1. They have tried Democracy
  2. The civilization is very much similar to human civilizations but I want it to stay as a monarchy yet still have technology advanced enough to travel around the galaxy.

Is it even possible?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Sep 7, 2022 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ I know this isn't the central part of your question but make sure to have FTL travel, or at least communication. Without that, the time lag from one side of the galaxy to the other would be too long to maintain a single civilization. Imagine if Congress passed a law and California didn't hear about it for 100,000 years. $\endgroup$
    – nasch
    Sep 7, 2022 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Why was the last post here deleted? It's a bit political, but it's a political question. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Sep 7, 2022 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus Political censorship is alive and well in Stack Exchange. Conform to the accepted narrative, or the post is unilaterally deleted without recourse or appeal. No anti-American sentiment allowed. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2022 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ @frеdsbend 'Who gets them?' applies equally to feudal systems, the king or federal government decides, and what makes you think feudal systems don't as often 'split, and probably violently'? because they do, lords have gone to war against their kings constantly throughout history, sometimes splitting from them sometimes replacing, feudal control has never resolved that, federal ones have if anything generally been more stable than feudal ones in that respect, less personal ambition for power caused by the personal entitlement hereditary rulers tend to develop is probably one reason why. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 8, 2022 at 13:57

10 Answers 10


If you want it that way ...

Democracies like to pretend that democracies are (a) superior forms of organization and (b) sort of inevitable. But if you look at the model of history underlying that claim, you will find something much like Marxist historical materialism. And most people today believe that Marxism was a dead end. Is social and political history really marching only forward? And where is forward, anyway?

So consider this:

  • Is your monarchy an absolute monarchy, or is the monarch at the top of an aristocratic oligarchy? An absolute monarch, ruling by birthright, risks that you get an idiot every couple of generations who destroys everything. Or just an ordinary human, when the situation calls for an extraordinary leader. If it is possible in such a situation that actual power goes to a shogun or maior domus, the civilization may cope better.
  • Does your setting have FTL travel and communications? If not, organizing interstellar elections is all but impossible, anyway. A monarchy may be suitable if the monarch sends viceroys and orders which arrive decades later. The Traveller roleplaying game explored a setting where different factions of humanity found different ways to cope with communications lag (even FTL communications lag).
  • Right now democracies worldwide are being challenged by autocracies. It would be nice to believe that democracies will win, but that takes effort on the part of the democrats. Quite possibly, social media is good at destroying reasoned debate, and promoting personalities over policies.
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    $\begingroup$ " It would be nice to believe that democracies will win, but that takes effort on the part of the democrats. " Can you please elaborate on this statement? $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2022 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond, I sense a complacency by many who support democracy without realizing that democracy requires constant work. By taking it for granted, they sabotage it. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Sep 5, 2022 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ Excellent observation that social media is primarily harmful to reasoned debate and substance. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Sep 5, 2022 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond Not the OP, but, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in Democracy in America, democratic systems need the occasional war or other unifying tribulation in order to work in the long term. Otherwise, the citizens lose interest in exercising their franchise, allowing for the rise of despots and demagogues. $\endgroup$ Sep 7, 2022 at 11:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom On one podcast I listen to, a host commented that the events over the past decade and the rise of the power of social media has made them question if John Stuart Mill's "The Marketplace of Ideas" actually works. Which is a point of view I agree with, since algorithmic social media both lets one construct their own reality, and ideas with better marketing naturally float up higher than ideas without active marketing behind them. This is very troubling to me, since it's a foundational principal of a functioning democracy. $\endgroup$
    – Chuu
    Sep 7, 2022 at 16:22

Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

So James Madison. Someone with less support for the form of government would probably put it more strongly.

Your aliens find that putting the government in too many hands results in everyone's trying to live off other people. Shut most people out of it, and they will grumble but do their work.

It needs three things:

  1. A way to coopt talent in the lower classes. Your monarchs and the nobles they use to implement their rule keep a sharp eye out for signs of talent. Such people are to be inducted, as quickly as possible and definitely in childhood if at all possible, into schools and social groups so they can be induced to work with the government. Noble titles, and intermarriage, lie ahead as possibles. Your culture may even practice adoption for quite lowly children to become the legal children of people of quite high birth.
  2. A way to contain grievances. Lower classes need ways to petition the government and a fair degree of confidence they will be heard.
  3. A way to remove upper class people who are incompetent. Shuttle them off to a monastery or kick them upstairs are possibilities, but they have to be kept where they will do little damage.

