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Previous discussion: Medieval politics with fantasy races

In the question above I was focused primarily on how having various fantasy races would impact a traditional medieval monarchy.

Unfortunately the idea of a monarchy in this situation seems to be less and less plausible the more I ponder the scenario. At best this kingdom would have a few generations (seriously it's not likely) of benevolent rulers. The problem is no matter how many ways I look at it I can't escape the likely devolution where a king begins to oppress the other races and where one race eventually dominates the others.

A bicameral democracy makes a lot of sense in this scenario but that does not (in my mind) work in a medieval setting. Many of the institutions and communication tools necessary for a democracy simply don't exist in a medieval world.

So... keeping in mind the proclivities of each fantasy race (as listed in the previous question) as well as the kingdom details found below,

What system of government would best apply to this situation.

Answers will be judged based on provided historic example(s) and how well they cover the details of the kingdom and races.


Kingdom Details:

  • 4 large multi-racial cities (all races present in the city limits)
  • 2 Elven forest settlements
  • Many human villages
  • Many gnome villages (Humans and gnomes often mix together in these smaller towns)
  • 1 dwarven stronghold
  • A section of the orc tribe lands

The kingdom engages various neighbors none of which are nearly as large or diverse. It borders a fully dwarven kingdom, an elven forest enclave, some mostly human city states as well as some unaligned lands that contain various nomadic/tribal peoples.

Added racial trait (this should be considered part of the list from the other question)

Racial tolerance toward "slow" government

  • Orcs. The orcs are great in this regard, as generally aloof and disinterested in the machinations of the realm (again they generally don't see themselves as part of the kingdom) they couldn't care less how effective and timely the government is.
  • Elves. Being longer lived elves are more tolerant toward a more slowly changing and acting government preferring to collect as much information and considering as many options as possible before a decision is made.
  • Humans. Humans are less inclined to long debates than elves preferring a "good enough" approach to collecting information/options. But then as mentioned humans are notoriously disparate in their actions and attitudes so they are less consistent when compared to other races.
  • Dwarves. Dwarves are resistant to most things that attempt to place outside controls on their race. That said they are reasonable and have been willing to accept limitations in the past in the right situations.
  • Gnomes. Similar to humans in their expected rate of action but generally amiable and so long as their is nothing pressing are willing to engage in lengthy debates
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  • $\begingroup$ How much cultural tolerance among the various races is there to slow government, where things just take a long time to work out? Meaning, is it okay for decisions to take a long time to be made? Also, is there any foreign policy that needs to be made? $\endgroup$ – Green Mar 29 '16 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ "a king begins to oppress the other races" pretty well every king has oppressed their own serfs, living in luxury while the poor subsist, so why is this outcome not unreasonable? $\endgroup$ – Pete Kirkham Mar 29 '16 at 15:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Green good questions I will edit. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 29 '16 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ Your kingdom needs a reason to exist. Other kingdoms or external threats would define the structure it takes. Athens had democracy way before medieval times, but external threats forced the city-states to combine. $\endgroup$ – user2448131 Mar 29 '16 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear actually I mean races. In traditional fantasy, D&D, tolkein etc they are always referred to as races. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 29 '16 at 19:59
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There's a couple different ways to formulate a national government where a single race would not easily dominate, nor be dominated by an all powerful monarch.

Monarch with an elected cabinet

Absolute monarchs are great figureheads or for extremely fast responses to situations, with the downside that such concentrations of power lead to considerable abuse (as human history has abundantly shown). A check on the monarch's power could come in the form of an elected cabinet with veto power over the monarch's decisions; a privy council with teeth. The cabinet would be responsible for formulating laws, the king for confirming the laws. In the case of a royal veto, the cabinet can vote the law into force anyway.

Elected Monarch

There is an example of an elected supreme executive in the form of the Holy Roman Emporer by the Prince-Electors. While the Holy Roman Emporer was often selected by the Pope, there was a period starting in the early 1100's to the early 1800's where the Emporer was elected.

Council

If the tolerance for long discussion is high enough, a council composed of representatives from each race would do just fine. With the appropriate checks&balances and procedures, building a government representing all races should be possible. The council would be responsible for making laws then delegating enforcement to the judiciary or a third law enforcement body. Some kind of tie breaker mechanism will need to be implemented too.

Having a separate judiciary would be ideal in this case to resolve the inevitable disputes.

Confederacy

A legislature with only weak binding power on all the races might work. While a powerful race may be able to pass a law oppressing another, within the boundaries of the oppressed race's territory, that law holds no effect. This can lead to an escalating tit-for-tat where various races oppress the others but only within the bounds of their territory.

