Choice of Rebels: Stormwright (XoR2 WIP)

I remember someone arguing in a book on the English Civil War that England’s political development could be framed in part as owing somewhat to resisting the (in the 17th century) “modern” trend of phasing out such bodies and turning to the innovation of absolutism.


I’ve always been largely against the idea that states were primarily designed to oppress. It doesn’t make very much sense to me that so many people would have decided to join them. It wasn’t all conquest that founded states or acquired their territory. Locker’s theories on why states form make much more sense to me.

Some states are absolutely designed to oppress, see fascism, and some institutions were strictly designed for it even if the state wasn’t. See, fascism and segregation policies respectively (any that have existed throughout history). I just don’t see it as the basis for most states. It’s just a natural consequence of having to give people power to make rules and enforce them.


Did you join the state you were born into? Inertia is a strong thing, and if one’s needs are met they have no reason to balk against the status quo.


Personally I am a fan of the greatest creation of liberalism (the nation-state).


No but people did. Lots of independent settlements existed before the first states, villages and the like. A lot of them did in fact join up willingly.


Less on states and more on the problems the existence of blood magic creates, I just remembered that I think Tolkien did say that if he was basing his story directly on something in the real world (like WW2), then someone would have tried to claim the Ring and made war against Sauron to take his place, Sauron would have been defeated but only replaced and Saruman would have used to the confusion of the conflict to fill in the gaps of his knowledge of Ring-lore and become a rival of the new Ring-lord.

Honestly, I’ll probably have one alternate playthrough like that where the MC is corrupted by the draw of power.

Sauron = Thaumatarch
MC and one of the Nine fills the role of the new usurping ring-lord and Saruman.

I think the potency of magic in the setting is a big problem for creating a liberal order that could resist an illiberal one long enough to become well established. Even with more education, it seems like there’s a big gap between the potential of what most people can achieve and someone like Cerlotta or her former masters.

Blood tax state is going to be at a significant military disadvantage to the Empire or the post Hegemonic Neo-Thaumatarchy faction I would think.


Do you have specific cases of the alternative in mind here? I can’t think of a premodern state offhand that I know to have been founded by consent of the governed rather than an armed elite asserting its right to make the rules. IIRC Locke never gives historical examples; as Britannica says, “The more perceptive social-contract theorists, including Hobbes, invariably recognized that their concepts of the social contract and the state of nature were unhistorical and that they could be justified only as hypotheses useful for the clarification of timeless political problems.”

Giving a relatively small group of landowning and slave-owning military elites a monopoly on that power is hardly the only natural way of coming up with and enforcing social rules…and yet that is, with remarkable regularity, the form of the early states we see cropping up after the production of agricultural surpluses becomes possible. I think there’s a very common (though probably not universal) power pathway here, and it doesn’t look particularly Lockean or consensual to me.

If anarchist anthropology isn’t to your taste – though both James Scott and David Graeber are terrifically readable – you could look to public choice theory. Mancur Olson’s last book talks about the incentives a “roving bandit” has to settle down into a “stationary bandit,” i.e. warlords becoming dukes or kings, and offering their victims some predictability in how they’re plundered by turning raids into a system of tribute. It’s a theoretical framework, no less than Locke’s, but has the advantage that I can think of a dozen actual historical cases it describes.

Even if Locke’s theory didn’t describe the historical origins of a single state, that wouldn’t rob it of value. Living as we do in a world of states, it’s good for us to insist on states that take their legitimacy from the consent of the governed, defend rights and property, make rules based on the common good, and all the other stuff that comes out of the social contract framing. But if we let Locke’s story lull us into thinking any of that is natural, rather than the fruit of a hard-won struggle to liberalize the state, we’ll be more vulnerable to state oppression and to wielding coercion thoughtlessly ourselves.

Difficult but not impossible, I think. Let’s see if I can write that in a way you find plausible. :slight_smile:


That’s true about Hobbes. Leviathan again:

“It may peradventure be thought there was never such a time nor condition of war as this; and I believe it was never generally so…”

Note: war is referring to the “state of nature” which Hobbes famously says is a “war of all against all”

Edit: as an aside a curious thing about Locke is he resembles his admirer Jefferson in singing the praises of liberty and also being involved in slavery


Well yes actually. Most notably The Social War where Italian communities went to war to FORCE Rome to annex them.