They expend a lot of resources on ways to test people and put them in an appropriate position

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    $\begingroup$ Interestingly, although medieval commoners had way less influence on the central government than people today, they often had much more influence on local government. Medieval towns and villages could elect their own local leadership pretty much however they wanted, and they had a lot of local autonomy. As long as they payed their taxes and mustered the agreed upon number of troops in case of war (and didn't start an open rebellion), they could do pretty much whatever they wanted. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Sep 5, 2022 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ Lower classes may have sufficient self-government (such as on city level) that they rarely need to petition anyone at all. $\endgroup$
    – alamar
    Sep 5, 2022 at 8:39
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    $\begingroup$ That was probably because the communication and other technology were too weak to govern them more closely. But intensive education of the upper crust and a watchful eye for tyrants would help. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Sep 5, 2022 at 14:10

All political systems based on mass mobilization (democracy, fascism, communism, hybrid variants of all three) arose in contexts where the loyalty - or, at least, service - of large numbers of individual citizens was required to project military power.

And that development in turn was almost entirely dependent on the basic unit of military power becoming an individual volunteer or conscript soldier with a firearm. (Or, later, groups of conscript soldiers manning artillery or vehicles.)

As soon as the basic unit of military power ceases to be an individual soldier with a firearm, we have no reason to assume that current forms of political organization will continue.

It is very easy to imagine a world where the basic unit of military power has become an armed robot directed either by an AI or by a very small class of technicians. In that world, whoever controls the robots ultimately controls all political power, and will no longer need to trouble themselves with securing the loyalty of mass movements like political parties. Individual human loyalty will be nearly irrelevant to them. In the case where a small class of technicians is still required, you might end up with a mixed monarchical / aristocratic system. In the case where the robot militaries can ultimately be controlled by a single individual, you will get absolute monarchy, or its equivalent under a different name. (Assuming human beings manage to maintain operational control of their AIs at all.)

As a result, it's entirely possible that advancing technology won't make monarchical or absolutist political systems in your interstellar civilization less likely - but will make them more likely. Who controls the technology enabling interstellar travel, and how do they control it? Who controls the technology allowing for the application of military and police power? If those groups are small enough, and decide to call themselves "kings", then you have tenable monarchies.

  • $\begingroup$ Best answer so far. $\endgroup$ Sep 5, 2022 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore That's a fair criticism. I thought the implication was obvious, but that's not how questions are supposed to be answered here. I'll make an edit. $\endgroup$
    – tbrookside
    Sep 7, 2022 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ Huh, was expecting something a bit more along the lines of 'technology first, then a monarchy develops after they already have the space travel' .. think that is in there though just not in the words I might use? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Sep 8, 2022 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ I love this answer, and upvoted it, but want to give some caveats. First, control of military isn't everything; you still need economic productivity. An upset populace still has leverage through civil disobedience or going on a general strike (has been done at least as early as Roman times). Secondly, a sufficiently aggrieved populace can fight against against a technologically advanced military. A molotov cocktail or a pit trap costs a lot less than a robot tank or mech, and that's to say nothing of anti-tank missiles. $\endgroup$
    – Zags
    Sep 8, 2022 at 21:18

As a frame challenge, this question is based entirely on the assumption that only a democracy can lead to technological advancement sufficient to travel around the galaxy.


There is absolutely nothing in the concept of Monarchial Rule that prevents a society ruled by it from advancing to a very high level of achievement. The trick is to prevent the Adversarial Approach from restricting societal advance, not absolute rule itself. I doubt if anyone would, for instance, argue that Apple was lead by a 'democracy' instead of by 'autocratic rule'. If monarchs take an adversarial approach to their own people, progress is thwarted, just as certainly as it is under an adversarial 'democratic' system. However, if a monarchial system takes a benevolent co-operative approach to the people, then it can certainly be much more effective than an adversarial-based 'party politics' democratic system. This is evidenced throughout human history.

