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


21.2.3  Size

The size of a governmental system is defined as the number of relevant sociopolitical units that comprise it. This is essentially a measure of population in any organization. Note that size does not refer to physical or geographical distribution (which is closer to the concept of "dispersion" discussed in the previous section).

What is the effect of size on extraterrestrial government? Size has been recognized as a critical factor since ancient times -- the State described in Plato’s Laws was always to have 5040 citizens (7 factorial), a population which the Greek philosopher supposed to be the maximum number of people that any one person could ever know on an individual basis. This suggestion, while of questionable validity, embodies a basic truth: As the population of sociopolitical units increases arithmetically, the number of possible interactions between them necessarily increases exponentially. Communication and control thus become more difficult with increasing size.1867

If size increases and unit dispersion is held constant, cultural scale tends to rise because more energy and additional living space are required to support a larger population. Perhaps more important is the effect of size on leadership. Organizational theorists long have recognized that increasing the number of interactive units normally causes the fraction of rulers to decrease.851 According to Mosca’s Rule: "The larger the political community the smaller will be the proportion of the governing minority to the governed majority."2960 Or, framed in another way by Bruce H. Mayhew of Temple University in Pennsylvania: "The relative size of a ruling elite is a decreasing function of the size of the system it governs."851 Formal research studies in recent times have confirmed that the fraction of supervisory personnel decreases as organizational population rises.835

The effects of size have not gone unnoticed by political scientists. Perhaps the best-known of the published formulations is Roberto Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy.828 According to Michels, growing political systems invariably tend toward more oligarchic forms of government. He cites a variety of reasons for this observed phenomenon. First, the sheer number of organizational members rules out direct participation by everyone in the political decision making process. (In smaller aggregations all individuals may be politically involved; in larger systems, many cannot.) Second, larger organizations are more complex because there are so many more interactions possible between units. The division of labor increases and individual roles become more specialized, so problems become more and more incomprehensible to all but specialists -- and "expert" power emerges. Third, since information and control can be better wielded at the top by a few rather than by many, the position of leadership becomes more impregnable and elitist. Finally, leaders acquire over time a working knowledge of the organization and the particular ways it works. Merely by exercising his leadership functions a top official eventually makes himself almost irreplaceable to the organization.

Size also has a significant effect upon political centralization. Among relatively small populations, all modes from unitary to total decentralization ought to be possible. But as size increases, despite the shrinking percentage of the ruling elite, the absolute number of rulers continues to grow (though at a decreasing rate). More leaders means more possible interactions among them, which implies more chance for conflict and a greater likelihood that leadership units will be working to cross-purposes. Organizational unity will be strained and will tend to break down into less centralized forms. As size becomes huge, leadership most likely will fragment into smaller and smaller entities -- first federation, then confederation, and finally all the way to total decentralization at maximum size.2885,827

All economies from communism to laissez faire probably are possible at low population levels. As the number of units increases, interactions rise exponentially and methodical, deterministic economic planning becomes more difficult.974 At some point, increasing size produces a system so complex that it cannot adequately be planned because there are too many possibilities and too much data.829,2961 (The effects of data overload are well-known to systems theorists.3071) As population becomes vast, the market must be left to tend to itself. Laissez faire probably is the only realistic option in such circumstances.2885 Rising complexity also sets limits on mode of exchange. Silent barter is fine among small populations which exchange relatively few goods. But some uniform system of symbolic valuation or reciprocal obligation will probably be necessary when astronomical quantities of commodities change hands among vast populations of sociopolitical units.

And assuming unit dispersion is held constant, libertarianism is more likely in political systems of enormous size. This is due to the relative difficulties of control, dissemination of ideology, and communication in very large organizations, all else being equal. The result is somewhat analogous to the effects of increasing unit dispersion -- increasing size while maintaining constant dispersion among units (constant population density) is equivalent to increasing systemic dispersion, which, much like increasing unit dispersion, should favor libertarianism. This seems true even among nonhuman animal communities on Earth. According to sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, "the more complex the society, the more likely it is to be egalitarian."565 On the other hand, as systems become smaller in size it becomes easier to impose authoritarian or totalitarian governments.

By way of summary, an increase in size of a political system should cause an increase in cultural scale, more oligarchic modes of leadership,2978 decreasing organizational centralization, a trend towards a laissez faire economy and a symbolic exchange system, and a more libertarian form of governance.


Last updated on 6 December 2008