Even roaming bandits need a reason for people to listen and not drive them off like other bandits. Sometimes it’s just “I’m the strongest” but sometimes it’s “I do a much better job of keeping the other bandits away than the local militia.”


Are you suggesting that Rome’s Feudatories weren’t states but Rome was? I’m not sure this is the best example of state formation by consent if that’s what it should represent.

I am personally sympathetic to the state of nature motivation for state formation as a theoretical fear all humans have as social animals rather than something that ever actually happened. Even in the informal patronage systems in modern society you can see families or individuals subordinate themselves to the interest of another person of family with more wealth, clout, or formal status. If we we’re more inclined to have such a high opinion of our own ability to secure our property or wealth by ourselves I don’t think those patronage networks would form so readily.

I have to ask @Havenstone where do you suppose that slaving tyrant gets his initial crop of toughs and overseers to get his agricultural extraction snowball rolling?


No, they were. My point is that they chose to join Rome (by force even) rather than be forcibly incorporated. Rome didn’t want to do that.


I agree with you. I think this is a plausible goal for a nation that experienced both extensive repression and partial liberalism in the early modern period. However, I was wondering if you emphasized the benefits of small states and path dependence so much that we would never reach the level of post-Civil War America. I’m glad to know that was a misunderstanding.

However, there are some points where I disagree with you. First, regarding the readability of the country, although Britain had not yet reached the level of imposing an income tax after the Glorious Revolution, its customs and excise ledgers were extremely well-organized compared to other countries at the time. Considering these points, it may be necessary to analyze the readability of objects.

I also disagree with your opinion that the state is a technology suitable for repression. In my opinion, everything from pre-modern client-patron relationships to modern biopower has both liberating and repressive aspects. Some may see this as a positive thing, while others may see it as a more subtle way of controlling. (Incidentally, I am of the opinion that it is a more subtle method of control.)Also, this is particularly applicable to pre-modern states, but there is also the problem that states are inherently unpredictable, so it is difficult to fully formulate them. there is. In any case, if we simply formulate the state as an institution of oppression, we risk overlooking the complex and serious problems of real society.

Also, could you please tell me, if possible, what kind of country was similar to the America post Civil War? It was not possible to get a comprehensive and detailed image from the explanations provided so far. (Of course, if we cannot explain anything beyond what has been explained so far because it is undecided, etc., we will accept it.)


For most of the history of the state, of course, there wasn’t any particular tension there. Liberty wasn’t considered the natural right of all human beings. It was something that different groups and classes possessed to a degree appropriate to their station and history. The political philosophers of early modernity who argued for absolute monarchy pushed defenders of liberty like Locke to start framing their argument in absolute and universal terms, too.

But Locke didn’t so much have a blind spot around slavery as an uneasy dependency on the institutions whose critique was central to his philosophy, monarchy and slavery both. The more interesting and tragic blind spot in his liberalism is I think his justification for colonial settlement and dispossession of any people group whose conception of property differed from the odd, extreme European one grounded in Roman law (which was itself acutely shaped by slavery as a paradigm).

Imagining the Social War as non-oppressive, Lockean, consent-of-the-governed state formation (or in this case, state expansion) overlooks a couple of key things. At the start of the war, Rome was already in a coercive, exploitative relationship with the Socii; they already had been incorporated by force or threat of force into Rome’s budding imperial system (what Bret Devereaux amusingly calls the Goku model of imperialism: “I beat you, therefore we are now friends”). The Socii kept autonomy to set their own laws, but they were subject to large-scale forced conscription whenever Rome demanded it, to the point that half or more of “Rome’s” continually fighting armies were Socii (fed but not paid by Rome, other than taking part in the spoils of successful conquest).

While this deal certainly could have been a (much!) worse one, it still excluded the Socii from any role in decision-making on the wars that they were dying in. And their political exclusion also increasingly excluded them from the sustainable profits of the expanding empire (taxes rather than spoils). The Socii had never consented to those terms, and tried with increasing vehemence to renegotiate them, against a military hegemon that had no interest in granting them more rights. As Devereaux describes the start of the war: “The socii finally got fed up and decided to demand with force what decades of politics had denied them. It should be stressed that the motivations behind the resulting conflict, the Social War (91-87), were complex; some Italians revolted for citizenship, some to get rid of the Romans entirely.”

