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


21.1.1  Governance Scales

There are six dimensions of goverance, as shown in the taxonomy in Table 21.1, below.

The first dimension is called "cultural scale." This is simply the potential power of the organization as measured by energy production. In this book, civilizations are classed as Type I, II, III, or IV according to a familiar scheme. The chart gives a few extra subdivisions under the Type I planetary culture for added resolution.

The second dimension of governance is the system of leadership employed. The Taxonomy gives several different classes of leadership with illustrative examples of each in parentheses. Expanding Plato’s traditional tripartite model, leadership falls along a spectrum ranging from nullity to totality. There is rule by none (Chaos), rule by one (Autocracy), rule by a few (Oligarchy), rule by many (Republic), rule by most (Democracy), and rule by all (Pantisocracy*).

The main problem in selecting a leadership is how to determine which "one" or which "few" shall head the organization. This normally involves what one writer has called "the myth of legitimacy."3035 That is, persons must believe their leaders are "legitimate" before they will willingly submit to the organization. If this is accomplished by election, and an autocracy is the class of leadership, the result may be called a "limited monarchy." If we have a republic instead, the result might be called a "representative democracy." if selection is based on military power, an autocracy would be called "despotism" and an oligarchy might be called a "military junta." The Taxonomy lists 30 bases of legitimacy of leadership that might conceivably be adopted by alien cultures. (Note: These bases are not exclusive. For instance, "aristocracy" is an oligarchy that may be based on wealth, heredity, or both.)


Table 21.1 General Taxonomy of Governments Applicable to Extraterrestrial Cultures
Cultural Scale
Economic Basis
Exchange System
Freedom Scale
  (Class of Leadership)
(Bases for Legitimacy)





Autocracy (Dictatorship; Monarchy; Constitutional Tyranny; Despotism)

(Diarohy; Triarchy;
Theocracy; Bureaucracy;
Aristocracy; Feudalism)

(Limited Monarchy; Representative Democracy)

(Direct Democracy; Electronic Demarchy; Collegial)

(Organized Anarchy; Ordered Anarchy of the African Nuer, the Paliyans of South India, etc.; Sociocracy)

Species or Race (Nazism)
Nationality (Horde)
Heredity, Kinship, or Descent
(Monarchy; Aristocracy; Chieftain)
Age (Gerontocracy)
Sex (Matriarchy; Patriarchy)
Intelligence, Diligence (Meritocracy)

Ideology (Fascism; Marxism; Capitalism)
Religion (Theistic Monarchy; Theocracy; Papacy; Sodality)
Established Custom Agency of Cultural Change Moral Character or Integrity Written/Express Political Constitution (Constitutional Monarchy; Bureaucracy)

Wealth (Plutocracy; Aristocracy)
Property (Feudalism; Suzerainty)
Economic Success (Syndicalism; Corporate Feudalism)
Agency of Trade (Guild)
Instruments of Production
Agency of Communication

Popular Election (Limited Monarahy; Parliamentary Demooracy)
Cowardice (Kakistocracy)
Cunning and Intrigue (Cabal)
Martial Arts (Warrior Chieftain)
Military Power (Despotism; Mafia; Military Junta)
Defensive, Economic, or Constitutional Emergency (Dictatorship; Ochiocracy; Constitutional Tyranny)

Unitary Government

Empire or Imperium




Total Decentralization

Laissez Faire








No Reciprocity

Gift Exchange

Silent Barter

Open Barter with Fixed Exchange Ratios

Open Barter with Bargaining

Open Barter with Favorite Medium of Exchange

Valuable Money

Symbolic Money

Reciprocal Obligation





Amplified Biological Intelligence
Machine Sentiency (Mechanocracy)
Bioneered Genetic Superiority (Eugenocracy)
Immortality (Athanatocracy)
Biocybernetic Communication
Agency of Galactic Engineering


The third dimension of governance is the degree of organizational centralization. Unitary governments are most centralized -- there is a single focus of authority to which all decisions are referred. Empires may be regarded as falling within the unitary classification,823 but they characteristically involve two separate governments within a single political system: The internal government, which controls the interior or homeland, and the imperial government, which has dominion over subject peoples or external geographical areas. Empires are normally of two kinds. When the two governmental entities are geographically distinct, such as the British, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese systems on Earth, we have a "colonial" empire. "Coterminous" empires exist where the subject areas coincide geographically with the homeland, as in the Turkish, Austrio-Hungarian, and most of the oriental empires.

In a federal system, power is distributed between the central and local governments in such a way that a new unity is established while retaining the original territorial diversity. A federal organization requires a definite surrender of claims of sovereignty by component areas as well as the right of secession.2990 Confederations are the loosest possible associations of independent social or political units having some common governmental machinery. No new central unity is created. An alliance is a special limited form of confederation having as its purpose a single objective or temporary expediency.

The fourth dimension of governance is the economic basis of the organization. Laissez faire is total nonintervention by government in economic affairs; communicative activities are okay, but there must be an absence of control. Piracy is a peculiar form of laissez faire in which economics is reduced to a contest of military prowess and cunning between competing social units, again without benefit of legal direction by governmental authorities. Manorialism (sometimes called "feudalism") is an institutionalized system of property ownership and personal contracts between individuals as a substitute for "public" control -- the manorial lord replaced the governmental control function within his local fiefdom.

