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I am planning to write a book where a near-future government on Earth begins recruiting talented children at the age of 14 to train them to become the next political leaders. They are going to study in an academic environment where they will receive a specialized education in running a state. These children are not soldiers sent to combat.

At the age of 18, they begin an internship working for a government department. The government in my world is a deep state that is authoritarian but non-hereditary with higher positions earned by appointing people through connections like the Chinese Communist Party or the derin devlet in Turkey. However, people begin training for these positions from an early age rather than later on.

Children in the program take tests determining skill in the political sphere to determine whether they will “make it,” similar to scholarly examinations in Song Dynasty China. Only the top people in each department advance to actual leadership.

Why would a society choose to train the next generation of political leaders at the age of 14 rather than as adults? How could this practice begin in a society?

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I don't want to get political but with this question, it is sort of hard to avoid.

You are asking why a government might invest in training their future leaders from an early age for the exalted offices which they might one day hold. Why wouldn't a government (and its people) want their leaders to be as thoroughly trained as possible?

If you look at any endeavor which involves a vast spectrum of performance quality, such as music, acting or even writing, the practitioners who start preparing for their career early have a substantial advantage over late comers.

This isn't a new question for me. When I first moved to America after years of living under a monarchy, I was amazed by the idea that not only are most American leaders untrained for the offices they hold, but the people who put them in office are especially proud of the fact that those leaders are untrained. I have been here for several decades now, and I have to admit (with certain recent exceptions) that the system works, but I still can't explain why.

As for how such a change might come into being, it wouldn't take much. If an untrained leader were to accidentally incite an insurrection that threatened the lives of some of the political elites and maybe even cost the lives of some of their protectors,... that might set the gears in motion. It might not take any more than that to inspire the law makers to tighten up the minimum requirements for the higher offices

...and requiring candidates to attend a few years of government-leadership-preparatory education might be a really good first step.

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    $\begingroup$ @Galactic: It is perfectly normal for a country to have elite higher education schools which are commonly perceived as being stepping stones towards a career in higher administration. The ENA and ENS in France, Oxord/Cambridge universities in England, the State Institute for Foreign Relations in Russia etc. Even in the USA, I understand that most senators passed through Harvard University. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Feb 25 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ One of the reasons it works is the leaders ARE often trained. The public associates 'trained' -> 'the establishment' -> 'the swamp' so everyone learns to downplay their qualifications - but by the time someone's a leadership candidate, they are usually qualified. (Usually.) Most presidents start off in state government or Congress. They get a lot of experience there. And many are lawyers (which is very similar to being trained). Yes, exceptions happen, but it's unusual. It's more common to elect people lacking experience to Congress, but usually not into leadership. $\endgroup$ – Ton Day Feb 25 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ Nearly all american presidents are heavily trained, giving that they have almost always been governors, congresists or senators for years before they reach the presidency. Also, many leaders of the country come from family dinasties (Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bush...) which also points that connections, having the right surname, and being bred and trained for leadership does really happen in the USA - and it works. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Feb 25 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Galactic, I am from the Bahamas which at the time of my youth was a remote colony of the United Kingdom. My early education was rich with images of regal monarchs, trained from birth to rule with wisdom and kindness. I know that even at that time, England was not a pure monarchy, but we were so far away from such realities. Parliament, as an example of representative government was eclipsed by that of the much closer and bigger USA. It was the royals whom we served that made us special, so they dominated our history and political beliefs, as well as our hearts and minds. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Feb 25 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft "experience" and "training" are two different things. Sometimes they produce similar results, but it's the difference between having a degree from a university vs. the School of Hard Knocks. In some cases, the "experience" comes from an unrelated field, like entertainment, which is hardly a competent training ground for national leadership. $\endgroup$ – Lawnmower Man Feb 26 at 0:08
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...Isn't this what already happens today?

In my (public!) high school, I was friends with many ultra-high-performance students who were being driven along a pre-determined career path by their parents into high-prestige careers like "Doctor" or "Lawyer". These were usually scions of the wealthy or children of Asian parents (the stereotype exists for a reason). These kids were required by their parents to do things like:

  • Achieve perfect grades (>97%) in everything. This was basically a given and almost all of the high-performers accomplished this.
  • Take all the most difficult (AP) courses and earn good scores on the AP tests
  • Be a member of every applicable honors-society (perfect grades in an AP class sustained)
  • Participate in as many after-school scholastic activities as possible. This includes things like Science Fair, Debate team, Science-Olympiad, etc. If it's competitive, they were expected to perform well
  • Play an instrument well enough to add some "creative" to that resume. Usually a stringed instrument (violin/viola) or a Piano
  • Achieve maximum scores on standardized testing (SAT and similar tests). Parents frequently hired tutors for hundreds of dollars an hour to ensure their child gets good scores.
  • Have at least one "approved" job on their resume to diversify it. Common choices include "tutoring", "music instructor", or "research assistant".
  • Play an "approved" sport to show physical activity on resume. Typical choices include Tennis, golf, or cross-country.

