14.23: Governments Large and Small

Your Hosts: Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab

What kinds of governmental systems do you live within? What kinds do you implement? Answering these questions can help you with the worldbuilding of political power structures. In this episode we’ll talk about all that. (Within our time limit, of course.)

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson.




Come up with your own system along the lines of the “four estates” model common in the west.

A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine, narrated by Amy Landon

8 thoughts on “14.23: Governments Large and Small”

  1. This was interesting and there were some great comments. I’d like to point out that when you’re looking at a system of rules, there is always someone who will break those rules and often that’s what makes the interesting conflict.

    I have noticed that within any system of government, you will find smaller units of government. Sometimes they support and sometimes they oppose the main government. Usually, they are indifferent. When your character enters the influence of these smaller governments, they will get the unpleasant shock that the rules they know do not apply. I’ve got five examples of what these might look like:

    1. Small town politics. One rich family owns the town and the police. Don’t expect any legal redress for the wrongs they have committed.

    2. Organized crime. They have their own set of laws and will enforce them with violence.

    3. Secret police. The law enforcement agency that operates outside the laws. They uphold a set of rules by breaking all those same rules.

    4. Corporate hell. This is the division of the company which ignores all of the policies, but the company looks the other way or pretends not to notice.

    5. The rebellion. This is a group of people who want to overthrow the government and put something else in its place.

    There are probably a million other examples of governments within governments, but those were the ones that jumped to my mind.

    I highly recommend “The Dictator’s Handbook” by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith for a good look at how people in all types of systems seize and maintain power.

    1. Very interesting point. Studying other governments is a great way to look for ideas, take India, with more than 400 parties that issue have to make arrangements to get elected.

  2. Eleanor of Aquitaine was married to Henry II, who ruled over a giant kingdom. Henry is a fascinating ruler to study if listeners are wanting to create a medieval government. He overcame the problems of communicating with his empire by continually moving his court from one area to another, and he was able to move at incredible speeds. He was a very hands-on kind of king. (As as a fun side note, he enjoyed throwing epic temper tantrums in which he was known to fall to the ground and chew his carpets in rage )

  3. Someone who’s amazing at political systems and intrigue as well as the hell that is bureaucracy is CJ Cherryh. The Foreigner series is amazing (human rep from a tiny human colony on an inhabited world, needs to work his way through an alien political and cultural system with legal assassination, fluid alliances and no love for humans). All of her sci fi (that I’ve read) is full of politics that’s so well written.

  4. Because I’m a medieval English history geek: the English king who was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine was Henry II, and the son no one remembers was Geoffrey.

    And I’ve never gotten around to watching Lion in Winter (my classic film knowledge is shockingly limited), but the correct answer for Who Should Rule England is Eleanor, because Richard and John were terrible and Geoffrey died young. But of course that wasn’t an option.

  5. This week, the reigning foursome, Brandon, Dan, Howard, and Mahtab, talked about worldbuilding governments. Autocratic, democratic, meritocracy, Howardarchy… And bureaucracy! Political intrigue, villains, enforcement, taxes, four estates, communications and succession… It’s all there, and now you can read about it in the transcript available in the archives!

  6. I really liked the point about a government being shaped by its conditions. (old European governments vs. new U.S. government)

    While reflecting on this topic, I realized that a good fictional example of this is the Ministry of Magic from Harry Potter. As a government of a hidden world, its main job is to keep magic in check and to keep the muggles from catching on. This is reflected in almost all of the departments we are shown throughout the books. Even organizing a sports event is colored by this, as demonstrated when they have to find a suitable place for the quidditch world cup that’s big enough and also devoid of muggles–except for the family that lives there.

    All in all, this feels like an important topic which needs to be explored more in fantasy.

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