In fact, as is evidenced in the world today, centrist single-body non-adversarial type governments such as monarchies, theocracies, and family compact party-less type systems are perhaps the better system that can assure the long-term stability necessary for prolonged, sustained progress. Adversarial 'win-lose winner-take-all' one party against the other polarized systems that are the basis for democracies today suffer horribly from zig-zags in policies and governance, leading to inevitable chaos and stagnation as one side 'undoes' what the other side has accomplished. Progressive projects inevitably get cancelled every time a new government is formed. Progress under such a system depends entirely on the fact that corporate governance is far from democratic, and the institutions that were driving the progress (corporations, Universities, and entrepreneurs) were able to peruse long-term stability of governance through the unlimited term reign of their CEOs, Presidents, and Chairmen, to assure long range plans were followed.

It is also a completely false premise that only a 'democracy' can enforce human rights and be governed by the Rule of Law. In fact, as is evidenced in the world today, populist democracies are antithetical to human rights and the fundamental freedoms of freedom from oppression and freedom from tyrannical intimidation. Hammurabi, almost 2,000 years before the Christian era, consolidated the 'universal Rule of Law' and encased 'Individual rights' in the law, guaranteeing it was upheld and respected by all, including the elites, under a system that was far from 'democratic rule'. More like a benevolent dictatorship.

In order for fundamental freedoms, social responsibility, and the rule of law to be protected, there must be a strong heavy-handed system to do so. Americans, for instance, tried a 'Constitutional' approach, but failed miserably, as each side of their adversarial system interprets the Constitution to serve their own needs, with no independent impartial overall 'oversight' body to assure the spirit of the Constitution was enforced independent of party politics. As originally intended in the American Constitution, the American military swore their loyalty to enforce the Constitution, but somehow along the way, the 'sense of loyalty' shifted from their oath to uphold the constitution to the concept of the Chain of Command and Loyalty to the President as Commander in Chief dominated above their loyalty to the principles of the Constitution. The fact that a 'constitutional crisis' could ever arise over this narrative is very telling indeed. Somehow, in any form of Constitutional Government there needs to be a strong, politically independent, unassailable body that protects the Constitution unilaterally and unambiguously, unchallenged and immune from political intervention or manipulation, yet has no political power itself. Ultimate power to enforce the Constitution, immune from political hacking, intimidation, or intervention, yet no power to make or enforce laws, just the power to enforce the Constitution. Canada's Governor General system, for instance - a completely separate branch of the legislative body even from the courts.

Perhaps the best form of government to guarantee progress and to protect individual and social rights and freedoms over millennia, rather than decades, would be a Constitutional Monarchy, where the monarchy rules and has the ultimate say, but is limited in scope by an over-riding Constitution that it is morally, ethically, legally, and culturally bound to follow', based on the over-riding premise of 'honor' rather than 'power'. As per John Locke, should the Monarchy not abide by the Constitution, the Monarchy can be constitutionally replaced, but otherwise remains intact.

Of course, the Constitution has to be socially responsible and built on equality to begin with, before social responsibility and equality are protected under it.


We can learn a thing or two from good old Earth

It’s good to be the king. But, when it comes to a nation’s economic health, it’s also good to have a king — or queen — on hand. Monarchs open economic doors.

“In the presence of royalty, companies can enter circles they wouldn’t be able to get in by themselves,” says Angélique Heijl, deputy director of international economic affairs at VNO-NCW, the largest employers’ organization in the Netherlands. “This holds particularly true for countries where the government plays a large role in the economy.”

Monarchs typically serve their respective nations longer than democratically elected heads of state: The recently abdicated Dutch Queen Beatrix was on the throne for 33 years; Elizabeth II of Britain has held her position for 61 years and counting. This kind of leadership stability gives these particular figures additional sway in the business community. (Source)

When it comes to a galaxy-spanning empire, the businesses are incredibly important. So much so that SciFi (e.g., Johnny Mnemonic) has played around with the idea of business being government in its own right. The influence of business on a civilization so advanced as to span an entire galaxy cannot be over-estimated. Therefore, a government that partners really, really well with business has a high degree of believability.

And a monarchy is it.

Governments do two things: they manage wealth and they impose order. The later is done with the threat of violence ("if you break the law, we will take your freedom!"). The former is the basis of at least two college-level economics classes. But a monarchy and its ability to grant patents and charters has an excellent chance of partnering with business.