I’d just recommend reading that whole blog post and judging whether the process of Roman state formation and expansion is better described by Locke’s or Mancur Olson’s theoretical framework. (To tip my hand, the post quotes a Roman historian who describes the Rome-Socii relationship as analogous to “a criminal operation which compensates its victims by enrolling them in the gang and inviting them to share the proceeds of future robberies.”)

Devereaux himself tends to describe it as hegemony/dominance behind the polite mask of an alliance system. The polite mask was essential (when it faltered, Rome had to fight its Socii), but the underlying relationship wasn’t a consensual social contract for the benefit of the governed. It was a foundationally coercive element of Rome’s single-minded focus on increasing its military power, turning Rome into one of the most effective and also one of the most oppressive states of the premodern era.

Rome’s oppressiveness isn’t the whole story, and nor is it for state power in general – if it were, I would be an anarchist rather than a state meliorist. The most successful stationary bandits take steps to make their dominance tolerable and the populations they prey on prosperous enough to sustain increasing demands for taxes, conscripts, and corvee labor. Rome would have been a much less effective coercive power if it had been as oppressive to its Socii as it was to its provincial subject populations. When forced, it expanded its citizenship bounds (the alternative would have been trading dreams of Mediterranean conquest for dominance of Italy alone).

And it’s often the case that considering all options, it’s better to fight to change the state and try to get it working a bit more in our favor, as the Socii did, rather than trying to free ourselves from it. (Not all of us have a convenient wild highland or steppe to flee into.) But again, all of that feels to me like it fits the anarchist description of state formation better than the Lockean one.

Warband formation is a lot easier than state formation. You can get there by a lot of means – individual charisma and the promise of loot, not just the Hobbesian fear of other warbands. And however you get there, there’s an often-traveled line from itinerant raiding and protection rackets to a sedentary slavery-based demesne (or sometimes just tribute-based, depending on the labor intensivity of agriculture for a given local staple).

I’m so sorry, @11110 – my overlong sentences have obscured my meaning. There is no way in the MC’s natural lifetime to reach the development levels of the 19th century USA. The Hegemony is in the 16th-17th century sociopolitically, and a version of that period without the “partial liberalism” and experience with proto-democratic institutions that our world’s democratic pioneers benefited from. It’s just not plausible to me that you can get from there to a consolidated modern democracy in a generation or two.

There’s a huge state capacity leap between the ability to handle customs and excise well – mobilizing a small bureaucracy focused on a limited number of known extraction points – and the ability to handle a poll tax or income tax well, requiring information and enforcement mechanisms that reach most of the population. The area where I’ve been saying the Hegemony will struggle is an individual blood tax, not customs and excise.

I would agree that any instrument of power can be used for good ends as well as oppressive and unjust ones; you can have benevolent dictators. Some institutions lend themselves more easily to oppressive or exploitative use than others – often because they were initially developed by people using them for that purpose. My contention is that most of the institutions we cluster under the name of “the state,” like the attempted monopoly on violence, bureaucracies to number and measure the population, and a self-justifying ideological apparatus, are institutions of that sort. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be turned to good and even liberating ends – but we shouldn’t be surprised when the attempts to use them that way often fail in deeply oppressive ways.


I didn’t say non-oppressive. I was specifically referring to whether the people were forced into joining the state itself.


They had been forced to provide mass conscript labor, and much of their land had been confiscated for Roman farms and colony settlements. They were an indispensable part of Rome’s state power apparatus, and had become so by conquest or threat of conquest. You’re right that Rome would have been happy to stop there, without granting them citizenship rights. But none of that looks particularly voluntary or Lockean to me. The best that can be said of it is that Rome didn’t take as brutal an approach to that “effort to join the state itself” as they did with Spartacus.

