Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


Chapter 21.  Extraterrestrial Governments


"In the long run the individualist always loses to the organization."
          -- Gordon R. Dickson, from Ancient, My Enemy (1974)2165

"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men."
          -- Robert A. Heinlein, from Time Enough for Love (1973)2601

"In other words, the 27,000 members of the Galactic Confederation expect Earth to pay for what they receive. This necessitates a form of mutually acceptable exchange commonly called money. Earth valuta is of no consequence in the Galaxy. Galactic currency must therefore be obtained. Only by selling the Galaxy goods or services or luxuries which they fancy can foreign currency be derived. Once obtained, this Galactic currency can then be used to purchase extraterrestrial goods for our own use."
          -- Hayford Peirce, from "Rebounder" (1976)3001

"Because of the Alderson Drive we need never consider the space between the stars. Because we can shunt between stellar systems in zero time, our ships and ships’ drive need cover only interplanetary distances. We say that the Second Empire of Man rules 200 worlds and all the space between, over 15 million cubic parsecs. But consider the true picture. Think of myriads of tiny bubbles, very sparsely scattered, rising through a vast black sea. We rule some of the bubbles. Of the water we know nothing. .
          -- Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, from The Mote in God’s Eye (1974)668



Government commonly is viewed as an instrument of authority over specific groups, organizations, and states. Authority implies coercion. Indeed, as Poul Anderson has claimed, perhaps the best traditional definition of government is "any organization which claims some right to exert physical force over individual members."78

Xenologists shy away from such limited conceptions of political activity. The idea that physical force, competition, or combat are essential to large-scale social organization lacks the generality and universality required of all xenological formulations. Alien governments may indeed be designed to perform strategic, military, or policing functions, but a vast number of other purposes are imaginable as well. Coalitions to promote common economic interests and trading agreements might serve as the basis for government, such as the European Economic Community (EEC), the Central American Common Market (CACM), the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and so forth here on Earth. Organizations designed solely for the betterment of social conditions may arise; others might exist only for the purpose of cultural or philosophical exchange, regulation of agricultural production, tourism and recreation, social engineering, mining, penal confinement, or the spread of scientific knowledge. While human governments commonly take on elements of coercion and force, there is no reason to insist that this must be a universal feature of all extraterrestrial societies.

Perhaps the most general definition of government is the "thermodynamic" one: Government is a social system that stores specific information about a society and the way it works, and which uses this information to establish and maintain order and complexity. As a negentropic system, government, much like life and intelligence, necessarily must exhibit a number of communicative and control aspects.3071 Of course, the exact mix must vary with incredible diversity among alien societies. Some organizations will stress communication, others control. But all will manage information so as to regularize and complexify sociocultural behavior. Defined in this broad fashion, xenologists confidently may assert that all societies -- both human and nonhuman -- must display some form of governance.

[Note: See also the author's article "Galactic Empires", published in 1983.]


Last updated on 30 December 2008