Mercantilism involves the emergence of real public control. This may include taxation or regulation of the means and fruits of production, under the theory that the economic interests of the larger political body are more important than those of mere individuals. The corporation or "conglomerate"1771 format is a way individuals can fight back. A group of persons is legally licensed to act with the powers, rights and privileges of a single person (a very powerful "individual"). Welfarism represents still further public control of the economy, in which the welfare of the citizenry is promoted more by the organized efforts of the government than by private institutions. Socialism is the end result -- government exercises complete control of all the means of production. However, the distribution of economic benefits is still determined in the private sector. Under communism, both the means of production and the means of distribution are controlled by the political organization of the society.818

The fifth dimension of governance is the exchange system employed.874 Exchange between social units involves an act of giving or taking one thing in return for another as its equivalent. Due to environmental heterogeneity and differing abilities, individuals are likely to be in possession of different kinds and amounts of resources than their fellows. Economic historians agree that the most primitive system of exchange is gift exchange, which may perhaps be regarded as an informal method of bartering. Slightly more sophisticated is silent barter, which enables individuals to rid themselves of surpluses and to enjoy the specialized products of their neighbors -- without having to actually confront a feared or hated neighbor. (The party desiring exchange leaves the merchandise in some place the other party cannot help noticing it, such as a pathway, meeting site or game field. If the recipient finds the goods undesirable or insufficient, he leaves them and comes back later after giving the donor a chance to increase the offer or change its contents. Acceptance of offers were expected to be reciprocated, failure of which could lead to warfare.)

Open barter is more direct.2880 It is usually available only when social units become capable of peaceful and friendly intercourse. All forms involve simultaneous exchange. For instance, barter at a fixed exchange ratio is the first attempt to assign value to commodities; this mode shifts to barter with bargaining as exchange relations between social groups become more regular and the range of things traded becomes too extensive for simple ratio systems. Open barter with favorite medium of exchange involves the use of some plentiful bartered commodity as a measure of value for all other commodities.873 Valuable money such as jewelry, coinage, or ingots of rare metals represents the next evolutionary step, but this soon gives way to symbolic money -- bank notes, paper currency, stocks and so on. Ultimately, electronic funds transfer technology or the development of a more generalized sentience may permit the emergence of reciprocal obligation exchange systems in which value as well as specie becomes purely symbolic.188

The sixth dimension of governance is the level of sociopolitical freedom granted the individual. There are at least four distinct societal types. Societies may be libertarian, with full civil, political, economic and communicative liberties for each individual. Egalitarian organizations require not necessarily liberty, but rather only that all group members be treated with absolute equality. Authoritarian governments concentrate policymaking within the leadership; citizens acquiesce out of habit or tradition, and obedience to authority is pervasive and rarely questioned. Totalitarian regimes are radical versions of authoritarianism.2586 They have been described by the late Benito Mussolini, a notorious human practitioner of this form of rule, as "everything for the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state."821

The 6-dimensional "political geometry" described above is able to characterize in broad fashion most known terrestrial societies. Despite its distinctly human flavor, presumably the Taxonomy may be extended to our analysis of extraterrestrial governmental systems consistent with the Hypothesis of Mediocrity. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Taxonomy is that it may be used to imagine new political forms that are extremely rare or have never existed on Earth. By selecting alternatives from each of the several columns, imaginative xenologists can generate literally millions of hypothetical alien governmental entities.

For instance, we might imagine a Type III emergent galactic society ruled by an hereditary oligarchy based on the means of production, with a tight unitary organization and a socialistic system of wealth distribution to the citizenry. We can envision a global republic of machine sentience, totally decentralized and egalitarian. Somewhere else we may find a stellar democratic theocracy engaging in piracy on the high frontier, operating with a loose-knit system of opportunistic alliances. Most feared among galactic governments would be the totalitarian unitary military autocracies; most laggard the republican bureaucratic constitutional confederations; most mysterious the alien pantisocratic agents of communication who trade by silent barter between the stars. Extraterrestrial decentralized monarchies, libertarian communists, and democratic empires are all quite possible.**

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


* Pantisocracy or "organized anarchy" has been characterized as having fluid participation, a variety of inconsistent and ill-defined preferences, and an unclear organizational technology.837 Sociopolitical anarchies have been treated on rare occasion in science fiction. (See LeGuin,2577 Niven,2421 Van Vogt,2977 and Weinbaum.2979)

** Science fiction writers have experimented extensively with diverse political forms, including Anderson’s Polyesotechnic League,2876 Commonality,2885 and gypsy pirates of space2959; Asimov’s interstellar theocracy and galactic empire2944; Heinlein’s Constitutional Tyranny2601; Niven and Pournelle’s Galactic Imperial Aristocracy668; LeGuin’s Ekumen97 and planetary anarchy2577; and Vinge’s Interplanetary Demarchy.2861


Last updated on 30 December 2008