In the current setting I'm working on, I have an idea for a society of non-human (but still humanoid) creatures who evolved from territorial, mostly independent predators. Even though they are now intelligent, they lack a social affinity and are not predisposed to organise with each other in strict ways. As a result, their overall society is non-hierarchical and consists of small egalitarian clans that are bound together for mutual interest and mutual protection from outsiders. They have no single leader or even really a political system besides convincing others to come with them and do whatever they think needs doing. I guess you could call it a direct democracy of sorts.

However despite being egalitarian to one another, they generally consider humans and other non-human species to be inferior and while a direct 'national' effort at conquering and colonisation is impossible, multiple of their clans have started leaving their lands with the intent to conquer settlements and towns and make them part of their disconnected society. This is not supported by all of them but none of those abstaining from this are doing anything to stop it.

I guess what I'm asking is if it makes sense for an internally egalitarian society that contains few internal hierarchies to have a big external one that places everyone who isn't them at the bottom? If you don't really have a social concept of 'ranks' or who is and isn't in charge, can imperialism manifest from a sense of racial superiority alone?

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    $\begingroup$ "small egalitarian clans that are bound together for mutual interest and mutual protection from outsiders. They have no single leader" then who coordinates these efforts to ensure they can actually protect themselves? It's all well and good to say "hey, our village A and the next one B are going to DEFEND OURSELVES!"...but how do you ensure that happens? If village A is attacked, are you sure village B would know and respond? Ideally, you want some organisation here, otherwise the pact just relies on luck and goodwill. Something that separate clans doesn't seem conductive to. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 4, 2020 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ Also, what you describe sounds...somewhat similar to the start of the Roman empire. Not exactly with the societal structure but Rome was just a city. It attacked and subdued neighbouring settlements until it span into an empire. Doesn't seem far fetched your people would do the same - it takes just one village/city to start off - maybe they just conquer humans (after all, they are "inferior") as slaves. Soon, they might start taking over other fellow non-human settlements and start to form the equivalent of the Roman republic. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 4, 2020 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ If they are not social how can they have clans? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Feb 4, 2020 at 8:06
  • $\begingroup$ @VLAZ You only need leadership to manage change. Standard operations can be managed by shared customs and traditions. Decisions that are not urgent can be handled by debate and voting. War leaders can be elected as and when needed. That said typically clans would need shamans, elders, or priests to uphold the traditions. But I guess you could have family elders do that without wider social hierarchy? You could just debate things and everyone would naturally agree elders know the traditions better? $\endgroup$ Feb 4, 2020 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi while everything you say is true, it doesn't detract one bit from what I said. Someone has to coordinate the effort. Random settlements aren't going to just go and help their neighbours they apparently only have a very loose relationship with. OK, they wouldn't help always. Maybe they would this Sunday. But next Sunday? Eh, I'm feeling tired, and the guys attacking the next village seem really tough. Or maybe they never hear of the attack until it's too late. Remember, these are clans that have to rely on begging others to get them to do anything. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 4, 2020 at 9:11

7 Answers 7



Imperialism requires complex organization, which your society explicitly lacks.

Without internal organization they would never be able to create a functioning state, let alone wage wars of imperial aggression.

There is a reason why anarchism has been relegated to tiny communes, the most primitive of hunter-gatherers, and supremely short lived militant occupations.

The egalitarians could certainly be hateful and hostile to other species, and might kill them individually given how they evolved from territorial predators. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t necessarily hate outsiders, but their inefficient social organization would probably keep them only about as dangerous as packs of wolves


Faith and a caste system

What they lack in social skills, they make up for in their faith and what they’re calling is. Let’s say when one of these non-humans, are born. They are marked and that mark gives them a role in there clan. Like this one is born with a red spot, he will become a good fighter; green claws she’s the next priestess for our clan. There are no leaders just the calling from there higher power. this will help them against races that have that social edge.


When one of then gets the calling they will comply. Like so sort of force they flock to a location or do some sort of action to prove there faith. Many of there number join together under a single calling. That calling forms a clan many clans join together that makes a war band. That’s maybe why they felt compelled to expand in an organized fashion and why some believe they are superior.


Sure, happens all the time; barely an inconvenience.

There's been lots of human non-hierarchical societies of various shapes and sizes proposed over the years, although most of them have not been implemented.

Almost all of them put humans at the top and all non-human species somewhere beneath them.

Genesis 1:26: let Man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

The alternative -- putting humans on the same level as chimpanzees and dolphins and hagfish and planaria -- is much more unusual, but not unheard of.


There will naturally be some internal hierarchy no matter what. Surely some people will propose convincing decisions more often than others; these people could be reasonably said to be leaders.

With this in mind, it wouldn't be that far-fetched for this society to have aggressive military goals. This is, roughly speaking, what the Vikings did in their early raids. Some ambitious person would round up as many volunteers as he could, and they'd go raiding. Some of their victims would be conquered outright, or become client states. Sounds pretty imperial to me. This did come about more from greed than racial superiority, but I think racial superiority would only make it more likely.


The answer will be in another question?