All of this and more was expected (if not already in progress like playing an instrument) when the kids entered high school. By Junior year (11th grade) college applications were in full swing and it was figured out who goes to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, or insert-ivy-league-college-of-choice-here.

I don't see where the big question is here, because parents who want high performance kids already start them off young and 14 is a typical age for that class of people to ""start thinking about college"".

The kids who don't make it or "burn out" along the way eventually settle for going to non-ivy-league colleges (shudder) and end up being great disappointments to their parents.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't see what this has to do specifically with a political career path. Perhaps it would tie in a bit more with the question as asked if you mentioned things such as youth leadership conferences, youth political clubs, maybe debate clubs (off the top of my head, not being very familiar with the internal workings of those myself, and suspecting that at least some of the "leadership conferences" might be oriented more towards preparation for corporate management positions). $\endgroup$ – Daniel Schepler Feb 25 at 21:48
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    $\begingroup$ @DanielSchepler the question is "Why would a society choose to train the next generation of political leaders at the age of 14 rather than as adults?" and my argument is that already do $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Feb 26 at 5:58
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    $\begingroup$ An important example is here in the UK where there are specific private schools and specific university courses (Eton, PPE at Oxford) that are particularly associated with political careers. This system is self-reinforcing because if you have school and university friends in influential places in politics you can use those connections to help get ahead yourself. Basically elite schools for capable children of the rich and powerful offer group-networking advantages that help all of them get ahead. This must happen everywhere. $\endgroup$ – Dast Feb 26 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ I found a link with more info on my comment: theguardian.com/education/2017/feb/23/… $\endgroup$ – Dast Feb 26 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ I think the OP is more looking for why "society" does this rather than why individual families do it. I agree that is does happen at the moment, if we look at political dynasties in both the UK and US it's pretty obvious these are pre-planned paths. $\endgroup$ – Jontia Feb 26 at 11:19
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Let's change the question around. Fundamentally, there's no difference between the question you asked, and asking 'what's the value of school at all?'.

Why make everyone go through general education as kids, when we could just make up the gap with specific vocational training for adults teaching them only what they need? Because it gets them productive much faster, and people learn much more readily at younger ages.

Likewise, how many professional athletes are there who didn't grow up learning their sport? Basically none, right?

So let's turn this around. One might expect that something along these lines should naturally develop, absent a specific reason it doesn't. A better question to ask is why we don't do this.

I say there's a simple reason why: Free open-to-all-challengers democracy means anyone can rise to the top, and that in turn makes singling out a small segment of the population for special-purpose leadership-specific training an inefficient use of resources that have a slim chance of paying off.

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Consistency and improved communication in government.

Consider - you train about 2% of your population for these sorts of leadership roles. You only need a few, really, to be top leaders, presidents, ministers, etc. But what you also train with them is a layer of civil servants and executors of policy who have a shared set of experiences, training, perspectives and a common bond of trust.

Sure, this will produce very dull, consistent government - but barring any shocks this could be very stable. Think of the Chinese Imperial exam - produced a stable bureaucracy that was mostly effective that lasted what, centuries?

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  • $\begingroup$ Chinese government is hardly stable. Chinese is less like one continuous government and more like multiple government from different era with the same name. $\endgroup$ – Xwtek Feb 27 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ Civil service exam lasted more than one thousand years. The government may have changed, but the governance didn't... $\endgroup$ – user2702772 Feb 28 at 14:30
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There are 3 reasons:

  1. This society, similar to ours, believes that young people who do not demonstrate talent early on are destined to be mediocre later on;
  2. There is a persistent belief that talents should be groomed (as opposed to self-made men);
  3. It is much easier to indoctrinate a teenager than an adult, which helps with the consistency of political leadership.

There are plenty of possible answers for 'how it became to be like this'. Social engineering would be the simplest answer considering that authoritarian governments love social experiments. The described practice also helps to consolidate power in the right hands and is conducive to the stability of the regime.

Overall, I would like to applaud the leaders of your country for their practicality and political insight. If the system is implemented right and does not allow bribes it should work as intended for a long time.

