An Examination of Extra-Universal Systems of Government

Has anyone given Panarchy a try yet? I could do something with it, if you want to.
I'm reminded of the Panarchy from the Viceroy game, basically sci-fi government and policy management game. There the Panarchy is a weird system where all forms of governments exist at the same time but only in areas of their interests, so you got a monarchy and aristocracy that's focused on judging, a oligarchic republic focused on trade and the market, etc.
 
After doing some research about the Chinese Cultural Rebellion, I've started wondering what would happen if Mao's Red Guards managed to take control of the country and turned it into something out of "Lord of the Flies". If I remember correctly, there haven't been any entries about a juvenocracy in this thread and the idea of a nation led by the youth is a really fascinating topic. The Party is led by people between the ages of fifteen to thirty, where they serve as the nominal heads of state and are given massive amounts of power. However, the government would be controlled by a bureaucracy of retired party members who hold the real power over the country.
 
Posted with permission from Ephraim Ben Raphael
Dominion of the Later Song

As I sit by the window of the tea house where I am meeting my contact, I am struck by the crowds and the sheer number and diversity of people who walk by. Hangzhou is the largest city of this world, boasting nearly forty million people within it's metropolitan area, and to my eyes is as prosperous as any New York, London or any other centre the world revolves around.

"As virtue radiates from the Emperor outwards, so does virtue radiate from Hangzhou to China, and from China to all the world," my contact, Imperial Scholar (or jinshi) Wang Xinya explains to me. The insignia square sown on his robes denotes him as a Scholar-Bureaucrat of the Third Rank - he is an Under-Minister within the Ministry of Culture and Literature, leading the Bureau for Extra-Universal Communications. "China is the Father and Elder Brother of the world's nations. All other nations of the world pay tribute to the Emperor, barring a handful of barbarian states such as the Populists in Northern Rome. The reason is, of course, the rule of the enlightened civil service."

Jinshi Wang began studying for his examinations at the age of six. His father, also a Scholar-Bureaucrat, went to great lengths to secure an first class education for his son. As the only male child among three sisters, the burden on Wang's shoulders was high - he held the hopes of his entire family. Large sums of money were spent on his education, by the time he sat his national exams at 24 he could recite the Four Books and Five Classics from heart, alongside a bevy of other texts the civil service exams considered important. Far from the earlier iterations of the exam, the civil service exams that candidates must sit includes poetry, Chinese history, logic and writing - at various degrees of proficiency.

Almost all educated careers require passing various examinations in this world's China. The most notorious of these are the civil service examinations that are required for entry into the Imperial civil service - bureaucrats and mandarins of every level are selected for their appointments after passing the civil service examination, and the first appointments offered to to those who top the exams (which range between being held annually for the provincial degrees and triennially for the highest jinshi-rank national examinations). Each exam is strenuous - lasting almost two days, which traditionally take place in small stone cells. Applicants are only permitted a calligraphy brush, a paint stone, a chamber pot, a jug of water and some food which the applicants must prepare themselves, and are searched thoroughly before taking the exam to prevent cheating, which is a vast, if illegal, cottage industry in China. Prospective applicants must spend two days writing the essay, and health issues from fatigue is common. It is a wonder that young men (exclusively men) sit this exam, but they are required for appointment to the civil service. Such appointments are vastly prestigious and career-making, for it is the bureaucrats who rule China.

"Our governors and leaders are prepared to lead from the youngest ages," Jinshi Wang tells me. "They are educated in leadership, in decision making, and in good conduct. Those who make the decisions are the most fit to do so. That is the effect that our civil service examinations create. We are not governed by hereditary privilege, like the monarchies of Western barbarians, or by the whims of the fickle mob such as those in the various flavours of Rome that they have over there. Why should your ability to coerce the populace make you more fit to rule? We are instead ruled by our mandarins, our most senior bureaucrats, who meet in council to legislate and lead."

But surely not everyone in the civil service is appointed by exam? "Only up to a point. Entry into the provincial civil service is gated behind the exam, after which further, more senior appointments are made by the outgoing superior or their superiors in turn. Further levels of attainment require further examinations, though this is a necessary but not sufficient condition." After some time in the provincial civil service, my contact explains, scholar-bureaucrats will make a choice whether or not to continue in the province or sit the national civil service exams, which in turn may require further civil examination for further attainment. Candidates for the leadership of ministries are elected to empty seats by the remainder of the council of head Mandarins.

