Conquest and discovery has been an important part of developing the global political structure of today's Earth. After we expand and settle other planets, whether within the same solar system or not, eventually the colonies will grow and develop to the extent where they feel able to self-govern. Given that extraterrestrial colonies and their resources would be incredibly valuable to their parent government, they would be naturally hesitant to let them go, whether because of fear of a lack of control or fear that the new government will be forcibly assumed by a competing terrestrial government.

Easily, historical examples can be found by looking at overseas colonies - except for two incongruities: firstly, the process of setting up not only a self-sufficient extraterrestrial colony, but a self-expanding extraterrestrial colony would require much more assistance than, say, setting up a self-expanding overseas colony. Additionally, the area available for a colony to expand into is much greater than historically: there's a whole planet out there! Would the self-governing colonies, after they finally stabilize, cover much greater area than their parent nations? Would it be continental, global, or even include the local moon(s)? Would they be powerful enough to peacefully hold this territory, or would competing, established governments/colonies be conterminously fighting for greater resources?

How would the situation differ were the planet found inhabitable as opposed to requiring a (possibly international) terraforming project?

In short, what type of interplanetary political structure would be most likely to develop, and what historical parallels are there to support your claims?

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    $\begingroup$ The homeworld has a very big bargaining chip most likely, micro nutrients. It's unlike that another planet has all the little minerals we need to survive in the right quantities. Likely settlers will need to take pills to supplement their diet. This can only come from the homeworld, thus ensuring a position of power. Follow us or die a slow death of malnutrition. $\endgroup$
    – Mormacil
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 11:19

4 Answers 4


I would assume that there's two major cases for interplanetary colonization:

  • it starts from global or government initiative, thus will be composed of people selected for this or volunteering. Thus, we'd have to look to controlled habitation of remote locations for examples, such as research stations in remote places.

  • it starts long after space travel becomes cheap and easy enough (as well as provision management) to do so, so we'd look towards colonization as it happened throughout history (barring the special case of forced migration, which has its own special peculiarities).

In the first case, we have strong dependence and adherence to existing political structure - any changes to that would be already observed in existing small colonies designed for a purpose. So it would take a very long time for changes to happen, IMHO, unless we saw significant stress in the relations between the homeworld and colonies (possibly after a few decades of building and work, after which some are recalled, causing stress).

In the second case, we'd have much more independent-minded people, possibly more adventurous and individualistic, starting colonies. This would naturally cause a lot of stress in relations with the homeworld, unless it does provide regular aid and provisions and does not interfere with local matters - quite unlikely.

The real question however is, do we know future political structures? Even on Earth, the changes to existing politics and the evolution of political thought has happened in spite of and independently of colonization, although the latter has forced changes. It is quite likely the political structures in such a society, colonizing new worlds, would be very different and most possibly an amalgamation of successful political ideas across the currently understood spectrum. I'd assume, considering how politics has grown throughout human history, that there would be a strong humanitarian and progressive shift, at least until the colonies are 100-200 years old.

The outcome would also depend on the efficiency of warfare through interplanetary/interstellar space and space-to-ground weaponry and defenses. If it is difficult to launch such an offensive, the safety on the colonies would allow them to experiment a lot more, considering the likely personalities of colonists. It might also allow them to succeed more in these experiments, much like in real life. If on the other hand it is easy to conduct such warfare, fear might prolong political dependence and political conservativism, maintaining existing structures.

  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that Warfare is something different on interplanetary scale! There's nothing like the momentum of surprise due an attacking force need much longer time to move to another planet. On earthscale,... an aircraftcarrier could reach every coast within days, from Mars to Earth it would take months, even if we can increase the travel speed significant. This also means, that there is a bigger inhibition on starting a ware. If one knows that the enemie except an attack and can prepare the defense, one must assume gigantic losses. "One does not simply capture moscow" lol $\endgroup$
    – jawo
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Sempie, you assume that A) An attack cannot be a surprise one and B) That an attack must land ground troops. Consider the power and suprise of nuclear weapons launched either stealthily or via a nearby cruiser/cargo ship. $\endgroup$
    – NPSF3000
    Commented Dec 7, 2014 at 6:15

Another answer specifically excepted the case of forced migration, but it's worth considering. Two versions strike me as especially significant for your question: the Puritans going to America, and British convicts being sent to Australia.

The Puritan example is particularly interesting here, because it both was and was not forced. In effect, contrary to many of the myths that American schoolchildren are taught, the Puritans were under a good deal of social and economic pressure in England, and decided to try America instead. Their problem, fundamentally, was that they wanted to be stunningly intolerant and controlling of everyone with whom they came into contact, but their non-Puritan neighbors weren't very happy about this. So they moved to America so they could set up a completely non-tolerant society where they punish people who disagreed with them about more or less anything. And on the whole, their neighbors in England were happy to be rid of them.