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Because, by starting the brainwashing early you ensure that all future political leaders, regardless of party affiliation, will be moving the country in the direction that you want. (And, perhaps it should not just be limited to the future political class: we could make all children drone out a dirge of loyalty, and instil a deep-seated core of mindless jingoism in them)

By ensuring that the public only accept "qualified" politicians, you lock out any who gain their experience in undesirable fields, such as in trade unions (fighting for the rights of workers) or protest movements (fighting for the rights of minorities/foreigners, or for the good of the planet), we ensure that the rich and powerful stay rich and powerful, and easily vilify any attempts at improving the lives of our foolish minions loyal constituents as "socialist" or "communist", and against the founding principles of our country (no matter how closely they may actually match those principles)

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  • $\begingroup$ @Chroncidal: Jinx! We posted the same basic thought at the same time. $\endgroup$ – Arluin Feb 26 at 0:16
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We should start from Dragongeek's answer, which basically states that this already happens today. PPE : The degree that runs Britain. Or 2/3rd Cabinet Privately educated.

As in my comment on Dragongeek's answer the distinction would be that this isn't society choosing to educate the leaders of tomorrow for their role from a young age, but family and social connections guiding their own youth onto a know successful path.

As these articles demonstrate this can lead to a very narrow range of backgrounds for the leaders of the country. Your two options for why a society decides to recruit 14 years olds specifically into "political academies" are to either re-inforce this narrow world view or to expand it.

Reinforce The current crop of leadership is worried that the masses are getting uppity. They want to make sure that the retain their hold on power without making it too obvious. So the insitute a national program to find and develop the leaders of tomorrow. They produce a standardised test, throw it at the relevant year group and award the top 1% of marks with elite education from 15 to 24, followed by placement into junior roles in government offices with a clear path to high level political staff in either MP/Party roles or Civil Service management tracks. Amazingly this "standardised and fair" test is as easily gamed as the 11+ and leads to the established elite getting their friends and relatives onto the program and a nice cash saving at home, with a few spoilers thrown in to show the system is "open" to everyone.

Expand A maverick political leader from outside the usual channels manages to come to power, perhaps they were the 2nd in command of a "normal" leader as a ticket balance and successfully navigate a succession battle following an unexpected death/scandal. This new leader institutes the same program as above, but their test is focused on apptitudes rather than knowledge and cannot be gamed (for some reason). At 14 it's assumed that teenagers will have a strong connection with their roots, and the post 14 training will emphasise maintaining ties with the source community to retain these diverse viewpoints.

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This is not hypothetical. Several governments in the world do exactly that. They scout talents early and then train them.

Depending on the country, this may be more or less open. I have some knowledge about this from a person close to me who went through such a program. Or rather: A series of programs where after winning some awards as a teenager, they found themselves accepted into prestige schools and then prestige universities, with scholarship and all.

We also know that several communist countries had such programs, with national political youth programs, including so-called "youth parliaments". We have similar things in the west - e.g. https://eyp.org/ - but their focus is more educational.

So why? Because it works. Because someone with the highest responsibility in the country (leading it) should have as much training in doing so as possible. And they should be selected properly, which you can do in a training process much better than in a popular election. Because a near-future high-tech society may have moved away from election cycles and into something like Liquid Democracy, where all decisions are voted on continuously by the population, instead of an elected parliament. Once that happens, popularity and party politics and voting lists become a lot less important and the actual capabilities of the leaders matter.

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Just to stay in the fictional domain, have you read 1984? There you see that kids are the most eager followers of Big Brother's directives, reporting their parents when they say something not compliant with the directives, even though it's in their sleep.

Kids and teens are more plastic to indoctrination because they are in the age where their set of beliefs and behavior is still consolidating, so it makes only sense for a system to shape them to its will when it costs the less effort and it's more likely to bring the desired results.

I have personally seen people who grew up in the pre-WWII youth organizations of one axis power reaching their death bed without reneging those "values" which they learned in those days.

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    $\begingroup$ Actually, indoctrination is an easy part. In a totalitarian society all children are indoctrinated (those who resist have no chance of advancement). Better question is "why severely restrict the pool of future leaders at the age of 14?" $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 25 at 8:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander because it takes time to train someone to be good at something, and by the time a "young skull full of mush" decides in their mid 20s what they want to do, it's too late: that's the time they need to be productive members of society. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 28 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn this is a valid objection if you want people to be political leaders right in their 20s. In real life political leaders absorb all kind of experience when they are young, and can catch up with whatever is missing in their education some time later. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 28 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica I know that it's been months since I've asked this question, but did the majority of the people maintain those "values?" $\endgroup$ – Galactic Apr 24 at 0:34
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Why: because the earlier you start training for any skill and the more time to train the better at it you will be.

How could it begin Probably with the formation of a specialized political class. C societee of develop this way having several specialized classes. Specialized Warrior caste specialized worker caste specialized engineering cast and so on.

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Indoctrination of the ruling class has to begin at an early age (during the 'formative' years). What your indoctrination is varies by political style? Personally I would like my politicians indoctrinated in ethics and morality, duty, self-reliance, restrictions on government power, true leadership as opposed to dictatorial command. There may even be schools based on political school-of-thought. You may have schools (or course tracks) in socialism, marxism, replicanism, and any other form of government-ism. But the point is to begin indoctrinating the candidates into what society wants in government leaders and not just skill sets, but the whole gestalt.