"Our private sector has its own exams for attainment and promotion, but they tend to follow those of the civil service closely and most institutions recognise the civil service equivalent, so it is not uncommon for bureaucrat to leave for the private sector. The reverse is impossible, of course."

And what of the Emperor? "The Emperor is the Son of Heaven, and to whim we all owe our respect and loyalty," my contact smiles. "As such, he is above the earthly concerns of leadership. He has some duties - for example, he ceremonially proctors the Jinshi exams annually - but he does not rule, no."

This world's China has long dispensed with the need for the fiction of constitutional government. After being banished to the south after the conquest of the north by the Jin Dynasty, the Song Dynasty found itself experiencing a period of revival and economic growth which made their new capital of Hangzhou the largest, richest and most innovative city in the world. After making an alliance with Mongol raiders from the north under their own charismatic warlord, the Song retook Northern China and turned on their erstwhile allies. With the nascent Mongol empire paralysed with internecine conflict after the death of the Khan due to dysentery, the Song were able to restore their hegemony over their corner of the world. As the Song's economic revolution continued, their merchants, resources and silver spread across the Old World, and along with it came Song influence. As China's wealth spread, so too did the influence of scholar-bureaucrats, who were able to sideline the military and aristocracy as influence and diplomacy superseded the need for military force. Soon, even the Emperor took their direction. When Chinese monks seeking the mythical Fusang discovered that Western continent after following the coastline across the Bering, Song influence spread there too, and now much of the world is a tributary of the Emperor in Hangzhou. Though China was not the birth of industrialism in this world - instead that honour belongs to Bengal, whose cotton spinning industry created the first steam engines and continues to be a significant power - it was an early adopter and it only grew its power. From China enlightened wisdom spreads forth, and much of the rest of the world, including the rising "Lion nations" of Europe, have adopted Chinese principles - or Chinese cultural hegemony, as critics of it tend to say.

"What is wrong with cultural hegemony?" Jinshi Wang laughs when I bring this up. "What 900 years of our stewardship over the world has shown is that it is the right way to live and to govern. It is not a coincidence that much of the world has replicated it, even outside of our tributaries. The English adopted their own version when they Sinicised in the 19th century, with their own cultural canon of texts - though their Bible is not superior. Even the Populists have exams on their own Red Book as a mandatory part of education. We are not tyrants, either. People may organise and protest, within reason, and we have revised our rulings before due to public response."

But the Song cultural hegemony has received adverse public response before. The growing Populist movement is an explicit reaction to Confucian notions of paternalistic social harmony, and even within China the cultural stagnation that the examinations cause is coming under criticism. My contact dismisses this as the complaints of malcontents and the uneducated, however.

"Confucianism is hegemonic because it is the superior way to live. We are not Confucian because we test, we test because we are Confucian. China and its tributaries have achieved a true harmony of society that Western ideologies have not. Peasant and worker revolutions are a thing of the past, and those who know their place and role in society have everything they need. We are not stagnant, either - we change technologically and have a thriving and innovative private sector. Social advancement is open to all men, regardless of their origin or the wealth of their parents, should they study and gain studious attainment. We do not have social crisis and division. We are governed by the best and most educated in the land. All the world knows that in the Later Song, we have achieved a true meritocracy."

But the regime of the scholar-bureaucrats is perhaps not as unilaterally popular as its proponents would belive. In the spartan office of Wendler Otto, chairman of the League for Democracy in China and CEO of Cycla, a successful local startup which provides bicycles for rent across Hangzhou and other large Chinese cities. Mr. Wendler was born in Hanbo - "Hamburg in the local language" - one of China's treaty port cities near the Holy Roman Populist Republic. "My parents fled to Hanbo from Germania just after the revolution," Mr. Wendler explains, "and came to Hangzhou when I was five for work. As one of the few actually succesful ethnic minorities in China, the bureaucrats would hold me up as a success story - if I wasn't a Democrat."

"The bureaucratic regime is much more stagnant than the scholar bureaucrats are even capable of believing," Mr. Wendler explains. "You have to be wholly immersed in Confucianism to be a scholar bureaucrat, and they ensure that the next generation is as well. They can't see anything outside of the lens of paternalistic authoritarianism, because that's all they've been trained to know. China is socially the same as it was 900 years ago. If you want a great example," Wendler says, stabbing the desk with his finger for emphasis, "if you are a widow, you can't remarry, ever. The scholar-bureaucrats refuse to change that, because that violates Confucian rules of filial piety. There's millions of women in China who can't have romantic fulfillment because it violates a 4000 year old concept of patriarchal loyalty. Meanwhile, in Rome -" He stop to correct himself "- the Roman Republic, South Rome, nobody in Populist Germania has rights, really - women have actual rights and can vote, hold senior roles in the workforce... Here, women can't sit any level of exam."