In my opinion, it's very easy for a confederacy to go pear-shaped because of the high degree of autonomy reserved by each constituent state. James Madison amassed a large collection of historical descriptions of ancient and modern confederacies when studying what manner of government to build for the new United States. Confederacies were used by the ancient Greeks, the Gauls contemporary to Julius Caesar and a few others.

Getting there...

Assuming some external pressure that forces the five races to form a national government of some kind, the political organization formed at that time will reflect to a certain degree the power structures between the five races. If the Elves dominate then it's not unreasonable to expect a political organization that favors them going forward. By some miracle, if all the races are perfectly balanced and/or the founding members are uncommonly wise, then the resulting national government will be some mashup of the governing bodies of each race, with additional/deletions to cover obvious (or subtle) failings in the resulting system along with whatever political philosophy is popular at the time.

We can see this process of governmental evolution in the early history of the United States (Yes, I know, US bias but it's the history I know best.) The use of representative governments in the Americas is very old, starting with the Mayflower Compact in 1620. British representational governments are even older. That there would be a representational legislative body in the newly formed United States was without question. However, the creation of the national legislative bodies of the House of Representatives and the Senate resulted from a disagreement about how to balance the power of the large, more populace states with the demands of the smaller, less populace states. Obviously, a national legislature made up of representatives based on each state's population will favor the larger states. Conversely, a national legislature made up of a fixed number of reps for each state will favor smaller states.To balance the two opposing concerns, two legislatures were created, the House composed of representative allocated by population and the Senate with a fixed two representatives.

In addition to historical precedent for political systems, academics may have come up with some new political theories that may be incorporated into the new government. Certainly, this happened in the formulation of the US national government (though a discussion of this kind of influence is far beyond the scope of this answer).

Alternatively, new governments are formed when one conquers the other. A particularly interesting example is the conquest of Iceland by Norway in 1262. Previously, Iceland ruled itself with a large, annual, open air legislative/judicial conference called the Alþingi (anglicised as Althing or Althingi). There was no supreme executive such as a king or emperor; instead laws were made by the representatives sent to the Alþingi from across Iceland. Under Norwegian rule, the nature of the Alþingi changed to include power sharing with the Norwegian King. If the king initiated legislation, the Alþingi had to agree. If the Alþingi initiated legislation, the king had veto power.

Ultimately, it's a mishmash...

In the context of the five different races, the national government will be composed of the compromises each race is willing to make. If each race has a ruling council then it will be much easier to incorporate a council style system into the national government. Ultimately, what results will be the amalgamation of previous political structures, new political theories (as we saw in the organization of the United States) and the negotiating acumen of each race.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ok I would give you another upvote if I could for that Iceland/Norway bit. That is very interesting. $\endgroup$ – James Apr 5 '16 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @James, it's one of the rare examples where a medieval foreign king isn't a complete jerk to the newly conquered people. Granted, the Romans did a good job of respecting local culture too. $\endgroup$ – Green Apr 5 '16 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ And saga-era Iceland has a truly interesting legal system. I'll see if I can find a link to a description. $\endgroup$ – Green Apr 5 '16 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Iceland/Iceland.html as a description of the Saga Iceland legal system. $\endgroup$ – Green Apr 5 '16 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ @James, I found an instance of an elected king in the case of the Holy Roman Emporer. $\endgroup$ – Green Apr 6 '16 at 17:32
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Let's first take a look at your different races (I'm also using the intel you provided in your precedent question).

Our races

Orcs

They don't look to have much interest in politics. However, your depiction of them looks a lot like the depiction that is done of poor minorities living in violent neighborhood. So the system would be made for them to have basically no actual power (and no hope to earn it) and maintaining their bad reputation by barring them rights. You may want to look at the current situation of Romani populations in Europe.

A fine politician would propose to refute rights to nomadic populations one way or another. Thus saying "it is not against orcs, but against non-integrated orcs".

Elves

No other race will accept an Elf ruling other races through their whole lifetime. Even if the guy is a hero, he won't be for more than a few human generations. So ruling must be limited in time. Considering their time frame, they would probably try to have an impact in the legislative power and they would act effectively to maintain its independence and capacity.

As some elves would master the skill of "legislative gibberish and political long-term manipulation", they would lightly but certainly have an impact on the government.

Humans

Sidenote: I think it's funny that you suppose all other races to be united and with a common way of thinking whereas humans are divided and diverse. Or perhaps that's my reading of you that is biased. However that was worth noting.

