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What would a galactic Empire based off Plato's Utopia be like?

The government of Plato's Utopia was designed for a city-state at the time of the Bronze Age. But what if you upscale it to a galactic Empire, made up of humans capable of faster then light travel?

For those of you who haven't read "Republic" and "Laws" let me give you a run down of their core principles:

  1. The State should be run by special people who have been trained and bred for it.

  2. These people will be called Guardians and will have no families and own nothing.

  3. The Guardians will be protected by a special warrior class. This class will be bred and trained to protect Guardians. They will be indoctrinated to be completely loyal to the Guardians and to not take power for themselves.

Now for my questions:

First: Is this form of government practical for a galactic civilization? Second: If not, what changes can be made to make it more practical?

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  • $\begingroup$ I assume an answer should refrain from pointing out any general problems in the concept of utopia itself and only focus on those problems which only manifest (or at least get greatly amplified) on a galactic scale? $\endgroup$ – Philipp Apr 20 '16 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ @sumelic yes, I not saying that this form government would be Utopia. That just the name $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Apr 20 '16 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure I believe you were speaking of this. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 20 '16 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ I edited the tags to further clarify. Also, I agree with TimB, this is a little broad and could be better asked as two seperate questions. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Apr 20 '16 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ Plato had a comprehensive plan for all of society, it wasn't merely a plan for the guardian class. Spoilers: families and holdings aren't a thing. $\endgroup$ – SudoSedWinifred Jun 30 '16 at 18:35
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Like so many Bronze Age ideas, Plato's idea of a utopia doesn't really work so well in the modern world and beyond. The world has changed too much in the past 2500 years for it to work now, and even more changes will make this system even less viable.

The crux of the issue is that in Plato's day, basically everyone had the same life. The vast majority of people were focused merely on making sure that they had enough food to last the winter. His system worked then because it wasn't as large of an issue to have a few people (say 1% - it's been a while since I've read Plato, I can't remember if he went into detail on how many people would be needed to be Guardians and the warrior class) work for the good of the state in matters of diplomacy, rather than working for the good of the state by working the fields.

Now, however (and in the future, presumably), we aren't focused on survival. We have amounts of food unimaginable to someone in Plato's day - I have four pounds of almonds in my desk at work so that I can have a snack if I get hungry between meals. There are entirely different problems faced by today's world, and the world of the future.

And the problem is that someone raised to be a ruler likely wouldn't have any firsthand experience with many, if any, of those problems. (Note: using problems of today as concrete examples, as I won't pretend to know what the problems of the future will be.) If they're raised from birth to be a ruler, they wouldn't have student loans, wouldn't know what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck. Why would such a ruler care about fixing the economy when they've never known the pressure of trying to find a job in order to be able to pay rent? How can they effectively make laws regarding new technology when they own nothing and (presumably) have never used it (a modern analogue would be, how could they rule whether Apple should help the FBI unlock the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone when they've never owned an iPhone)?

Coupled with that is the problem of scale. For a Bronze Age city-state, a ruler would only have to know about a small area of land. Scaling this up to a galactic empire? Let's say it's a small empire; they "only" have to know about a hundred planets. How can they possibly know what's best for all of these worlds?

In order to fix this problem, you'd essentially need many layers of government. Have a set of rulers for each major city/area on a planet, who report to a set of rulers for the entire planet, who report to a set of rulers for a region of space (and the planets therein), who report to the "over-rulers" who rule the entire empire. Each set of Guardians has their own group of warriors, and any higher authority can call on them (eg the rulers of a region can call on the warriors of all planets in their region if they need to quell a revolt). Judicial appeals can be escalated to the higher levels, if so desired, similarly to the current US judicial system. Laws themselves work the opposite way - more local laws override empire law, except in certain situations (murder, rape, etc can't be legal, period, but something like drug use is down to the local administration), to ensure that the laws accurately represent the local culture, customs, etc. There would need to be rules in place dictating how the next set of rulers is chosen.

Honestly it's starting to look like a medieval society, but in space - kings rule counts rule dukes rule mayors rule citizens, and the higher levels don't really care what the lower levels are doing so long as they pay their taxes. Just with groups of people acting as the rulers, rather than individuals. And that hasn't worked out too well historically. And even with those changes, you don't fix the problem of the rulers being out of touch with the real world, with what the general population is experiencing.

