I'm creating a world inspired by Immaterium from warhammer 40K.


There is an alternate dimension which is a realm of chaos, which enables lot of goodies in the real world, like faster than light travel, enormous power source. However all psykers who draw power from it are in danger of serving as an gateway for demons passing into the physical world and possessing the humans.

In warhammer universe this is solved by Inquisition killing all weak & untrained psykers, and those deemed strong enough are always watched and executed for slightest hint of corruption. The general population is kept ignorant in order to avoid temptation from chaos, since one person with psychic abilities who dabbles in occultism could doom millions.

Could democratic government handle better this situation? Or any democratic ideals would be sacrificed on the altar of survival.


Can you clarify what do you mean with "democratically handle"?

It means general public is aware of the Immaterium, despite the dangers that some individuals could be corrupted and bring great calamity on the place where they live. And they freely vote for government officials how to handle the problem of rogue individuals opening gates of hell.

Exactly what are we trying to handle?

We are trying to handle that individuals with psyker abilities who are too weak fall to the temptations of the demons and doom the whole village/town/city . Example James the latent psyker who flew under the radar got fired from his job, bank took his car and his wife left him and took the kids. Demonic entities corrupt him with promises that if he does this dark ritual he'll get better job, new car, and his family will return. He does the ritual and all the citizen of his town are turned into killer zombies.

And exactly what do you mean by "democratic?" Free elections, free press, due process. If public find the representatives corrupt and incompetent they could vote them out of office every few years.

Does the one has to be trained (and potentially licensed) to be a psyker, or this is the something that people are born with?

Few people are born with potential to be psykers, they are the danger if they are too weak to handle their abilities.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you clarify what do you mean with "democratically handle"? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ VTC:Needs More Details. What are you asking? I read the link: you have a worm hole from which you draw power and demons occasionally spawn. OK... Exactly what are we trying to handle? Access to the worm hole? The demonic spawn? Distribution/access of power? And exactly what do you mean by "democratic?" There are many kinds of democracies. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "democratic ideals"? I'm guessing you mean textbook western liberal democracy with respect for individual and minority rights, due process, free press, etc. If that's the case, then you appear to be asking if such a textbook democracy could handle this situation better than the non-democratic governments in your source of inspiration. Please clarify. $\endgroup$
    – legio1
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ Canon example: The Interex were less militant and likely much less authoritarian than the Imperium. They were fighting "Kaos", and seemed to be doing a pretty good job of it, until the corrupted Imperium messed everything up. In fact, authoritarianism is arguably why the Imperium fell: Just a handful of corrupted high-ranking officials were enough to take it down. $\endgroup$
    – Will Chen
    Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ It seems like the central issue here is whether the Imperials have plot armor and the Republic does not. An actual dictatorship will be full of the ordinary sort of corruption, which in short order means that the Emperor's idiot nephew psyker will be in charge of the army and every other Inquisitor will be selling self-help kits under the table to get you set up doing "limited psyker talents". A democracy would be a little better, but I'd wager my money on your chaos demons for win, place, and show. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 21:22

8 Answers 8


Yes and No

There are really two questions here: would it be possible to handle the Immaterium better than an authoritarian society (e.g., the Imperium of Man in the inspirational material), and whether it would be possible to handle the Immaterium at all. Here's some points to consider from someone who is a bit familiar with the dynamic you're talking about.

The answer to this is rather simple: a democratic society would not handle the Immaterium better than an authoritarian one, but it wouldn't handle it worse, either. Rather, there really isn't a form of government that can reliably handle the Immaterium at all due to the Immaterium exploiting universal flaws in human nature rather than societal structure.

Indeed, in 40k itself the authoritarian nature of the Imperial government does not handle the Immaterium very well. Consider that little in 40k is actually presented from an omniscient third-person perspective; virtually all of the protagonists are human Imperials and thus make decisions and commentary from their cultural perspective (which is "the Imperium is always right", going back to the Great Crusade). Thus, they are going to claim that the Imperial method is "the only way" because it's what they've been indoctrinated to do.

Overall, the extensive body of thought experiments 40k literature has regarding the interaction between society and the Immaterium shows that ultimately authoritarian versus democratic governments are ultimately a wash. The authoritarian Imperium is good at identifying and destroying Chaotic incursions when they do happen, but ultimately their policies result in the average person living in the kind of misery that would lead them to turn to Chaos in the first place. There are even direct quotes from one of the primarchs, Roboute Guilliman, saying exactly this.