Being diverse and numerous, humans will likely be at all levels of decision, making them the "expected default". This also means that this kingdom will most probably be biased towards humans: anywhere you go, a human can help you and even though they are not coordinated in any way, humans tend to be racists [citation needed].

Dwarves

They seem a lot like they don't mingle at all with the rest of the kingdom. So they would make sure to maintain their independence, the others would make sure to maintain their trade with the dwarves, end of story.

The dwarven nation may probably be seen more as a very close ally than of a vassal. History seems to me that that kind of confusion is often not a good thing. Specially when there is a strong national identity. I like to think of them as Scottish.

Gnomes

They seem nice. Good for the others. How would they fit? Damn.

As they are good with other races, gnomes would do very good elected officials. Plus, they are not threatening and (as it looks like to me) they lack ambition. So, giving them local admnistrative and PR tasks seems like a good deal for everybody.

Summing up

You want power to be linked to the land, with local popular functions. You want stability despite a very disparate culture. You want a respected and loved government, then I give you...

The Roman Empire!

Now actually, I thought of it at the end of writing all that stuff concerning your races (that stays correct). But that kind of organization fits your requirements. Of course, the old empire was bigger but your race diversity seems to me like a social distance between people, with gnomes being travelers through those distance.

The general idea is a strong and popular power figure (probably human, as it seems to be the "default race"), that figure mainly deals with international relationships (and wars). The actual power is diluted to the different regions of your kingdom that can rule themselves as long as they recognize the king's authority and provide people for military duty (and pay some taxes).

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    $\begingroup$ I actual like this answer a lot. The other thing that this question reminds me of, and this is largely due to looking at the WHY so many disparate races and apparently conflicting ideals would seek to have a unified kingdom, is Ankh-Morpork and just how it (somehow) functions and deals with such radical divides (mostly by significant community members just not caring about species/race/etc). $\endgroup$ – Thomo Apr 6 '16 at 2:06
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not very familiar with Discworld, is it socio-politically accurate? $\endgroup$ – PatJ Apr 6 '16 at 2:43
  • $\begingroup$ Surprisingly so. For a series often (mistakenly in my opinion) sold as YA, it's a remarkably astute commentary on current themes. Terry Pratchett was an extremely gifted storyteller, and a very astute and intelligent man. $\endgroup$ – Thomo Apr 6 '16 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, and thanks for the answer Pat. $\endgroup$ – James Apr 6 '16 at 14:00
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TLDR; you can justify just about anything, there’s not enough information about the history to speak to the forces that would drive the races to form a singular government for them all.

-Edit:

Anarchy

I have to question if these races would even form a unified government; they may certainly live in the same areas and work together in many cases, and have societal tolerance towards each other, but without some pressure pushing them to unify, they would be unlikely to form a mono-governmental system, especially one that covers a several cities and large tracts of land. Throughout history large powerful governments are most likely to appear as the results of either external pressure or large groups of similar minded (and looking) individuals gathering to achieve a purpose. And the ones formed from external pressure usually fall apart after the pressure/threat is removed.

You are more likely to see councils, houses, clans, or nobles of various races operating their various areas of interest as they see fit, with a system of interlocking agreements (“alliances” being too big of a word/concept to use with these type of groups.) Historically, people that don’t have a particular motivation or oppression are more or less perfectly happy to keep the status-quo, organizing only so much so that they become relatively comfortable.

The races on a whole have to be tolerant enough to recognize that the other races cover their blind spots and are more useful to keep around then not, but that in itself it does not mean they’re going to want to form a mono-government. Neither would external military pressure over the short term; after the fight is over, each race goes back to what it wants to do rather than staying unified. It’s human nature (and you’ll have to decide if the other races operate differently) to want to expend as little energy as required to make themselves comfortable, and what’s familiar is comfortable; change is not.

Long term pressure from some source will be needed to form a mono-government; one large enough that would require close cooperation between the races (at least at a high level) and one long enough that memory of when races were “run separately” begins to fade. The nature of this pressure will give you your resulting government; if it’s combative in nature you will likely see a military-esq government form, with a command structure based on merit and promotion and/or nobility. If it’s a pressure that requires careful management of resources you might see something like the council that I describe above form. You can see this in the formation(s) of the United States government(s), much of the how and why resulting from its disagreements with the United Kingdom.

Ultimately, the government that forms is going to be based on the pressures that push it together in the first place; they don’t innately form at the scale you are talking about. The races history together and their history with the rest of the world will define its shape and form; you are going to need something external to forge and temper your government; and keep in mind that governments don’t last forever despite their self-preserving intensions; they tend to change (or be changed) from time to time.

check out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government to get some ideas for what your system can be arranged like.