Add the inherent difficulties of communication to the mix...

To add to the boiling pot... democracies kinda depend on reasonably swift communication. That comes from being small in size (Ancient Greece...) or having a tremendous communication system (modern-day democracies). When you depend on the people to elect their leaders, you need a way to manipulate inform your population so they can make wise choices.

Which suggests that the worst conditions for a democracy would be a geographically large area with remarkably poor communication. Given that condition, it's easy for pieces of the democracy to begin breaking away into independence (we've seen that in our own lifetimes!).

A galaxy like the Milky Way is 100,000 light years across. Ignoring for the moment that massive black hole and maelstrom of radiation in the center, that means that your communication must at best cross 50,000 light years to reach everyone. Let's assume FTL... to get a message across in one week you need to travel 2,600,000X the speed of light. Well, it's SciFi, right? What's a little thing like hand-waving excessive speeding?

But that's the only way to have a practical democracy. Super speed. Otherwise people can't be kept informed in a way that makes democracy work. The longer it takes to inform the people prior to an election, the more your democracy will look like a monarchy anyway.

And too many voices kills democracy

Finally, here's your last problem. A galaxy-spanning bureaucracy would require a lot of levels of abstraction to work. Ignoring how to govern a planet (our attempt at one-world government doesn't work fabulously), we can assume that each planet would want a seat at the proverbial table, right? I mean, think about how Star Wars presents the Senate. I think that's really optimistic.

Millions (if not billions) of planets. Maybe 1,000 per region of authority (The U.S. Senate represents 50 states, and it's unwieldy). Thousands (if not millions) of regions of authority. A senate of senates of senates.... Each having executive and judicial branches... Which looks an awful lot like a parliamentary monarchy pretty quickly.


I think it's more likely for a monarchy to exist on a galactic level than a democracy as-is. I'm just sayin'


Constitutional Monarchy

Same answer as for the UK on Earth, and several other countries where the monarch is a lower-profile figure (for example Sweden, Spain, and the Netherlands. Also in different cultures and with constitutions I know little about, Morocco and Thailand).

The monarch is a figurehead with no real power when things are working normally.

The monarch has enormous unused power to sort things out should the normal processes of government become deadlocked or worse. The least radical way to to this is to dissolve the government and call fresh elections, over the heads of the politicians. If a coup is attempted, it is the monarch to whom the military have sworn loyalty (also the civil service, police, etc.) and a call from the monarch to oppose the coup leaders might succeed. (It did, in the 20th Century, in Spain)

Think of a circuit breaker in an electrical circuit. It does nothing except "watch" almost all the time. If the circuit overloads, the breaker pops, preventing serious consequences. But if it pops for no good reason, it is soon replaced with one that works correctly. So would any monarch who got ideas of becoming politically active outside a constitutional crisis. They would be escorted to a comfortable padded cell while a relative was installed as the new monarch.

And the advantage of this system? In my opinion, any person who seeks the power of becoming president, thereby reveals his unsuitability for the role! Better to have somebody who is in that role for life by accident of birth, and who is trained to it by experts in the constitution and crisis resolution.

As for a galactic civilisation: the biggest issue is speed of transport and communication. You can make this as fast or slow as you want. You have historical examples to draw on. The Roman Empire, which was limited to pony express speed for messages and marching speed for moving people. The Islamic Caliphate, with similar speeds, but much greater absolutism, an absolute dictator supreme caliph ruling kingdoms whose rulers were almost as absolute in their own realms. The British empire, already a constitutional monarchy, with the electric telegraph for near-instantaneous messaging, but limited to the speed of ships and steam trains for moving people. The modern world, with jet aircraft and faster missiles. This will be a far more significant influence and limit on possible forms of government, than the choice between a monarchy and a republic (with elected president of greater or lesser power).

(Asimov is on record as saying that his Foundation was modelled on the Roman Empire and its fall).


A statistical fluke, or something made to look like it.

Imagine a monarch using their power to abolish feudalism*, introduce universal healthcare, retirement funds, free education, meritocratic distribution of positions in administration, ... and then none of their heirs screwing the pooch. (*) One biiig exception there, of course.