The stagnation is not just limited to the government. "The big corporations are just as bad. None of them are ever really innovative - all the big innovations of the last sixty years came internationally or from companies that didn't practice examinations for advancement. Hangzhou has a startup sector because here's where the money is, but the government hasn't done anything to encourage it."

"A lot of the other supposed promises of bureaucratic government are pretty exaggerated too," my contact continues, ticking them off on his fingers. "It's not as meritocratic as the privileged elite tell us. They insist that they're at the top because they deserve it, but almost every jinshi is the child of another, and scholastic attainment tends to run in families. A lot of them are products of hereditary institutional privilege, as much as they try to justify it with exams. The vast majority of people can't afford the private education and tutoring you need to sit them, and China's school system will basically only prepare you to work in a factory. It's not a coincidence that the first thing the Populists did in Germania was behead their local Mandarins. Fewer and fewer countries are part of the Song tributary system these days, and most of the ones that remain are only paying lip service to the Empire because their economies are reliant on favourable trade status. The major powers in the system have have foreign policies that run counter to Song interests and have for years. And sure, we have free speech - as long as you don't stir the pot or get too popular. There was a round of protests a few years back in Guangzhou which got big enough to annoy the provincial authorities - they got the riot hoses turned on them and the leaders are still in prison for 'violating social harmony.' We have plenty of social division, between rich and poor, urban and rural, Han and minority, but the Scholar-Bureaucrats refuse to see it."

I ask Mr. Wendler what his alternative is. Does he wish to see bureaucratic government abolished? "That's not the official position of the League, despite what the Mandarins keep claiming to shut us out. There's a few radicals in China who want that, but the country doesn't know how to function without powerful scholar-bureaucrats and it'd never get popular support. We just want Roman style popular representation - create an elected body which can approve and debate bureaucratic policy. We want the people of China to have a say in their own governance. Change is happening here - we want to be a part of it rather than let the scholar-bureaucrats pretend it isn't happening."

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Posted with permission from Ephraim Ben Raphael
Dominion of the Later Song

As I sit by the window of the tea house where I am meeting my contact, I am struck by the crowds and the sheer number and diversity of people who walk by. Hangzhou is the largest city of this world, boasting nearly forty million people within it's metropolitan area, and to my eyes is as prosperous as any New York, London or any other centre the world revolves around.

"As virtue radiates from the Emperor outwards, so does virtue radiate from Hangzhou to China, and from China to all the world," my contact, Imperial Scholar (or jinshi) Wang Xinya explains to me. The insignia square sown on his robes denotes him as a Scholar-Bureaucrat of the Third Rank - he is an Under-Minister within the Ministry of Culture and Literature, leading the Bureau for Extra-Universal Communications. "China is the Father and Elder Brother of the world's nations. All other nations of the world pay tribute to the Emperor, barring a handful of barbarian states such as the Populists in Northern Rome. The reason is, of course, the rule of the enlightened civil service."

Jinshi Wang began studying for his examinations at the age of six. His father, also a Scholar-Bureaucrat, went to great lengths to secure an first class education for his son. As the only male child among three sisters, the burden on Wang's shoulders was high - he held the hopes of his entire family. Large sums of money were spent on his education, by the time he sat his national exams at 24 he could recite the Four Books and Five Classics from heart, alongside a bevy of other texts the civil service exams considered important. Far from the earlier iterations of the exam, the civil service exams that candidates must sit includes poetry, Chinese history, logic and writing - at various degrees of proficiency.

Almost all educated careers require passing various examinations in this world's China. The most notorious of these are the civil service examinations that are required for entry into the Imperial civil service - bureaucrats and mandarins of every level are selected for their appointments after passing the civil service examination, and the first appointments offered to to those who top the exams (which range between being held annually for the provincial degrees and triennially for the highest jinshi-rank national examinations). Each exam is strenuous - lasting almost two days, which traditionally take place in small stone cells. Applicants are only permitted a calligraphy brush, a paint stone, a chamber pot, a jug of water and some food which the applicants must prepare themselves, and are searched thoroughly before taking the exam to prevent cheating, which is a vast, if illegal, cottage industry in China. Prospective applicants must spend two days writing the essay, and health issues from fatigue is common. It is a wonder that young men (exclusively men) sit this exam, but they are required for appointment to the civil service. Such appointments are vastly prestigious and career-making, for it is the bureaucrats who rule China.