Left for “original Answer”;

I favor the idea of a ruling council of five, one for each race, where each race determines its own method of selecting its councilor, and national actions are determined by majority vote.

The way to make a system work is to make it simple enough and flexible enough to do what it needs to do and not restrict it more than it needs to be restricted; five councilors/rulers, one for each race, one vote each is a fairly simple and flexible set up, and as long as each understand that working with the other races is better than working against them then you only need a minimum of rules. (Also I’m not sure most with a medieval mindset would even care for laws and rules as much as we do today). Each of the five “racial” spots on the council could be filled by whatever method that race feels it should be filled for themselves. (Ex. A tournament for the orcs, seniority by the elves, political races for the humans), and changed as often as the individual races feel their spot needs to be changed (Ex. life-long/kingship terms by the Dwarves, and per 3 year term for the Gnomes), and if they delegate properly they don’t need to even be “in session” that often.

One of the idea behind this is there would be little in the way of “rules” or Laws binding or directing the councilors beyond a general set that would drive the idea that the more of them agree to an action the more force that action should carry,that council actions should generally be taken to benefit all the member races, and specifically actions should not be taken if it were to the determent or specific harm of a specific member-race.

The 5 spots/races also function to cross-check each other so one particular councilor (hopefully) does not gain to much personal power and upset the system.

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    $\begingroup$ But the races will complain they get equal representation if there are unequal numbers of them, if there are 2 times as many gnomes as orks they will want twice the representation. The orks will want equal number of representatives for each race since they have a smaller population $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Mar 29 '16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear I think enlightened self interest would help to solve most issues like that. Most educated councilors will be balancing in one hand their particular species ascendance verses ALL of the member species ascendance. I think in most reasonable cases the council will act as the feel would advance all the species, because the whole is stronger then the parts (otherwise why group up in the first place?). With the knowledge that 70% of all decisions benefit everyone, and not just one group, and the fact that allowing power blocks to form will only increase that, would you allow them? $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 29 '16 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ you are assuming that politicians will have enlightened self interest. What if some doesn't? A good government should still work if a large fraction of politicians are greedy and self centered. Look at modern democracies, politicians act in their constituents' interest and some times this happens to be the general interest. $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Mar 29 '16 at 19:35
  • $\begingroup$ Marky I appreciate the answer but if you could re-read this: Answers will be judged based on provided historic example(s) and how well they cover the details of the kingdom and races. and adjust your answer it would be appreciated. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 30 '16 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ I'll see what hard facts I can get to support my answer, but trying to find hard data on fundamentally fictional situations isn't the easiest. $\endgroup$ – Marky Mar 31 '16 at 15:52
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I am stealing and adding to Marky's response. I like the council set up, but a committee can not rule. You need one officer to be in charge.

Have a council, but one seat on the council is the King/President. Have this position rotate, either on a schedule, or via election among council members. (I like having the council members elect on a regular basis but this leads to a tendency towards slow government and power in the Elves and dwarfs hands if they get along since the orcs will tend to support their slow government trend).

Let the King/President rule by decree, but restrict it some how. Either every decree must be reviewed by the council and they have the option veto it (Either two votes to veto, or three votes depending upon the degree of power invested in the position{I prefer 3 to veto}). Or the council can call for the election of a new King/President on a regular basis or in a easy manner. (I like calling for it at any time, but requiring three votes to proceed).

There is likely to be a Gnome/Human vs Elf/Dwarf power alignment. The elf and dwarf councilors get to know each other over longer life spans and begin to trust each other and realize their common political interests.

Human's and gnomes share political interests as a group too, and shall tend to oppose the Elf/Dwarf direction.

Their shorter life spans will allow the skilled elf politicians maintain control most of the time.

Orcs share general political goals with the Elf/Dwarf coalition and tend to keep them in power. If the elven councilor is chosen based on skill he shall have the forethought to look past his natural distrust of orcs and use their political similarities to stay in power.

Dwarfs have ties with gnomes and could often sway their vote when needed (if the orc vote is lost on a singular issue).

In sessions where the Dwarf councilor does not trust the eleven King/President they have the potential to unseat them with gnomish support. However the gnomish political agenda is contrary to the Dwarfish one so Dwarven councilors that let the gnome agenda ride are likely to be replaced.

In this arrangement humans are the likely to be dissenters to the system feeling their interests not represented effectively on a kingdom scale. They could form effective pushes for an alternative King/President along Human/Gnomish/Orcish lines. But these reigns are likely to be short lived (relatively speaking) as the individual personalities that made it possible are short lived.

How quickly the personalities change could be modified based upon how the councilors are chosen.

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