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  • $\begingroup$ To be fair Plato's ideas didn't even work when he posited them. They were more a mental exercise than a true recommendation for a form of government $\endgroup$ – James Jun 30 '16 at 15:46
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There's actually a couple movies about a "Republic" like the one you describe:

  1. The State should be run by special people who have been trained and bred for it.

Jedi

  1. These people will be called Guardians and will have no families and own nothing.

Like the Jedi

  1. The Guardians will be protected by a special warrior class. This class will be bred and trained to protect Guardians. They will be indoctrinated to be completely loyal to the Guardians and to not take power for themselves.

The Clones!

And it looks like a city-state thing [citation needed], with the city called: Coruscant

In these obscure movies when they try to turn the Republic it into an Empire it all kinda goes to sh*t (empires have a history of doing that), but the same still pretty much applies, change Jedi for Sith and Clones for Stormtroopers

Answering your question:

Is this form of government practical for a galactic civilization?

You can judge by yourself looking at the material for the perks and drawbacks of both the Republic and the Empire. You could also check the Old Republic Era, which wasn't depicted in the movies but also kind of follows the same structure. And if you want to submerge yourself on it, to soak up the ambiance and people and government of the setting, you can try the Knights of the Old Republic RPG game.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Jedi aren't rulers though, at most they may from time to time advise rulers. Palpatine's Empire is somewhat similar to Plato's Republic though. $\endgroup$ – EldritchWarlord Apr 29 '16 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ @EldritchWarlord yeah, they did not rule but actually they totally did. It's not "on the face", but it's obvious that when the prequels start, the Jedi are struggling to mantain their influence on the senate and the big thing they didn't like about Palpatine is how he took even more power out of them (as he should, religion should have no saying in the state). They act on "whims" and they don't like when their advice is unheard. You can feel that tension in movies and series. After all, what legal authority had Samuel L. Windu to go after Palpatine in Episode III? $\endgroup$ – xDaizu May 3 '16 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Daniel Parejo Munoz Palpatine is technically a religious leader so I don't think he was interested in seperation of church and state. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure May 3 '16 at 14:27
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    $\begingroup$ (...) that was not his goal. It was just a means to an end. (...) he just want to make his church the state I don't (and never did) disagree with that ^^U $\endgroup$ – xDaizu May 4 '16 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ I have to +1 just for Knights of the Old Republic, one of the best RPGs ever made...the moment the mask comes off...still makes me tingle. $\endgroup$ – James Jun 30 '16 at 15:46
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This system assumes all the actors will be well behaved but is they behave badly or greedily it will fail.

You can't enforce number 2

These people will be called Guardians and will have no families and own nothing.

Whose job is it to watch the Guardians and keep them impoverished and alone? If you give them power to rule they will use it to benefit themselves.

Stable government systems are build on the assumption that every one is greedy and nasty, that is why they work.

In modern democracies this power is balanced by giving everyone some power to choose representatives, on the assumption that they will pick whoever will benefit them the most, and kick out the ones who get too greedy. Different branches of government all want power and benefits and fight each other. The constant completion and fighting establishes a balance.

In oligarchies or dictatorships it is assumed that those at the top will get what they want and then use force, or the threat of force to hold the rest of the country in check.

You can't enforce 3

They will be indoctrinated to be completely loyal to the Guardians and to not take power for themselves.

Who will force the guards back into line if they turn on the guardians? If the indoctrination is effective, what do guards do if the guardians start fighting each other? Who ensures sure they were indoctrinated to guard all guardians, and not just a few?

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  • $\begingroup$ Though we seem inclined to look to cosmic lore, point 2 can be see in history with the Mamluk soldiers, who were defeated by the example for number 3 the Janissaries. $\endgroup$ – QueueHammer Dec 23 '16 at 18:20
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I do doubt your special warrior class would consider exploring the rest of the world, planet etc else since their entire existence is for the Gaurdians. I don't mean for this answer to seem critical but I've read your first comments - No slavery gives me the picture of sustainable but isolated, no emotion or opinion from these warriors. Yet this state does sound peaceful, but aren't imaginative like we are with astronauts, hikers and soldiers

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Neal Asher's Polity is a galactic utopian empire controlled by artificial intelligences, the AIs rulers employ lesser AIs and human agents as their warriors. The AIs tend to let people do as they please and the vast majority of people are quite happy living in ships/colonies/stations/etc administrated by the AIs.

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Jo Walton has published a series of novels based on an attempt to implement such a society, in ancient Greece, with Athena and Apollo driving the project. It isn't an answer for this exact question, but it's worth a look.

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