It is however a pretty good historical analogy for what I take your gameworld federation ambitions to be – conquer your neighbors but immediately declare them friends, give them a decent share in the benefits of the empire, allow them autonomy within a few hard limits, and trust that if they get stroppy in future, you’ll be able to accommodate them by granting a slightly better deal within the federation, rather than outright independence. Rome shows how a strategy like that can be massively rewarding.


I think I’ve said this before, but I think this discounts the importance of the mechanics of warband formation (i.e. a body of loyal soldiers is step one to state formation). The security bargain isn’t struck with the masses of enslaved labor. It is struck with the soldiers that will comprise the elite. The terms of that agreement and how it shift over time constrain what is possible in any larger organization that comes after, but at the foundation of any of these bargains is security. Otherwise they would always rip themselves apart with the power differential shifts instead of just most of the time. The most enduring warbands find a means to diffuse the power, while maintain the warband. I feel like you acknowledge this through the significance placed on early choices in XoR with our own proto-state/warband.


My question is precisely when you say you haven’t experienced liberalism, aren’t you contradicting what you present as the political reality of empire?

You recognize in the empire the system of local councils, the presence of the bourgeoisie, the cooperation and tensions of the various classes. (Of course, the central government of the empire is trying to suppress such liberalism, and there is no doubt that this experience is quite limited.)

Of course, path dependence should not be completely ignored, and there are few examples of repressive regimes switching all at once. However, I think that this is not the case, so I would like to give a historical example.

I would like to mention the Meiji Restoration and the French Revolution. Although there were many twists and turns, the transition from a 16th century feudal repressive system to a 19th century constitutional government was achieved relatively quickly. (Of course, the Empire is even more oppressive than these countries and has fewer role models. To solve these problems, combine the experience of democracy such as Abhuman with the Empire’s state system.I think it depends on whether we can successfully create a representative system.)

On the other hand, there is often a transition from an open system to a repressive system, and if we are not careful enough, we can easily fall into that path. I think these things also show that changes in political systems are influenced not only by path dependence but also by decision-making and historical contingency.

Also, the word liberation may have caused some misunderstanding, but what I meant was not a so-called benevolent dictator.

Rather, we are talking about normal states, and the reason they do not repress is simply because they are inefficient as a means of control.

Would you understand if I told you that my thoughts are influenced by world systems theory and biopower theory, just as your thoughts are influenced by Marxism?


That’s an important point, though I think still broadly more consistent with the anarchist picture of state formation than the Lockean one. The consent of the governed is quite different from the consent of the ruling class; the social contract is supposed to be broader than just an intra-elite stitch-up. Whatever may keep the warband together, the villages it raids and the slaves it sets to farming didn’t in any meaningful sense consent to the arrangement. From their perspective, their local state may well be more of a security threat than life outside its “protection”; plenty of early states built their walls to keep the slaves in as much as to keep the barbarians out.

With that said, the terms of the elite bargains are unquestionably important for how oppressive those states are. Athens was far less oppressive than Sparta; if we just condemned both as a landowning military elite ruling over a disenfranchised/enslaved majority, we’d miss both the positive fruits of Athenian institutions and the sheer awfulness of Sparta’s. Rome’s approach to citizenship was both less oppressive than the average Greek city-state approach and more helpful in running a massive empire – which points to the fact that even if we accepted that oppressiveness is a feature of all or nearly all early states, it doesn’t at all follow that the most oppressive states would be the most successful.

I’m still not convinced that security is the primary foundation of early states’ ruling class bargains… I think there’s a wider range of things that can hold them together, not just fear of the neighbors. But you’ve got plenty of company, contemporary as well as classical, in proposing that security is the big one. (Including, I think, the blogger-professor I’ve been linking to with such abandon in the last couple of days.)

Fair question! But I don’t think the existence of a empire-wide merchants’ guild gets us all that close to political liberalism or democracy – plenty of empires have had extensive commercial networks and growing urban populations without thereby spawning a “bourgeois” class that pushed for broad-based political representation.

The bourgeois revolutions that started around the 17th century in Europe were made possible by a much longer period in which urban and mercantile liberties and autonomy had been expanding thanks to the fragmentation of political authority and the growth of trade. The merchants of the Karagond Hegemony are in a position closer to what I understand was the case with the merchant classes of Ming China: prosperous, powerful, and active, presiding over a growing commercial sector, but without a history of standing outside the power of the state or building up civic associations as a way of asserting power against the state.