Additionally, their intolerant policies cost them allies against the Immaterium (even allies of convenience) as well as causing many of their loyal vassals to rebel out of fear for the most minor offenses that a less authoritarian government would let slide. Good examples include numerous cases in the Great Crusade where the Legions destroyed non-Chaos-corrupted human planets and their STCs (which the Imperium kind of needed), and in some cases those missions had direct Custodes-backed approval from the Emperor. A common theme in 40k is that the anti-Chaos races (Imperium, Eldar, Necrons, Tau) have really good reasons to put their differences aside and team up, but tragically cannot due to their own pride, ego, and dogma.

Similarly, the rigid class hierarchy the Imperium has produced has resulted in a large number of high-ranking Imperial military officers being closet-Khorne worshippers (demonstrated in books like Fire Caste), and a decent chunk of the Imperial nobles are worshipping Slaanesh in secret. The Imperium likes to claim that due to its indoctrination the "enlightened" individuals at the top of things can resist temptation and...they cannot.

This ties into a broader theme in the Warhammer multiverse: Chaos (the Immaterium) always wins. Fans don't like it because it reeks of nihlism, but this is the core theme of Warhammer that the authors and Games Workshop have repeatedly stressed in in interviews: Chaos will always win, despite being disorganized, because mortals are fundamentally self-destructive, self-advancing, combative, and can't leave well enough alone (which is seen by...the shape of the material realms in the various Warhammer universes).

But what all this means for your question is that it ultimately doesn't matter if a government is a liberal democracy or authoritarian theocracy, ultimately the Immaterium will destroy it and societal policies will do nothing to reduce how fast it comes. The pros and cons of a democratic versus an authoritarian government would come out in a wash, and ultimately the rates of immaterial incursion would be the same. A liberal democracy would have fewer people turning to Chaos, but would have a harder time catching Chaotic cults before they turned critical, and so the problem would be the same. It doesn't matter if you catch most of the Chaos cults, if you miss one your planet is doomed.

40k stories like to claim that authoritarianism is the only way to handle Chaos, but the stories are written from the biased perspective of indoctrinated Imperials raised from birth (or even brainwashed in the case of Astartes) to see no other way. This is shown by the large number of Crusade-era civilizations with better living standards than the Imperium and some knowledge of the dangers of the Warp that were able to survive just fine. The fact that the Imperium really can't tolerate an alternative, equally valid solution to their problems has been a core theme of 40k since day one.

Nor is this getting into the fact that the Immaterium has been shown it could win easily at any time, and the only reason the Imperium hasn't already fallen to Chaos is because 1) the Immaterium is sentient and likes the Imperium to be the hell-hole that it is, and 2) later 40k stories have played up the Emperor of Mankind as this deus ex machina that magically protects the society and gives humanity a win button from the consequences of dealing with the Immaterium. Unless your society has a 12 foot tall uber-psychic Hittite with gold armor running around you may need to find another solution.

The other, other thing to consider is that while no society could handle the Immaterium as seen in the present 40k timeline, it could probably handle the Immaterium prior to the War in Heaven. The "present" Immaterium is described as a maelstrom comprised mainly of the strongest and most harmful emotions known to rational beings. The Immaterium prior to the War in Heaven was a more nuanced place comparable to Avatar's Spirit World or the portrayal of the spirit world in a lot of animistic religions. Because the Immaterium then was less corruptive, less malicious, less aggressive, and you could actually reliably find good or neutral daemons and Warp entities, it would be easier to argue that a society (of any governmental structure) could handle such a dimension.



Western style democracy needs functional free press to spread the ideas and enable dialogue or at least dissemination of the ideas. If you muzzling the press to do cover ups, you don't have a functioning democracy. If you hide the knowledge of the immaterium because some of them could open the gates of hell you don't have a democracy. Just like Soviets trying to hide Chernobyl.

The closest thing in our world to restricting access to only the chosen few, is knowledge of creating weapons of mass destruction. And even then the basic underlying ideas to nuclear fission, genetics etc are open to everybody. So alternatively you could proclaim that immaterium is something that only few could handle and the rest should just do the right thing. If Covid was so deadly that 99.99% of people who got into contact with infected died, I'm pretty sure that everybody would have to be vaccinated by government fiat or else.

With survival of the species is at stake, tolerance for dissent would be minuscule. That might lead to soldiers in Hazmat suits killing people who refuse to be vaccinated. Democracy and human rights would go out of the window.


Assuming normal human psychology at play, the results would be largely the same

A democratic vote regarding the execution of weak or untrained psykers vs not is easy by way of the very explanation you've provided("since one person with psychic abilities who dabbles in occultism could doom millions"). Anyone with half or more of a brain would vote for their execution, but only if those were the only options to vote for.

The options could be execute, train, or leave them be, and then I think you'll find that the majority of votes will be in the execution or training field while the minority being in the leaving them be category because a weak or untrained psyker is essentially a recipe for eventual and guaranteed disaster.

