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…