The deal, of course, was that they were Crown colonies, and they had to pay the Crown. In part, this was a matter of money for services: they needed guns, for instance, and all kinds of other goods that they couldn't get very readily in America. In part, this was just taxation.

Eventually, this all led to revolution, in large measure because the colonies no longer needed what services the Crown was providing -- they could make their own guns, for example -- and so they were paying a lot for very little. Thus "no taxation without representation."

So to get back to the core of the question: the possible relations between the colony and the homeworld are extremely variable. If the colony was in part forced, there may be a lingering grudge against the homeworld, but on the other hand, Australia was remarkably tolerant of being a colony for most of its modern history. If the colony was formed as some kind of social, political, religious, or whatever experiment -- as with the Puritans, but there have been many other examples -- the group may want independence as soon as possible; on the other hand, most such experiments have failed fairly disastrously, and arguably the Puritan one did as well, in which case despite the desire for independence they may be heavily dependent on homeworld support. Meanwhile, the homeworld presumably wants something from the colony, or else why would they support it? If they really don't want anything from the new world, and the colonists want independence, then you could end up with effectively no relations: space travel isn't likely to be cheap, and if the homeworld won't pay for it and the colonists are reasonably poor in high-tech resources, the colonists may end up pretty much orphaned.


There's no one answer, of course. It would depend on many things, and mostly, I would say, the mindsets of the people involved (what they valued, what they considered important, what memes they were engaged in, their political organizations and economic systems), and how those changed over time. e.g. Have we really reverted to 18th Century colony/empire and national struggles, or is it like 21st Century corporations and bankers being the real power structures, or have we transcended all that yet, and how so? What history led to that? When humanity got organized and cooperative enough to spread to other stars, did they even have weapons or violent crime on their minds?

Another major factor would be the time, distance, and technology involved for travel and communication, as well as human lifespans, and what these other worlds turn out to be like, what their spatial relationship is to each other, and whether any alien species are involved. e.g. Does it take ten years for a message to get from one planet to another (as in what current science looks like), or can one travel between stars without changing clothes (as in Star Wars)?

Other technological details could be relevant too, such as energy production, biological issues, and so on - resources might not be much of an issue, or the rare resources might be something very different that one might imagine these days. e.g. In what way are power and fuel still a concern, or have fusion reactors or something else made it abundant and cheap? Are minerals still really valuable, or do people have more than they really need? How are we doing against disease and GMO/nanotechnological contamination?

Terraforming would definitely require more work and technology... what would it take to send it to another star, or assemble it there? How long would it take? These have a lot to do with the answers to the earlier questions about what technology is available for travel and communication, and energy and material abundance or scarcity.

As far as an interplanetary political structure, I think the above variables would all play major roles in determining what would develop. Starting from where we are, where international organizations have accumulated most of the world's wealth into one network of banks and other companies that owns at least 67% of the wealth according to a recent Swiss study, and on the other hand, a number of man-made disasters threaten our continued existence, or at least our way of life. GMO proliferation, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, catastrophic climate change, fresh water supply problems, and a host of others, indicate to me that there will be some major changes before we get anywhere near thinking about really colonizing worlds, let alone other stars.

So the starting point, and the enabling technologies, are almost completely unknown, as is what we may find when we get to another star. The political organization could be anything.

However, I think travel and communication times are essential elements to your questions, and those may change with technology, and that rate of change would also have effects. You can't control someone you can't communicate with or reach in a timely fashion.


The maximum speed of force projection is probably the most important factor in working out a functional government set up. I've always thought that without effectively instantaneous communication and troop transportation systems you'd need a decentralised setup of some description; whether that's imperial, feudal, or federal doesn't really matter, rulers can only control the area they can put troops into fast in the event of unrest/invasion.

Something else to note when considering an exact structure, especially in long established regimes, though: "All governments tend towards monarchy" - Frank Herbert, Dune.

It's a fairly basic premise with some interesting historical evidence and some even more interesting implications. Basically Herbert argues that regardless of their starting form governments tend to allow/create the accretion of political power within small groups of people, I'd have said Oligarchy not Monarchy but the point stands. In the Dune universe travel is FTL but still relatively time consuming, and without any FTL communications planetary governments are pretty much on their own, and a feudal model is adopted from individual planets to the overarching rule of the Landsraad. Planetary governors can't really call for support from the emperor or their fellow lords, they have to rule their worlds effectively or they end up deposed and often dead.

The role of corporate entities could be very important to structural details, corporations are effectively immortal you just replace board members who age out. Corporations are also very effective at concentrating decision making power and governing large numbers of people.


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