Are Totalitarian Regimes Automatically Short-Lived?

Omnis

Active Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2012
Messages
30
In a book series I'm hoping to write and publish, the fictional timeline covers a period of several centuries, with the key years being from 2275 - 2840. A key plot point of these books is a totalitarian culture called the "Centauri Alignment" (descended from a lost human colony in Alpha Centauri) that gains control of the Solar System following a ruinous invasion and war that sets all sides back economically and technologically. The Alignment controls the Solar System for almost six hundred years (i.e. the years indicated above). During this time, although they retain a significant amount of scientific knowledge and high technology, their culture is stagnant and petrified, with economic/technological progress being non-existent under a ruinous centrally-planned economy. My question is this: is it in fact, plausible under any circumstances for a culture to exist in such a state of stagnation, mismanagement, and oppression for such a long amount of time without collapse, given the relatively short life-spans of real-world totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany (12 years) or the Soviet Union? (74 years)? Does cultural longevity necessitate at least some form of ethical governance, or could more long-lasting methods of totalitarian control develop in the future? Thoughts would be appreciated.
 

J-Sun

Joined
Oct 23, 2008
Messages
5,318
Ancient Egypt, most of China, and most of world history would say they are not automatically short-lived. "Ethical governments", if any, have been localized and momentary blips in world history.

And, for the contrary angle, there's the (literally inaccurate) cuckoo clock speech in The Third Man. Good government and good culture don't always go hand in hand.

-- Oh, and absolutely certain forms of technology lend themselves to greater tyranny. While some lead to lesser tyranny. A point I keep trying to make to all "It's new, therefore it must be improved" people.
 

JandenHale

Litus of the Red Helm
Joined
Feb 19, 2012
Messages
38
Location
Author of Everwind, a dark sci-fi series of post-a
Yep, what J-Sun said. I would also add the roman emperors into there, though they weren't as long-lived as the Chinese and the Egyptians. I would venture to suggest you research the reasons for the downfall of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. My guess as to the longevity of totalitarian regimes is that they rule through fear and force, and they have nothing preventing them from arresting dissenters or people suspected of people anti-government. This would cause the citizenry to be a lot less likely to revolt, whereas nowadays I believe that governments that are less totalitarian are forced to adjust methods to account for the lack of fear in its constituents, and therefore must keep people in line with more craft. So mind control, manipulation, propaganda, these things all become the primary tools. I don't know if you will be able to consider or use my theory above, but hey, just in case. :)
 

AnyaKimlin

Confuddled
Joined
Sep 21, 2011
Messages
6,099
Location
North Scotland
what about Britain up until really the 1800s when they started giving the great unwashed the vote. Before that it was an elite group. It was 1872 before there was a secret ballot.

The Tudors and before could pretty much shout off with their head to anyone and before that one totalitarian regime was replaced by another of the same.
 

Abernovo

Transcontinental intergalactic tea drinker
Supporter
Joined
Sep 13, 2011
Messages
3,392
Location
Offices on Earth, Haumea, and at Galactic Core.
To add to what J-Sun, JH and Anya have said, consider the three hundred years between the Norman Conquest and the Peasants' Revolt in England. Even post-revolt, the regime was pretty harsh. Which raises a second point: totalitarianism is just a label; if it's what you live under it can be difficult to change - you might not even know change is possible. It might just be life.

For my evidence, I submit Mediaeval Europe as a whole and the hold that a political-religious bureaucracy had over it. Individual rulers might change, but the philosophical regime, if I can call it that, did not and dissent, including much scientific discourse, was harshly dealt with. This was, of course, done in the name of the 'natural order', rather than the self-interest of a cartel that controlled resources.
 

Gumboot

lorcutus.tolere
Joined
Feb 12, 2012
Messages
948
None of the examples anyone has listed were actually Totalitarian regimes. It's common for people to mistake authoritarian regimes for totalitarian, and it would be wise not to make that mistake. Totalitarian regimes maintain complete control over every single facet of society, allowing nothing to restrict or undermine their power.

I would argue that these sorts of regimes are inherently unstable, and almost certainly doomed to failure within a short time.
 

Dave

Non Bio
Staff member
Joined
Jan 5, 2001
Messages
21,796
Location
Way on Down South, London Town
I don't wish to argue semantics, but in the past, in the relationship between a peasant and a Lord, the Lord could control the supply of food, the supply of work and land to farm, the rule of Law, and because only he could read, the supply of News and ideas from outside, not to mention religious freedom. I think that does in fact fit your definition of Totalitarianism more closely than you argued.
 

Glitch

#452
Supporter
Joined
Feb 12, 2007
Messages
1,800
Would what worked in the past to keep these regimes in power work in the future?

People didn't know different back then. A lack of reading and writing would also prevent them from finding out.
 

Sapheron

Making no sense.
Joined
Nov 9, 2006
Messages
850
Who says everyone will be able to read and write in the future? A 'peasant' trained only to operate the machinery of a single factory is no different to a peasant who only knows how to farm.

