The Personal and the Political

In the comments of my post on Tales of the First Imperial Navy, Tim Newman suggested that you could have wealthy supporters purchase warships for the government during the Long Night period…

(but – and note that I am arguing from silence here, so I could well be wrong – not during the three Imperia),

…while Andrew K pointed out “Crassus said a man is not rich unless he can pay to raise and maintain his own legions.”

Wealthy corporations can buy warships in Traveller, from Tukera Line’s commerce protectors to Oberlindes’ purchase of a surplus Imperial Navy cruiser.”The Vargr Extents can be a little rough for human traders. Best be prepared.”

But on the whole, the Unified Imperium1 party has both Traveller Canon and our current reality on his side. Most Nobles have their money tied up in business and assorted political commitments, not naval warships. The Canon Third Imperium government is not truly feudal, with every local lord swearing fealty only to the lord above him, and only the very top lords directly swearing loyalty to the Emperor: instead, in Canon the Imperial Throne is the central focus of loyalty across the Imperial military, nobility, and bureaucracy.

(In the Imperial military world, only the Household Calvary swears direct loyalty to the Emperor as a Man, and not to the Office.)

Whenever possible, governments really, really want a monopoly of violence within their borders. Having private individuals and organizations with the capacity of raising serious military might, loyal only to themselves, is something Western governments are were2 willing to dedicate intense levels of wealth, power, and authority to eliminate: preferably quietly and peaceably without too many public waves, but if necessary with extraordinary levels of violence, every Big Lie they could dream of, and ferocious amounts of vindictive persecution.

(Even in a heavily centralized Imperium, small-unit mercenaries and starmecs could be permitted, so long as the mercenaries stayed low-tech (below TL 14, say), and the starmercs were not permitted to have warships larger than 5000 tons. Such forces are simply too weak to challenge the regular Imperial military, and can be tolerated fairly well, especially if their leadership were all retired, loyalist Imperial officers.)

And finally, on the Unified Imperium side of the balance, the Vilani do like their government bureaucracies nice and centralized, and dislike unpredictable elements running around, disrupting and changing everything.

All that being said, I am simply more entertained by powerful, wealthy noble houses making waves and making things unpredictable. For good or for ill, wealthy men and powerful families are far more interesting, dangerous, glorious, courageous, insane, failure-prone, honourable, and fascinating than than the grey predictable colourless bureaucrats, always careful to avoid all risk, always decide everything in committee, and do exactly what the rules require – no more, no less.

And I have no problem beefing up the wealth of the business tycoons, to make good storytelling happen.

To understand where I’m coming from, you have to recall that Andrew Carnegie in the early 1900s had enough wealth to run the entire government of the United States from his own private funds for a solid year, while Bill Gates’s $70+ billion could keep the US government running for about 8.3 days.

To repeat what I said at the beginning of this post: Andrew K pointed out that “Crassus said a man is not rich unless he can pay to raise and maintain his own legions.”

And, at least in the Imperium of my mind’s eye, there are quite a number of truly wealthy men within the Imperium. Naturally, they are all Friends of the Emperor.

And if they aren’t… well, in the Byzantine Empire, and many, many other governments — it’s remarkably easy for the Emperor to stir up enmity of a disliked and wealthy enemy which the Emperor then crushes…

and gives 10% of the stolen wealth to The People
(with huge media coverage);

and The Church
(depending on the culture: the Canon Imperium is decidedly secular, so this money will instead go to Patronage of the Arts or the Sciences, as per Traveller20);

and 90% kept in his own hands
(an act which is mysteriously passed over in media silence).

Note that there is no Traveller equivalent of the Jewish banks of the Middle Ages, nor of any other wealthy-but-loathed minority.

(The bureaucratic Bwap could have played this role, and they sort-of do in the Imperial Empty Quarter, where their homeworld is: but in most of Imperial Space, they are just the bureaucratic cogs of whoever happens to be in power.)

Then again, in Traveller, there is only one megacorporate Imperial Bank – Hortalez et Cie – and one megacorporate insurance agency – Zirunkariish. Most Imperial wealth is industrial wealth, with financial organizations mainly used as a supplement of the corporations. “Think Tokyo, not New York or London.”

I think that the very strongest indication in Canon that some people really could raise their own military establishments was the fact that armed nobles really could come in the Presence of the Emperor, in the style of Archduke Dulinor. In part, this is a symbol of the extraordinary level of trust the Emperor had in the Senior Nobility. In part, this shows that the High Nobility is a unified unit: for a Senior Noble to kill his Emperor was no different than to destroy his own powerbase, and to effectively kill himself.

Archduke Dulinor begged to differ.

He was wrong.

But — and, believe it or not, I do realize that Traveller is a work of fiction — it’s regrettable that ten trillion people died for his error, not even counting Virus.

I guess that’s the problem, if – like Julius Caesar – you want to be a lion leading lions, rather than cowed sheep. Julius Caesar though he could pull it off, and he died for his mistake. Augustus Caesar decided to do things differently – keeping the appearance of First Among Equals, and actually being the unquestioned Master of Rome – and died at a time and place of his own choosing.

