Let’s consider the typical setting of 20th-century science fiction writers, both Western and Communist. Namely:

  • Transportation within planets is cheap, quick, and is not significantly restricted;
  • Transportation between planets (in vicinity of the same star) is ubiquitous and (in civilized systems at peace) relatively safe;
  • Interstellar travel is possible, although they are expensive or dangerous, usually both to some extent, in any case significantly more difficult than circumstellar travels;
  • There exist several (possibly many) essentially different civilized races living in different physical conditions.

Which political structure can be sufficiently stable in such conditions? Very likely, a typical developed planet or other astronomical object will not have significant pieces belonging to more than one sovereign state (that does not preclude some states to extend authority to several planets), and, in most situations in outer space, a state will maintain its sovereignty over its spaceships. I.e., a situation similar to modern Earth with planets/moons instead of islands (divided planets will become an anomalous condition), and spaceships instead of vessels.

On one hand, different planets in a stellar system typically have different physical conditions (most notable, temperature), and we can expect that their populace will differ (remember several civilized races) as well, both biologically and culturally. On another hand, some central authorities will probably exist in circumstellar spaces. But how the two could be related in cases of heterogeneous populace in vicinity of one star? Some possible formations are:

  1. A violent agent that is stronger economically or militarily, or enjoys an external (interstellar) support, subjugates its neighbourhood, depriving planets of any external sovereignty, and (in case of a victorious government) possibly annexes and colonizes them outright.
  2. Some combination of planetary (domestic) sovereignty and a centralized “interstellar superpower” controlling outer space and space trade, likely by space navy, but restraining from conquest and extortion of developed planets in its space (think various “great unions of planets” in fiction).
  3. A confederacy of racially diverse and economically rivalling states seeking primarily to deter wars, to protect their common outer space from piracy and invaders, and to resist a blatant external interference in general (think Iroquois League, with a correction for racial diversity).
  4. An advanced interstellar system of relations, based on numerous treaties, maintains a complicated political balance and legal space in a large volume of physical space (along the lines of United Nations and Earth’s superpowers, or other known systems of international relations).
  5. A huge democracy effects a (nominally) undivided sovereignty over a large volume of space.
  6. An oligarchy of industrial or merchant corporations, with their space fleets, suppresses and subordinates weak territorial- and/or racial-based governments (popular or else).
  7. Some novel form of government based on a powerful conscious agent: specially designed governing computer (likely distributed), collective consciousness of individuals, or some mental power we now can’t explicate. Makes the problem of “sovereignty” moot.
  8. No stable structure at all: persistent wars, coups, rebellions, alliances and infightings, ever expanding and fragmenting empires and dictatorships.

Please, give assessments of my types of formations from different perspectives: humanistic, liberal, Realpolitik, and economical. Which transition scenarios between different formations can be envisaged? Which scenarios of clashes between such formations (both of similar or dissimilar structure) will be plausible?

  • $\begingroup$ They have the level of technology of the 20th century ? $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent: with 20th-century technology interplanetary travels were cost-prohibitive, and only marginally possible at all. Obviously, we expect advances in technology as a whole comparable to advances in transportation, but not to Level III supercivilization (that would make most of these questions either obsolete or unforeseeable from our point). $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand your assumptions at all. Why would cheap transportation cause each planet to be politically unified? In our world there are cities divided between states which can even be at war (Berlin during the Cold War, Jerusalem and other borders between Israel proper and Palestinian territories). Conversely, empires that were too large have historically not tended to last, but Spain, Portugal and others maintained empires when it took months to reach some colonies. Any of your scenarios 1–8 is certainly plausible. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Gilles: Ī know the history of Berlin Wall that lasted only 27 years. Cheap intra-planetary transportation is a strong incentive for unification, whereas affordable space transportation and resulting mass emigration from Earth will prompt dissenting minorities to go “overspaces” instead of facing oppression from a poorly acceptable majority government. Also, most Communist sci-fi worlds feature a politically united Earth, and some Western writers expressed this desire as well. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Gilles: and anyway Earth with its historical divisions seems to require several centuries for unification. On newer planets this process can go faster. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2014 at 18:13

2 Answers 2


I think the scope of your question is too large to be easily answered here except by essay. I recommend breaking it apart for specifics.