Personally, I think the issue of a governments lifespan is a question of normality. If a king orders 'off with their heads' no one argues if thats the norm. If done today, people would hopefully question it. On the other hand, if you went back to the medieval times and pointed out that you should be given the right to a fair trial, that in itself would be considered odd.

If a society moved slowly into totalitarianism, rather than the process of just a few years seen by, for example, the soviets, then I don't see why it shouldn't work. Why would it be unstable? It would be normal, and everyone would just carry on with it.
 

Glitch

#452
Supporter
Joined
Feb 12, 2007
Messages
1,800
If the society descended into chaos, possibly due to economic issues. You could increase the divide between rich and poor and introduce higher illiteracy due to lack of jobs and schooling.

The first leaders of your new empire could actually been seen as saviours. With people willing to follow them for, what they see, a better life.
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
Supporter
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
5,276
Location
Edinburgh
And taken to the logical extreme, Orwell's 1984 is about a 'perfect' totalitarian society - not just long-lived. But eternal.

"If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever"

If we can imagine it, maybe it's possible...
 

Omnis

Active Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2012
Messages
30
If the society descended into chaos, possibly due to economic issues. You could increase the divide between rich and poor and introduce higher illiteracy due to lack of jobs and schooling.

The first leaders of your new empire could actually been seen as saviours. With people willing to follow them for, what they see, a better life.

That's actually pretty close to the angle I'm planning to take. The Centauri invasion of 2275 takes place following several decades of "Unification Wars" within the Solar System (basically wars between Earth and its off-world colonies) which leave all the warring factions economically devastated and militarily weakened. The Centauri, whose civilization has developed in isolation from the rest of humanity for almost two hundred years (leading to a massive cultural and technological divergence which causes them to initially be mistaken for aliens), meet virtually no effective resistance during the opening stages of their invasion. They suffer a severe setback, however, when their leader, along with approximately 90% of their scientific caste, is killed in a last-ditch assassination involving an anti-matter bomb. While the Alignment retains its control of Earth and the rest of the Solar System, they are permanently inhibited from realizing their original project - which involved re-engineering the human race into an entirely new "superior" life-form.
 
Last edited:

paranoid marvin

Run VT Erroll!
Supporter
Joined
Mar 9, 2007
Messages
4,425
The greatest feat of a totalitarian regime is to make it's people think that it isn't. Once you've got that cracked then barring invasion, there's no reason to suppose that they couldn't continue for a long time.
 

mosaix

Shropshire, U.K.
Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2006
Messages
7,906
Location
Shropshire, U.K.
Taking the long view of history, it seems that it's the democratic governments that are in their infancy.

The greatest feat of a totalitarian regime is to make it's people think that it isn't. Once you've got that cracked then barring invasion, there's no reason to suppose that they couldn't continue for a long time.

Quite right PM. Who needs to be totalitarian when you can allow your people to demonstrate about anything they like but just ignore them anyway? Then every few years have an election, spout a load of lies, it's 50 - 50 whether you're voted back in this time but you probably will be next time around. In the meantime, you've got a cushy job anyway with a gold plated pension. If you are unlucky enough to lose your seat you'll either get promoted to the upper house or become a millionaire on the lecture circuit.
 

Jammill Khursheed

Smell your own dam finger
Joined
Feb 27, 2012
Messages
146
As to whether it's possible or believable for the Centauri to rule for 600 years, that would depend on how they ruled, and how they treated their subjects, and primarily how centralised the power within the empire is.

If people under their rule aren't any worse off than they were before, and if they don't feel personally oppressed, very few of them would have the urge to overthrow the Centauri. The few that did would have their own personal views of what is wrong with the empire, and possibly those views would be too different for the rebels to work together to overthrow them.

If, on the other hand, the Centauri are rounding people up and executing them en-masse, or targeting certain ethnic/religious groups, people would be motivated to fight back.

If the Centauri rule at a distance (i.e. we rule the solar system, you do whatever you like on a planetary level as long as you don't oppose us) most people on most planets wouldn't care that there is an over-arching empire above them.

Lets not forget you're working with Sci-Fi here, and although not usually human, there are empires that are quite totalitarian and long-lived in Sci-Fi history. In Star Trek for example, the Romulans are a very totalitarian regime that has ruled their own empire for over a thousand years since their split from the Vulcans, and nobody pulls Star Trek apart for that.

Basically, as long as you don't make them cheesy comic-book type bad guys, it should work. If it doesn't, make them slightly less 'evil-empire'-ish and then, if you need them to be evil at a certain point to mobilise the opposition, have a new leader come to power with a more hardline attitude.


Jammill
 

Omnis

Active Member
Joined
Jan 28, 2012
Messages
30
I'm thinking that most people under Centauri rule would rebel if they could, but are fundamentally unable. There is, for one thing, the very nature of a command economy; it's very hard to rebel against an authority with the ability to cut off your access to basic necessities of life such as food and water. In addition, the regime takes care to establish a privileged class among the subject population (remnants of the Earth-based regime who started the Unification Wars) that benefits from their rule and will do everything to maintain it.

