawa and Yamana families spun out of control he entire country was fractured into a hundred fighting clans. This period was known as the Sengoku Jidai period, otherwise known as "The age of the country at war". This period lasted for over 100 (130) years. (Though, there were long bouts of stalemates)

Relating back to the subject as to why several factions would exist in an uneasy period for a long period of time, without all out war, can be drawn as such: Assuming that these different factions are of around the same power, having one faction try to take over another would most likely not be in their highest interest. This is because if the faction rallied it's forces to conquer another, it would weaken it as a whole on the grander scale, since it would need a greater force to maintain control on the newly conquered land-if they even succeeded at doing so. As in the Sengoku Jidai, the lack of strong alliances between clans prevented a major power divide to draw out a major war, rather, hundreds of different factions all feuding against each other.

Instead, the conflicts would be on the small scale, between two or three clans, where a clan would only attempt conquest if they were much superior. Additionally, you have to realize that if one faction became too strong, it would be negated by the others allying against it. And if they did send their armies out to conquer other lands, they would allow for the other factions to take advantage of the unoccupied territory, a fate which the Takeda clan met at the hands of the Uesugi after their disastrous defeat at the battle of Nagashino.

Any conflicts between factions that draw out will most likely be waged through intrigue and diplomacy.

  1. Having very difficult to cross territory for reasons including:
  • Dangerous terrain (Jungle, desert, mountain)
  • Dangerous factions
  • Dangerous Fauna (poisonous animals, heavy populated with predators) For the reason that it has historically proven "impossible" for any large armies to cross them with out suffering casualties. Like Napoleons quest through the mountains with elephants that lost a huge percentage to the elements, or Alexander's death due to jungle illness. It could be seen as extremely unprofitable/logistically not worth it.
  1. Social Systems Maybe the population is too dependent economically on foreign trade and interaction, the diversity being something that they depend on and have found themselves niching. Some slight alternatives to this might include:
  • Culture of international travel and marriage
  • Decentralized faction based identity (rather than nationalistic identity)
  1. Alternative method of power grabbing What if the general world population recognized power from a different direction?
  • Only those who prove their ____ ability get to have authorship to land, social decision making, and trade deals. Competitions keep citizens happy and safe knowing that any "army" based faction will oppose the system put in place by international system giving power to individuals based off chosen capacity.
  • A philosophical disgust with taking anything, instead using capital gains to outbid opponents. (I think the Ferengi from startrek were like this.)
  1. There's no room for war with each other, because they are already at war with something else:
  • Aliens
  • Zombies
  • Plagues that keep popping up and decimating cities
  • Boredom
  • Unequitable corporate policy

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