Only a highly influenced voting population would choose for their leaving be, especially when there is an actual legitimate threat to doing so, but having the population vote would expose them to knowledge of the immaterium and as such would tempt them into chaos. Training them would be like teaching someone how to practically implement nuclear technologies. You could power cities, but you could also blow them up, for easy examples.

Whether democratic or tyrannical I'd think you'll find the fate of psykers to be largely the same.

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    $\begingroup$ Most probably wouldn't even vote for train. Something that's very apparent in human psychology is that we tend to be very intolerant to even the possibility of threats in our local environment. Even supposedly tolerant people will persecute others if they sincerely believe them to be a threat. But this, in turn, would only encourage psykers to open warp incursions. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 19:54

I'm not very familiar with warhammer beside playing some dawn of war 1 long time ago, and watching few youtube videos.

From my understanding of the problem you want:

  1. Democratically elected government that is more or less responsive to the issues that are important to the voters
  2. Danger of demonic possession, that means Joe Average with some latent psychic ability finding obscure occult cult, and opening the gateway to hell

IMHO if the number of psykers is very low and damages could be contained to some places in the middle of nowhere, than democracy could work with demon fighting agency hidden from public eye doing cover ups. If demons appear in some major population center and you have to nuke large city, I doubt you could cover it. Your society will be militarized and paranoid with everyone suspecting everyone. I doubt that in those circumstances democracy could survive. "Don't vote for X (s)he is in cahoots with demons".

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think a government that covertly executes its own citizens and covers up the aftermath of demonic incursions would meet the modern idea of democracy. I'm not saying that democratic governments never do such things, only that to the extent that they do, they are not functioning democracies. $\endgroup$
    – legio1
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ There is no such thing as innocence, only degrees of guilt - Librarian DOW $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 18:12

You're all dead if you can't break from democracy

There's the famous quote from George Carlin: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

We have a great current example of how it is impossible to manage existential infectious threats in a democracy. Covid-19 has demonstrated that the only way to stop an outbreak is with severely authoritarian measures. China naturally would be an example here - but Australia and New Zealand have taken very similarly strict measures. As a result, they have had very low rates of infection and death. The USA and UK governments took very little action and had very little enforcement - and the death rate in both countries was orders of magnitude higher as a direct consequence.

Gun control is the other great example here. The USA famously has very little control over owning and carrying a gun, and as a direct consequence has a higher death rate from gun-related crime than anywhere else in the world. (Yes I know, Switzerland also has high gun ownership - but Switzerland has substantial laws on gun control and registration too.) The democratic pressure from organisations like the NRA have ensured little or no action is taken to reduce this death rate, in spite of the evidence.

No need for ignorance

I'm not sure there's any need to hide this from the masses though. A reasonable majority of the population are capable of basic reasoning to save their lives. If there's some kind of enforcement in play, relying on the majority to report their neighbours if their neighbours pose a direct risk to their family's safety is actually a positive move, because it lets you deal with problems more promptly. You can catch that latent psyker when they're still at the stage of making small coins levitate, instead of having to deal with them after they're possessed and they've killed the whole town. At the early stage, you can reason with them and get them into a suitable training establishment before everything goes bad.

But enforcement is the key here. If (like Covid-19 precautions in the the US and UK) it's not necessarily taken seriously, then everyone is in danger. Enforcement needs to be visible, and it needs to have teeth. A reasonable majority of the population are capable of thinking "if I don't behave sensibly then I'm putting my neighbours at risk, and even if I don't know them, that's a bad thing". But almost everyone is capable of thinking "if I don't behave sensibly then I'm going to be arrested and jailed, and that's a bad thing". And the ones incapable of that, they serve as an example to the rest.