The Centauri socio-political system is also entirely based upon genetic engineering, with the population divided into genetically-based castes. Members of different castes are allowed virtually no contact with each other, minimizing the chances of organized rebellion. The education system is also strictly controlled so that a person receives only the requisite knowledge to fulfill the function of their caste (a significant portion of the population is thereby illiterate). The little history that is taught at all has virtually no relation to reality; every effort is made to portray the Alignment regime as part of the natural order of the universe, something that has always existed in some form and always will. The average person under Alignment rule, while leading a harsh existence, has no idea that things have ever been any different. The only ones who are allowed any access to the truth are those involved in an on-going project to engineer a second leader to replace the one lost during the invasion.

I'm thinking that the very beginning of Centauri rule would be more violent than by far than what comes afterwards, given the massive number of purges and social engineering required to firmly establish their power. Over time, things would tend to stabilize as a new generation grows up with no memory of what came before the Alignment. The Alignment's secret police, however, would be constantly on the lookout for the slightest indication of a threat to the system, which is always dealt with swiftly, ruthlessly, and silently. Everyone living under Centauri rule is entered into a biometric identification system (remaining from Earth's previous government) that allows them to be tracked almost effortlessly.

One idea I'm toying with is to have the "Alignment Proper" be in control of Earth while the rest of the solar system is divided among Centauri warlords who broke away following the death of the original leader. Lip service would be paid to the ideal of a united regime in the same way that the princes of the Holy Roman Empire paid lip service to the ideal of imperial unity but diametrically opposed it in practice. The ongoing Earth-based project to engineer a second leader would thereby be spurred by the desire to re-establish the glories of the "Old Alignment".
 

David Evil Overlord

Censored Member
Joined
Jan 25, 2012
Messages
2,658
Location
Prime Evil Soup
I'm thinking that most people under Centauri rule would rebel if they could, but are fundamentally unable. There is, for one thing, the very nature of a command economy; it's very hard to rebel against an authority with the ability to cut off your access to basic necessities of life such as food and water.

One of Larry Niven's books (Destiny's Road, IIRC) pointed out that there were what historian called "water empires" (again, IIRC), and that they either didn't fall or were very hard to topple. A water empire, as you may have guessed, has total control over that most basic necessity of life. Be a good little vassal, and you may have a drink. Rebel and go thirsty.
 

Gumboot

lorcutus.tolere
Joined
Feb 12, 2012
Messages
948
I don't wish to argue semantics, but in the past, in the relationship between a peasant and a Lord, the Lord could control the supply of food, the supply of work and land to farm, the rule of Law, and because only he could read, the supply of News and ideas from outside, not to mention religious freedom. I think that does in fact fit your definition of Totalitarianism more closely than you argued.


I am presuming you're talking a medieval feudal relationship, in which case you're most likely wrong.

1) The peasants actually controlled the supply of food, not the other way around, because they worked the land and grew said food. If a Lord pissed his peasants off too much they'd move to another lord's territory and the lord would promptly starve.
2) Peasants had rights, and a Lord's control over them was limited, sometimes quite dramatically (for example peasants in medieval England worked less on average than people do today).
3) Most lords couldn't read, and in that regard were as much at the mercy of those who could (the church) as peasants were.
4) Lords had zero control over religious doctrine or freedom, and indeed the church had an enormous amount of power over them.

Feudal systems varied quite a bit from place to place and time to time, but very few of them would even really fit a description of authoritarian, let alone totalitarian. Rather they were a form of decentralised government where no one really exercised a great deal of power at all. If there was any example of a totalitarian regime in Medieval Europe it would be the Papal States, but in practise even that didn't really exercise total control over its populace.
 

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
8,424
Location
Scottish Highlands
I think Jamill's point is the most valid. If a totalitarian government is benign and looks after its subjects' needs then it can be stable and last a long time. If it is not and it oppresses its subjects then I think it will not last long. Even if a system like that has total control of vital resources - food, water, air etc. - it will inevitably be open to, and indeed invite, corruption creating a black market that potential rebels can exploit. As soon as that happens it creates a massive chink in the government's armour and it is probably only a matter of time before the uprising. And if that uprising fails, so long as they are still oppressed, uprisings will continue to happen until they succeed.
 

Bowler1

Senile Supporter
Supporter
Joined
Jan 30, 2012
Messages
4,249
Location
High Wycombe
Even in the news today, the regimes that are falling are only doing to after lasting a long time. Why are they falling, lack of change and lack of flexbility regardless of the empowering and sharing of information Facebook has brought. The Romans were very flexible in there dealings with those inside and outside their empire which is one reason why they lasted do long. The second reason why they lasted so long was their willingness to defend their way of life, i.e, if you don't like it we kill you.

But bear in mind, for most romans, life just chugged along; slaves and freed. If the general population accept and can live with the control from above then they won't rebel. Life under the romans was generally considered to be better than life without the romans, which is why they lasted so long.

So if a large segment of the population accept the control from above, then change won't occur, or at least not without an outside force bringing on changes.
 

Top