Though I may not be conveying it well (or at all!) in this conversation, you and I actually share a suspicion of any claim that history always plays out one way, with a single natural course of development that can be recognized in any cultural context – e.g. the classic Marxian idea of the primitive-slave-feudal-capitalist-socialist stages of economic development, or the neoliberal/Whig idea that human history naturally progresses toward free markets and democracy, driven by the universal human desire for freedom and profit. I don’t buy any of that. I believe in contingency; I believe that the deep diversity of human goals and desires plays out in radically different ways in different places and times. I loved Graeber and Wengrow’s book most for the exhilarating suggestion that human governance institutions can be wildly different from the narrow range of options we perceive today, that we’re not necessarily locked into tinkering with states and markets as the solution to our problems.

At the same time, I don’t want to altogether reject the idea of transcultural historical patterns – that there are some ways certain practices and institutions tend to lead, regardless of where they crop up. Dictators given unchecked power tend not to be benevolent. Normal states tend to oppress, unless great effort is put into building counter-oppressive institutions into them. We agree on the former but not the latter; fair enough.

When I look at how to apply cases like early modern Europe and Ming-era China to the gameworld, my dislike of excessively prescriptive historical schemes can cut both ways. I don’t want to say that the Ming merchant classes couldn’t possibly have asserted themselves against the state – that’s too path-dependent on one side. On the other hand, I don’t want to say that just because my gameworld’s oppressive empire has a substantial merchant class, it’s therefore well on its way to democracy; not every bourgeoisie takes the path toward liberalism and capitalism, as we know from our world, including the Ming and Qing.

Most importantly, I think you and I are writing from different perspectives on how much difference “fewer role models” makes – although I would describe it even more starkly than that, as “fewer technologies of control/liberation have been discovered/invented at this point.” The Meiji modernization (sociopolitical as well as technological) couldn’t have happened in the 16th century for the same fundamental reason that Rome couldn’t have had an industrial revolution – there were a bunch of inventions that needed to happen first. The fact that they were inventions of institutions and concepts rather than physical technologies of production doesn’t make it any easier for a society to conjure them up at will.

I think a biopower perspective could be helpful here. One of the many things a novice like me can find odd when first running into Foucault’s work is the way he talks about ideas, worldviews, and cultural practices as technologies–technologies of self-shaping, body-shaping, making certain institutions and practices possible in the modern era that would have been impossible in earlier eras. He’d I think be the first to raise a skeptical eyebrow if you tried to write a medieval kingdom that had modern biopolitics, and would want to know the genealogy that had made such an oddity possible.

Well, I’d start by confessing to mild surprise, since you seem a lot more optimistic about the liberating potential of democratic institutions than literally anyone else I’ve run into who’s coming out of either of those paradigms. :slight_smile: Are there writers/thinkers you’d recommend within those traditions who really grapple with what it means to wield state power in liberating ways, when set against the backdrop of challenges as formidable as global core-periphery exploitation, or centuries of our minds being taken over by technologies aimed at the control of bodies?


Yeah that about sums it up.


Honestly, I feel like an idiot when following this chat.

With you all discussing culture and society and history and economy and how all these factors combine to form the modern world, and to how said factors would work on the game world… I’m both amazed at your discussions, interested by the points propossed and talked between you all, and ashamed that I can’t meaningfully contribute to them.

Well… perhaps I can.

When talking about the fall of the Hegemony and the formation of several factions afterwards, I can’t help but to think of Latin America’s Independence Wars. More specifically, the case of my country, Argentina.

With the growing discontent and oppression of Spain’s rule in the colonies, many took advantage of Napoleon’s conquests to claim freedom and sovereignty over themselves, even fighting in neighboring territories if it meant freeing them from royalist control (while also getting rid of a possible spanish retaliation). Those first decades of the 19th century were chaos in many ways.

What is today my country faced decades and decades of many territories, groups and classes fighting each other over how to organize themselves, over which lands and under which rule. If you could call it a Civil War, it lasted at least 30 years, and its causes kept making trouble for a few decades more.

Breaking the old colonial rule and establishing new states marked the 19th century for us.