Politics for Worldbuilders

This is a work in progress. I will be using this page to collect and organize my various posts on politics, and to help figure out the structure of the eventual how-to book for authors that I mean to write. Feedback and commentary is most appreciated! (Sign up here if you want to know when the book is finished.)


Conflict in Politics and Fiction



Before the State: Egalitarian Bands

Wealth, Power, and Social Orders

Keeping Power

Who Rules? Part One—The Palace

Who Rules? Part Two—The Nobility [Note parallel with warlords, East India Trading Co, etc.]

Who Rules? Part Three—The Forum

Who Rules? Part Four—The Clergy


The Restraints and Imperatives of Rule

Legibility and Power

Geography, Travel, and Power Projection

Warlords and Frontiers

Tax Farming [Note: draw parallel with East India Trading Co.]

Control, Capital, and Political Bargains

Power and Legitimacy

What’s the Point of English Aristocrats, You Ask?

The Social Effects of Weapon Technology (and How to Use in Writing)

How Not to be Overthrown by Your Army


Social Conflict

Class Conflict, Part One [To do: expand discussion? How far?]

When Do Societies Face Unrest? [To do: another post discussing value of manpower, population density, Herbst. Figure out where to bring in Herbst/Scott.]

The Talents of Others (on economic competition, envy, and social legitimacy) [Probably too niche for the guide, unless I can fit it in a paragraph or so]

Identity, Boundaries, and Conflict

[To do: discussion of trust and social capital, and the salience of threat, and how it affects the way regimes play out]


War and Rebellion

Rebellion, Part One

Rebellion, Part Two

On Revolutions in (Some) Fantasy Fiction

[To do: the point about outside threat leading to either stronger states, or total collapse]



The Power of Guiding Metaphors

Why Must Fantasy Always be Set in Huge Worlds?

Coordinated versus Liberal Market Economies [Note to self: maybe too niche for the guide?]

Bills of Exchange, Banking, and the Little Things [Note to self: probably too niche]


Fiction Case Studies

Creating Story Conflicts with Politics [Mixed colonial and stateless setting]


Further Reading

James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed (Amazon here) or else Against the Grain

Margaret Levi, Of Rule and Revenue: A good companion to Scott’s emphasis on “legibility,” Levi focuses specifically on the machinery of taxation and how it dramatically affects the power and legitimacy of a regime.

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: A discussion of the “High Modernist” plans of central governments, seeking standardization and legibility no matter what they break in the process.

Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization. Major ideas of which are summarized in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, which is much shorter and also free; but Mumford is worth reading in the original as well.

P.W. Singer, Children at War

Leites and Wolf, Rebellion and Authority (a study of insurgencies)

Bueno de Mesquita and Smith, The Dictator’s Handbook

Jane Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations. A brilliant study of how economies actually work, and how states’ economic policies often harm their own ability to generate prosperity. Written in the 1980s but still very much applicable.

Michael Taylor, Community, Anarchy & Liberty. Examining how egalitarian societies function and maintain their egalitarianism, and looking at the spectrum of groups from egalitarian to semi-egalitarian to the emergence of hierarchy. Not the last word, but a good overview.

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations. Begins with a quick overview of his Nobel-Prize-winning theory of collective-action problems, then examines the implications for societies: over time, accumulating interest groups and corruption will lead societies to collapse under the weight of their own elites.

Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars. While there is some dispute as to how “new” such wars actually are, Kaldor provides a descriptive look at wars such as in Bosnia where the most important objective was not military victory, but forcing a civilian populace into an ethnic identity that forces them to follow a specific set of political elites.

23 thoughts on “Politics for Worldbuilders

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