Is there any Existential threat to them? In animal kingdom or in human society, people stay together only to overcome the existential threat. When threat is over, no matter how strong the social hierarchy is, it is destined to be fall. Be it Caste system, Religion or Nation states. (this is my personal opinion)

So, in your setup the species is already intelligent enough to sense the threat and they are already making clans. They also have some sense of superiority, so high ego. I suppose they are also capable of waging war and have developed taste for blood.

Let's say if humans start a campaign to stop these beast from taking their lands and if these beast suffer big loses, they would start building hierarchy, leaders will emerge, there will be some internal clash but they will become "perfect" nationalists society in no time.


(...) internally egalitarian society that contains few internal hierarchies to have a big external one that places everyone who isn't them at the bottom?

Focus on

(...) few internal hierarchies (...)

Reminds me of mongols. Genghis Khan (this one, not that one) is mostly known for being the emperor of one of history's greatest empires. If you follow the first link and get to the part about his early life, you will see that he had been a hunter-gatherer, then a slave, before going on to be a warrior and uniting the mongol tribes.

By that time the hierarchy of the clans was really flat - a clan had a leader, some warriors, and then mostly everyone else.

For a non-human source of inspiration, see Argentine ants. Their hierarchy is also very flat and they wage some mind boggling wars among themselves - however, when expanding to new territories, clans cease hostilities among themselves and unite against all other ant species and even other kinds of animals. Kurzgesagt has an awesome videos on this:

Check the 3:45 mark.

Map of the world showing where Argentine ants have megacolonies

The red blobs are where the ants lived a few decades ago. The parts with crows are recognized local megacolonies - but regardless, all those ants belong to a single global colony. They've lost the Southeast US branch to a megacolony of another species in the 20th century, but they still got the largest global colony in the world.


I think there is a lot of confusion here.

For example you say non-hierarchical but then later you say

their overall society is non-hierarchical and consists of small egalitarian clans that are bound together for mutual interest and mutual protection from outsiders

This is actually 100% a hierarchy.

A hierarchy in it's most basic from is simply saying A is above B or it's better to do A than B.

Merely placing an action or idea above another.

And any form of society or even intelligent existence will have a hierarchy or sorts.

A predator is pushed by his nature to hunt when it needs to feed. So the hierarchy here is continuing to exist is above expanding effort.

But it also makes tactical decisions all the time.

For example when hungry but confronted with a dangerous group of animals that can cause it harm it might back off because here getting the prey might mean dying.

So I simply don't understand how can you even have an smart creature without that.

Because ask a person in that "low" level society why they are together he then will answer because it's better than being alone.

This is hierarchy.

Now hierarchy can also be based on: strength, wisdom, or speed or whatever. It's not a fixed thing.

So what is going on there?

You also mentioned

can imperialism manifest from a sense of racial superiority alone

Which seems like an odd point. Imperialism is about power and influence.

They can be built on anything from being power hungry to plain old madness.

But the thing is a society is a complex thing and you simply can't say that every single officer in the British army believed the same exact thing, nor that every single citizen of the Alexandrian "empire" did the same.

So you have a ruling class and then social norms and so on. But imperialism is about actual power and that is different.

So I guess I'm saying I think we need to know more.

Because like it is said here: you can't have a powerful society with a lot of working together.

Now I think house Telvanni of The Elder Scrolls universe might be something that helps?

And I think what you mean is do they themselves need to work together in order to gain power?

Well. You can build this society as something like 1 family of race A holding power and dominance over races and people.

So you can incorporate extreme aversion to working together.

For grimdark points you can have the leading male, or you can have it females whatever, murder any males offspring to continuing dominating the family.

So a single family with a head will rule lands and hold power over a bunch of people.

How much can that be pushed?

Well. Not as much as if you put 3 families with their combined power together. They will create a mega family and congrats. You just rediscovered civilization.

However humans are very malleable and once we figured out it is better to cook food than eat it raw we all got in on the action. Same with erecting huts together and dealing with our smelly neighbors but with the trade off of being protected from the elements and dangerous animals.

But if we assume your race is unchanging in that regard then you can get away with something like I describe.

But intelligent life would, likely, form a loose confederation of families because here is what is going on.

Lets assume your race is very powerful. At a certain point there would be no more land to conquer and no more resources to fight over.

The power of each family would reach it's absolute maximum expansion and by that point the smaller families are done.

Now either risk fighting a war with another major family over a high risk high reward idea such as controlling their land, but also risk another family gobbling you both when you are weak.

Or form a sort of non aggression pact with them and hold you influence in a state of continued vigilance lest a nearby family tries to conquer you.

But before that if a new threat emerged then you will just have to also handle that.

Assume family B have a lot of good farm lands. A human upstart is rebelling.

What to do?

You can ignore it. But it won't be long until that humans controls their lands and comes for you.

You can risk trying to get in on the action. This could pay off and it could actually backfire.

Or you can lend them some help to squash the rebellion and insure that humans serfs know their place.

This is the best I can do. They don't work together and 1 leading figure holds much power. But they are not stupid. However this is a form of monarchy but with less of their own race. There can be a lot to be said about this but assuming that it even relevant.

Anyway Obviously the world of politics is complex and decisions need to be made.

Cooperation is essential for any empire.

Now magic can actually change that. But it's not mentioned.

And like I said I think we need to know more.

Especially defining what you mean by those terms.


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