Say from a earth-equivalent 1800 onwards. Each monarch reigning for a mean of 20 years until the civilization can journey the galaxy (year 2525 for absolutely no song related reason) - that would put us into the beginning of the reign of GoodMonarchTheWise XXXII

The odds of that happening are very small (assuming 1 in 10 people is good enough (or not-bad enough) to be that monarch,the chances would be 0.1^32) but this is fiction, right?

As i alluded to in the header, there might be some power helping the odds along, but that power (a secret cult weeding out the heirs? a transdimensional being executing an aeon-long polsci experiment?) would then ultimately decide the leadership position, thus this influenced political system may or may not be a monarchy (depending on the way that power is organized).


(this answer focuses more on the political reasons than the science reasons, but they're related).

They're the only ones who want to expand

A general rule I've seen proposed (but is certainly disputable) is that monarchies are efficient and want to expand more than democracies. The reasoning being that democracies take on additional overhead when expanding (new voting districts, different administrative centers, etc.) while monarchies gain more in tax revenue than they lose when expanding (they don't have to deal with things like checks and balances and so need less administration for new parts of their empire).

Obviously, this is not always true:

(also worth noting that, if true, this theory does not make monarchies better than democracies, just better at expanding than democracies)

If monarchies do have more incentive to expand, it could be not so much that the monarchy made the technology to take over the galaxy and more that the technology was already made and the monarchy was the only civilization who wanted to expand their empire.

For the glory of the empire!

Alternatively, the monarchy could have developed technology specifically to colonize the galaxy. Rather than working for personal profit, perhaps the engineers worked to spread the wonderful glory of the god-emporer.

This is not too far from what happened on Earth

In earth's past, monarchies have also expanded to become great empires (think democratic Greece vs. Alexander the Great's Greece or British Empire vs modern UK). I think it's very much in line with history to see a monarchy dominate the galaxy before any of those slow-moving democracies do (how long that will last is another matter).


Consider that the monarch doesn't just have absolute power, but absolute obligation.

By tradition, or other means, consider the situation where the ruler has spent their entire lifetime being brought up to believe that their role and responsibility in life is to guide their civilisation to greater heights. They have been educated since birth on every subject considered important to your race for progression of their civilisation. Perhaps even the partners of royal family line are also chosen based to a large degree on merit, so that aptitude finds its way into the genetic line. The end result should be that every leader is benevolent and wise. The indoctrination is strong enough and the prestige so great that one abusing the power is imply unheard of. Perhaps the biology of your species even encourages this behaviour.

They can still delegate any number of decisions to suitable organisations, but have the necessary background and wisdom to impose their executive power where it is of the most benefit to society.


Aristoi + Eugenics

Your aliens have selected a genetic class that systematically weeds out people with "undesirable" traits. With genetic engineering and social programming, they have created a class of people who are genetically and educationally "optimized" (at least in their minds) for rulership.

But this class actually lives quite humble lives. They're really just administrators and bureaucrats living comfortable but not spectacular lives. Because they are surrounded by strict rules about what they are allowed to have and do, they really don't have much freedom.

Sometimes, half the battle of who should be in charge is just picking a fair way to decide. The monarch may be better, or at least they are no worse than the next guy.


Your original great monarch is still alive - sort of. AI has created a simulation of the great founder. Each new "Emperor" is considered a reincarnation of this ruler, but they are really a mouthpiece for this AI. This program rules wisely and impartially, worshipped as a god by the people.

AI monarchs:

Or why not just make it official, and AI's ARE the monarchs? Each new "ruler" is designed as an upgrade of the previous system.

Humans don't matter:

No one cares who the ruler is, except the humans. And they really don't count. The society provides all needs for all citizens, but that's a fraction of a percent of GDP. Every important decision is made by corporate boards or wealthy plutocrats, but these are mostly AI's, downloaded rich folks living in computers, or hyper-advanced cyborgs. Monarchs are simply not capable of understanding governance at this level of sophistication and are kept away from decision-making like silly children.

It seems like the ruler is in charge, but real administration is done by computers. The REAL powers don't care if the monarch executes people or builds lavish palaces or even carries out whole wars with other civilizations. It is STILL less than a percent of GDP. If it makes the humans feel relevant, then why not?


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