(Interesting, Augustus committed suicide: not because of disgrace, but because he had already laid down extensive preparations for Tiberius to succeed him. Emperor Augustus was sick, but he was making an unexpected recovery, which would have ruined his plans of succession.

Augustus was not the kind of man who would let anything get in the way of his plans.)

1I mean “a unified, centralized Imperium”, not the Canon “One Imperium” Party, an irredentist concern that wants to reconquer both the Julian Protectorate and the Solomani Confederation. “Every world and every star that used to be Imperial, should be restored to the Imperium.”
2The rise of genuine no-go zones in Europe – ‘where even the firemen don’t go’ – , coupled with the elite assumption that “people should just get used to occasional acts of Islamic immigrant youthful sporadic violence” shows that the era of a government monopoly of violence is coming to an end. Interesting times await us…

About Alvin Plummer

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8 Responses to The Personal and the Political

  1. Bill Cameron says:

    Great column as usual. Sundry comments follow:

    Nobles raising their own military establishments – That’s not only plausible but, given comm lag, necessary. Whether nobles can raise military establishments to Imperium-defying levels is another question. As you also note, nobles are rich but not cash rich. They’re non-liquid asset rich instead. Finally, just what a given noble can get away with will depend on custom, precedent, and his relationship with the nobles below, around, and above him. There will not be the one size fits all formula so beloved by the Spreadsheetists; i.e. all barons’ in all places at all times can have X, all marquis’ in all places at all times can have Y, etc.

    Megacorps – I see Hortalez et Cie as primarily a bank for banks and Zirunkariish as primarily an insurance company for insurance companies. You’re not going to make your grav flitter payment directly to Hortalez anymore than you’ll be carrying a Hortalez bank card. You’re not going to be purchasing flitter insurance directly from Zirunkariish either. This is why the Rebellion damaged the Imperial economy so badly. It wasn’t physical losses as much as the loss of an Imperium-wide risk pool which had so easily smoothed out hard times in one region with the prosperity in other regions.

    Corps and warships – Wealthy corporations not only buy warships from the Imperium, they build warships for the Imperium. If they want to, they could have a Plankwell, Tigress, or Atlantic as soon as they cut the checks, submit the order, and wait for their shipyards to complete the job.

    Augustus – While I discount the gossip of Suetonius and the sensationalism of Graves, I am very inclined to believe Tacitus. When writing his “Annals”, he had access to sources long lost to us including the Senate’s own records. Augustus had succession plans, several over the course of a reign which lasted too long. He switched between many plans when circumstances – usually the death of the candidate – warranted it and was in the process of switching again with the succession going to his exiled grandson Agrippa Postumus. That plan interfered with two other plans, namely Livia’s and Tiberius’, so Augustus had to go. Whether Agrippa would have proved a viable candidate or effectual emperor is a moot point. Tiberius’ long success both civilly and militarily certainly gave him the best credentials. Despite that, Augustus not only avoided naming Tiberius as his successor for decades, in his last months he was actively casting about for any other candidate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A solid set of comments, sir!

      Concurrence on building a military that can defy the Imperium: that would take a LOT of money, and it’s impossible to hide that kind of build-up. And even if you somehow get together the trillions of credits needed to set up a single decent battle squadron: that just isn’t enough to challenge the Imperial Navy beyond, say, a single subsector in scale.

      I can see your point with Zirunkariish – it’s a good way to look at the (interstellar) Imperial insurance business. Somebody has to handle reinsurance, and it has to be mighty enough to deal with some truly huge disasters!

      Corps and warships: that’s simple Canon as you correctly note. A private organization really can just outright buy a surplus 60,000-ton warship – a bit out of date, yes (TL 14 for the Azhanti High Lightning), but still that’s a LOT of firepower!

      And I admit that you are quite correct with Augustus, which I called up on (via Wikipedia) for info. Augustus was a pretty long-lived emperor – good for Rome, but a bit annoying when your appointed successors kept on dying on you!

      An interesting thought-experiment: supposing that Queen Elizabeth II was a real-deal absolute monarch: would she really pass the crown to her elderly son?

      I admit that my distaste for the Saudi crown (…or Saudi anything, other than oil…) precludes me from carefully observing them,

      (“So, why did you decide to develop a sector called The Empty Quarter?” “It’s a long story…”)

      but their own shifts in court power and heir apparents could be inspirational for the Traveller Ref who can make the major cultural transitions!


  2. Bill Cameron says:

    Sundry comments on comments follow:

    Big Fleets – It all comes down to money, you wisely note. The Duke of Earl may have all the shipyards and other industrial might he needs, but how is he going to pay for it all? And all the associated costs like manpower, maintenance, fungibles, etc? Dulinor didn’t build his first set of fleets, he suborned them instead. The need to keeping aristos “asset rich & cash poor” is one reason I see lot of titles coming with very definite sinecures and monopolies. Activities and businesses the Imperium want to keep going but that also don’t pay that well. No one wants another Crassus.