  • $\begingroup$ The difference here is all you need is a handful of citizens to refuse to obey and you can lose entire continents. To use the Covid-19 analogy, you rapidly go from a few citizens who just want to be left alone to people actively trying to spread the disease for the glory of Papa Nurgle. And unlike Covid-19 there is no long-term immunity from surviving the disease. The society needs a 100% compliance rate which is...pretty much impossible even in a best-case scenario. Authoritarianism in that scenario is just the government flailing as it puts on a show of being competent. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 6:30
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 Really it only needs a 100% enforcement rate. My experience is that most Covid deniers did have people who knew them and were frustrated by it. In this context, and with a way to report deniers, they are likely to do it. And if a small tight-knit group "just want to be left alone" - well, that's what an insurrection looks like, and there are ways that gets dealt with. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ You misunderstand, you need to catch every single one. Because Chaos doesn't spread through controllable vectors like air or intermediate hosts (it can tempt anyone at any time), thus it cannot be quarantined like a virus. And it cannot be cured or immunized against. Authoritarian policies would have to be worse than anything done about COVID. Imagine if you told people more draconian policies than those in March of 2020 were required forever: the common person would riot. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ @user2352714 You misunderstand what authoritarian looks like. "...the common person would riot" and would be shot out of hand. That's how China operates. I'm not saying it's good, but it's undeniably effective when it comes to pandemic control. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with your point, but the broader point is that the Warp is designed by the authors to be an unstoppable civilization killer by exploiting human nature. This question is a "how do I stop an unstoppable guy question" considering the narrative context of the inspiring work. One of the major themes of Warhammer is that although authoritarianism seemingly gets results in a crisis, some crises are just so overwhelming that what we decide to do with social structure is meaningless in a cosmic horror sense. I.e., authoritarianism or democracy will do nothing against a planet-killer meteor. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 17:37

Maybe depending of the mechanics and level of threat.

Here's a mechanics for handling psykers which is inspired by the the fire triangle.

I assume that opening gates of the immaterium is like an effect of nuclear bomb, everything in certain radius dies or gets corrupted so we have to kill it to stop the spread of the corruption or whatever.

In order to open the gate we need 3 things:

  1. Knowledge of the ritual that opens the gate
  2. Possessed psyker to provide the initial spark and corrupt cultists
  3. Brainwashed cultists to provide "fissile" energy

The stronger the psyker the more rare they are and the easier they could brainwash cultists.

In order to stop demonic infestation you need to stop any of the three things listed above.

  1. Destroy or keep under lock all the occult books, websites, videos that deal with the immaterium and only allow access to licensed individuals.
  2. Test everyone for psyker abilities, if you could identify latent psykers you could train them or lock them down
  3. Ban the demonic cults and educate the public for their danger.

In above mechanic it depends on how widespread the information is, how rare the psykers are, and how easily they could corrupt people.

I think if you want democratic government but you still want things to be interesting you need to do fallowing:

  1. Information must be hard to transmit. Maybe you need special books, if everyone could go to open-hell-gate.com bunch of kids could play with it and if one of them is latent psyker things go to hell.
  2. Psykers should be relatively rare or tests relatively good. The more people that could make nuke, the greater the chance some of them will make one
  3. Resistant people to brainwashing to tip the police (inquisition whatever) for potential cults. Unless you want to go full stasi (surveilance state) somebody have to provide the information to the authorities.

Those three things (rituals, psykers, cultists) are like knobs to tweak the size of the problem. If you make it challenging but controllable for the state, then modern states deal with problems of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction while still being democratic. If you make the problem too hard, voting would be least of our concerns.

Choose your own levels and good luck with your writing.


Maybe you should add special kind of psyker for storytelling purposes that are too weak to open the gate nor brainwash people, but they could listen for recipes (rituals) from their warp masters. They could later look for latent psykers to tempt to chaos.


The Immaterium would be great for a democracy!

The poor noble psykers who are mistreated by government forces, psykers who only wanted a better life for their families. Psykers must exercise their right to dabble in the occult! Government should concentrate on limiting the action of mentally ill or minority psykers and leave the persecuted good psykers alone.

Or the dangerous psykers and the damage they do to innocents, with their dangerous dabbling. How occult forces cannot possibly help, and crazed psykers kill dozens with their dabbling. How communing with the occult should be done only by sanctioned government agents and maybe not even then - maybe it is poisonous energy which should be banned entirely.

That is all elective officials would talk about. Salacious stuff! Much easier to talk about them than fiscal policy. There are parallels in real democracies, for sure.


"Although the signature of one mind is almost insignificant in the energy or influence it generates, when the imprints of an entire intelligent species of billions upon billions of individuals are combined they have a huge impact on the very nature and shape of the Warp. This seems to imply that the Immaterium is not chaotic by nature, but has been made so by the conflict, misery and war that defines so much of the material realm."

Based on this, all improvement made into the material world would make the Warp less dangerous progressively.

Since by the lore the God of Chaos don't desire to destroy the material world one can safely say Democracy will have time to develop and make an improvement from Totalitarianism in the life of people.

If elections are really free and so is the press, meaning that they don't bend to a secret criminal State agenda in any meaningful way, human development would improve in this universe to the point where the Warp would cease to be a serious danger.

On the contrary, after a certain tipping point, the Warp would start being the source of improvements to the material world quality of life starting and positive feedback that would increase exponentially.

In conclusion, it seems the authoritarian regime is ensuring the situation worsens or stays idle. Improving the life of populations with democracy could be infinitely better.


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