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Maintaining Power

Given you're working with:

a deep state that is authoritarian [...] appointing people through connections like the Chinese Communist Party...

Your system is not optimized for governing well, it is optimized for keeping the existing rulers in place.

Requiring a lengthy training period fits with this goal for several reasons.

Legitimacy

Regardless of how corrupt the system is, the idea that it is a meritocracy lends it legitimacy. Leaders put a lot of effort into messaging that anyone could enter this pipeline, only the best complete it, etc. to boost their own legitimacy.

Exclusion

Current leaders control who enter this training pipeline, giving them the power to exclude political enemies, and create patronage networks - those who they assist in entering the pipeline owe something the existing leaders.

Something to Lose

If there's a "right path" to power, then people on that path have something to lose. Rebelling against the system will get you kicked out of school, or college, or your entry level government position, so you conform. By the time you have enough power to actually change the system, you are fully invested in the system and no longer desire change.

Other

Those three are the big ones for me, but you also get the opportunity for ideological consistency (make them parrot the party line until they believe it), blackmail (children make mistakes - leaders can threaten their future to influence their parents / patrons), and a host of other nefarious plans.

But it all comes back to this: the system exists to keep the elites in power.

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In my country you develop an active political conscience about 14 years old. You need to be 14 to create associations. At 14 you can be jailed on a specific prison. You can be legally married (on a special circumstance). You can ride a bike. Most guys do first sex experiences around 14. In my country you pick the broad school specialization at 14.

So, if I was "my country", I surely will pick 14 agers to start a political dinasty.

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Scientific advisor: "Our best astronomers have completed deep cosmological studies. The idea has been tested repeatedly and every time the data has failed to reject the conclusion: this universe is the setting for a YA novel."

Elder statesman: "Well then, our course is clear. To maximize the success of our society, we must reorganize to get teens into the halls of power as quickly as we can. ... preferably by some grueling sequence of challenges that only the best and brightest will overcome."

And the rest, as they say, is your story.

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This could be the way of narrow elites to preserve their access to power by creating a tradition which grants people of similar background and upbringing from a young age preferential access to public functions. Some historic and modern parallels to consider:

  • The Mamluk Empire, where the ruling class was made out of men pressed into slavery at a young age, mostly from Christian countries and trained as soldiers.
  • Modern Britain, where much of the political elite is trained from a young age in certain public (i.e. private) schools.
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    $\begingroup$ Great examples, but we expect answers to be self contained and explain why they are correct. Could you edit to expand your answer bearing this in mind? (To tell us how it addresses the question) (From review). $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. Feb 27 at 1:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Rottweileronmarket-day. the answer to "Why would a society choose to train the next generation of political leaders at the age of 14 rather than as adults?" is, "For the same reason the Mamluks and Britain does it." $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 28 at 6:45
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A more optimistic answer might be that that some large enough proportion of current adult leaders recognize that humans in general are terrible at long term threat assessment, decision making and planning. Elderly adults are especially bad because (a) they acquired their leadership skills in a past environment with different challenges to the ones today, and (b) as they age, their incentive to make long term decisions reduces because they aren't going to be around much longer.

No matter how strong the social and political will behind it, willful ignorance of technical progress and changes in society, the environment, economics etc, will eventually run into the wall of reality. Recruiting children and training them early has many advantages:

  1. They are incentivized to make good long term decisions, because they'll be around to regret the bad ones, and being trained, they know they'll likely be in a position to not be ousted or voted out. They are on of the special/chosen ones after all.
  2. They come into the politcal system with a far more accurate understanding of the challenges their generation faces, and their own generation's desires and appetite for various policy changes. If the program runs successfully over a few generations, this means there will be a constant flow of incoming new voices in the political debate.
  3. Young people are better long term decision makers in general (real life evidence goes both ways on this, but it's something you could establish more support for in your backstory if needed).
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14 year olds are the best able to fully understand the advanced technology!

If your story is a bit comedic - it's a bit of a trope or notion that the older people get, the less capable (or willing to adapt) they are with advancing technology. (e.g. My parents wouldn't have had a clue how to even use a computer when I was 14.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Leaders don't need to be tech experts. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Feb 28 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn as I said it would only really work in a comedic work... $\endgroup$ – colmde Mar 9 at 14:40
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Your society consists of two different factions who speak two different languages. At the age of 14, many / most people can still learn to speak a foreign language without an accent. By the age of 18, most people have lost this ability. Sure they can learn the foreign language, but they will always have an accent. (Exceptions abound but this is the general rule.)

It is advantageous for a political leader to be able to speak in public with either faction and sound like one of them, accent-free. That's why your future leaders are recruited at age 14 and are too old by 18.

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