    Reinsurance and “re”banking – While I see the megacorps and the not-quite-megacorps acting as their own banks and insurers, simple economics and sensible accounting requires they lay off some of that “action”. Enter Hortalez et Cie and Zirunkariish.

    Oberlindes – Have you ever mulled over the chance that the AHL sale the old Baron finagled was really an inside job? Norris or some other friendly bigwig arranged it, turned their backs for the necessary time while whistling, turned around, and then expressed the appropriate shock. “It’s done deal and, besides, it’s not based in the Imperium. Also, I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to find out that gambling is going on in these premises!”

    QE2 – If, as an absolute monarch, she did skip over Chuck who is the better candidate? William is in his mid-20s, IIRC, and basically handles nothing but the daily PR schtick Fleet Street wants. Chuck’s bothers and sister? Have they accomplished anything? It’s Chuck, despite the fact his reign will be short, and the problem of who’s next will be in his hands. Quite frankly, I think the next British monarch is the last British monarch.

    The House of Saud (ptui) – I’ve kept an occasional eye on the Tea Towels ever since working in the Gulf. Top to bottom, they’re are as nasty a bunch of filth who ever needed a couple cans of Instant Sunshine. I do know a few things about the keys to their little despotism are passed long. For decades succession went from brother to brother, something that isn’t too hard when you can have dozens of wives and hundreds of children across all ages. They eventually ran out of children from Ibn Saud however.

    The current king, Salman, was the last plausible candidate fathered by the old monster. There are others but they’ve been sidelined for various problems up to and including murder. Salman initially appointed a *nephew* crown prince, perhaps trying to salvage what he could of the brother-to-brother ideal. This year however, the nephew got canned – lost ALL his jobs – and one of Salman’s sons became crown prince. Will that stick? Who knows? In my experience, every other Tea Towel there is a prince or something.


  3. Timothy Newman says:

    Actually, Dulinor had his brother as Sector Admiral, and it turned out that family ties were more important than loyalty to a distant Emperor. Which is one of the fault lines in the Third Imperium, inherent to the way it worked, that noble families can quite easily combine political, military and economic power in one place. The ‘Over-Mighty Subject’ is a feature of feudalism and it isn’t unusual for that to include relatives with their own power base. It only needs one exceptionally ambitious family member who the others are willing to support over an authority they don’t accept to start something like a Civil War. It’s even possible that some of the ‘Admirals of the Flag’ from the first Imperial civil war were less personally ambitious and more doing something because a close relative who was a subsector/sector Duke or Count or a megacorporate executive wanted them to. Clearing out remnants of the Old Regime isn’t an infrequent promise of usurpers, and that could quite easily provoke people into action out of fear.


  4. Mike Darke says:

    I’m curious to know where these no-go corners of Europe are, where no authority goes.


    • A good question!

      First comes the definition of “what is a no-go area”:

        Is it just an area of high crime? (No-go for civilians, but not police, EMT, military)
        A lawless place? (Nobody but military)
        Seriously no-go? (Not even military… unless they are willing to face rocket launchers and heavy machine-gun fire?)

      Also: because of the political controversy, some people deny that there are no-go areas, and some people insist that there are hundreds across Western Europe.

      Right now (2017), the maximal number of no-go areas is around 900, as per the Hungarian website at (An overview in English is at : most reports don’t actually give us the link with the info, which is in Hungarian)

      Naturally, governments insist that there are no such thing: Bloomberg gives their side of the story at

      Personally, I believe that there are nummerous ‘no-go’ areas, LOOSELY defined. Places where outsiders don’t feel comfortable (London’s Sharia Zones, for example) but the police and firemen are allowed to operate, say. There are the french “sensitive urban areas” (French: Zone urbaine sensible, ZUS)” discussed by police unions at where the police don’t go, but the army can.

      So, to summarize my thinking:
      * There are different levels of no-go zones in Europe, from where outsiders don’t feel comfortable (but the police and firemen can freely enter and exit) to areas where the police don’t go.
      * I have heard of no reports of urban areas where the MILITARY can’t go… yet.
      * I am uncertain of exactly how many true (ie: no policemen or firemen) no-go zones there are in Europe. Conservatives have a tendency to exaggerate their number, liberals to reduce their number
      * But of their actual existence, their is no real doubt. A particular number (10? 50? 100?) of true, real-deal, no police or EMT no-go zones actually do exist in Western Europe.


  5. Mike Darke says:

    I find it hard to avoid the conclusion you’re defining things to be the way you want them to be, and then saying “Look! Look!”.


    • Hi Mike,

      If you are referring to my initial post… you could well be right!
      But I will be happy to admit that two eyes are better than one…

      If you are interested, post what YOU think things should/are be… or a link to an off-site resource, if you want.

      A good story/setting — coherent, fun to roleplay in, and with room to grow and change — is a great thing to have, no matter the author!


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