That being said, your primary concern about the spaceo-political structure that would develop would likely be some combination of what you have listed. Take into account that all worlds/species will likely not be equally technologically advanced. That can have a profound influence on the structure that would arise in each system.

Consider Earth, 19th century as an example. Most people were culturally isolated, and as such didn't have any exposure to lots of things we take for granted today. Lack of variety caused a lot of prejudice, misinformation, and unfair stereotypes of other races and cultures. There were adventurers and merchants, certainly, but most people were pretty xenophobic by nature.

Goods from around the world provided ample opportunity for trade. Something common in one area would be rare and exotic in another. Think of the introduction of the banana at the 1876 World's Fair, or silk from China.

I think commerce would be the driver of contact between worlds. More advanced cultures would certainly take advantage of less advanced cultures, and the desire of one world to assert dominance over another would depend on their prevailing world view. One culture may see themselves as superior, and their religion may demand they colonize and proselytize wherever they can. Another culture may be a kind of insectoid hive mind, and not want to have anything to do with other cultures.

Again, commerce will be your driving factor behind the motivations of not just individual worlds, but individuals from each of the worlds. Treaties will be formed to create or secure commercial interests as waging wars across hard-to-travel interstellar boundaries will be too impractical.

  • $\begingroup$ Interstellar space can be thought of as a defensive barrier, but only by worlds able for closer combat. Duration and expense of a travel deter invaders, but its vastness and lack of defensible surfaces help invaders to attack the heart of a system unexpectedly. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2014 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, but any potential attacker still has to have motive. It doesn't matter how easy it might be to attack someone. There has to be a payoff somehow. The reason we don't have more warfare on Earth is because peace is generally more profitable. But, as I said in the answer, there might be a philosophical/religious imperative that acts as the payoff. $\endgroup$
    – Random
    Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 1:33
  • $\begingroup$ … such as mitigating overpopulation of the home world by mass emigration to overspaces colonies? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 19, 2014 at 8:42
  • $\begingroup$ You were just saying how prohibitively expensive interstellar travel is. Exporting population outsystem won't pay. $\endgroup$
    – Oldcat
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 1:07

Most important issue is immensity of time. Sufficiently advanced civilization will have no interest to communicate/trade with less advanced. In most cases, it would not even notice, or care, about existence of less developed civilizations.

Compare humans and ants - separated by some 200 MY of evolution. When walking, do you care if you step on an ant? Would you change your stride to avoid it? Would you consider sparing anthills when planning highway?

Because pace of progress increases, differences might be even more gaping. Earth is 4.5 BY old, universe is 13+ BY old. Differences in level of development would be even bigger that differences of physical conditions.

Or even closer: we don't have any good way to communicate with our own monkey ancestors (except limited efforts with really close primates), some 20-30 MY apart. Out of which only last 70 KY humans can be distinguished from animals by external observer. best we can do is train monkeys, using their own skills.

Just few centuries ago humans had no problem exterminating other humans (native Americans) because they were considered primitive and competed for resources.

Don't be naive. Sharing between significantly unequal partners is completely dependent on the morale and the rules of the more senior partner.

  • $\begingroup$ The fact that humanity in certain sense “trades” with bees (along many other possible cases of symbiosis) annihilates the reasoning entirely. Ī’d prefer to trade with ants that sometimes get into my vacation cottage rather than to kill them. Can you help me to negotiate proper terms of separation with an anthill? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 12:57
  • $\begingroup$ You do not "trade" with bees. You use their special skills to your own purposes. Bees have no saying where they will be deployed, or how much honey you will take. Symbiosis requires almost equal partners. You don't negotiate with ants - you spray some poison to get rid of them. You don't consider ant's interests. And that's only 200 MY, out of 199.99 human ancestors were animals, with extremely slow rate of progress. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2014 at 13:44

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