"Our governors and leaders are prepared to lead from the youngest ages," Jinshi Wang tells me. "They are educated in leadership, in decision making, and in good conduct. Those who make the decisions are the most fit to do so. That is the effect that our civil service examinations create. We are not governed by hereditary privilege, like the monarchies of Western barbarians, or by the whims of the fickle mob such as those in the various flavours of Rome that they have over there. Why should your ability to coerce the populace make you more fit to rule? We are instead ruled by our mandarins, our most senior bureaucrats, who meet in council to legislate and lead."

But surely not everyone in the civil service is appointed by exam? "Only up to a point. Entry into the provincial civil service is gated behind the exam, after which further, more senior appointments are made by the outgoing superior or their superiors in turn. Further levels of attainment require further examinations, though this is a necessary but not sufficient condition." After some time in the provincial civil service, my contact explains, scholar-bureaucrats will make a choice whether or not to continue in the province or sit the national civil service exams, which in turn may require further civil examination for further attainment. Candidates for the leadership of ministries are elected to empty seats by the remainder of the council of head Mandarins.

"Our private sector has its own exams for attainment and promotion, but they tend to follow those of the civil service closely and most institutions recognise the civil service equivalent, so it is not uncommon for bureaucrat to leave for the private sector. The reverse is impossible, of course."

And what of the Emperor? "The Emperor is the Son of Heaven, and to whim we all owe our respect and loyalty," my contact smiles. "As such, he is above the earthly concerns of leadership. He has some duties - for example, he ceremonially proctors the Jinshi exams annually - but he does not rule, no."

This world's China has long dispensed with the need for the fiction of constitutional government. After being banished to the south after the conquest of the north by the Jin Dynasty, the Song Dynasty found itself experiencing a period of revival and economic growth which made their new capital of Hangzhou the largest, richest and most innovative city in the world. After making an alliance with Mongol raiders from the north under their own charismatic warlord, the Song retook Northern China and turned on their erstwhile allies. With the nascent Mongol empire paralysed with internecine conflict after the death of the Khan due to dysentery, the Song were able to restore their hegemony over their corner of the world. As the Song's economic revolution continued, their merchants, resources and silver spread across the Old World, and along with it came Song influence. As China's wealth spread, so too did the influence of scholar-bureaucrats, who were able to sideline the military and aristocracy as influence and diplomacy superseded the need for military force. Soon, even the Emperor took their direction. When Chinese monks seeking the mythical Fusang discovered that Western continent after following the coastline across the Bering, Song influence spread there too, and now much of the world is a tributary of the Emperor in Hangzhou. Though China was not the birth of industrialism in this world - instead that honour belongs to Bengal, whose cotton spinning industry created the first steam engines and continues to be a significant power - it was an early adopter and it only grew its power. From China enlightened wisdom spreads forth, and much of the rest of the world, including the rising "Lion nations" of Europe, have adopted Chinese principles - or Chinese cultural hegemony, as critics of it tend to say.

"What is wrong with cultural hegemony?" Jinshi Wang laughs when I bring this up. "What 900 years of our stewardship over the world has shown is that it is the right way to live and to govern. It is not a coincidence that much of the world has replicated it, even outside of our tributaries. The English adopted their own version when they Sinicised in the 19th century, with their own cultural canon of texts - though their Bible is not superior. Even the Populists have exams on their own Red Book as a mandatory part of education. We are not tyrants, either. People may organise and protest, within reason, and we have revised our rulings before due to public response."

But the Song cultural hegemony has received adverse public response before. The growing Populist movement is an explicit reaction to Confucian notions of paternalistic social harmony, and even within China the cultural stagnation that the examinations cause is coming under criticism. My contact dismisses this as the complaints of malcontents and the uneducated, however.

"Confucianism is hegemonic because it is the superior way to live. We are not Confucian because we test, we test because we are Confucian. China and its tributaries have achieved a true harmony of society that Western ideologies have not. Peasant and worker revolutions are a thing of the past, and those who know their place and role in society have everything they need. We are not stagnant, either - we change technologically and have a thriving and innovative private sector. Social advancement is open to all men, regardless of their origin or the wealth of their parents, should they study and gain studious attainment. We do not have social crisis and division. We are governed by the best and most educated in the land. All the world knows that in the Later Song, we have achieved a true meritocracy."

But the regime of the scholar-bureaucrats is perhaps not as unilaterally popular as its proponents would belive. In the spartan office of Wendler Otto, chairman of the League for Democracy in China and CEO of Cycla, a successful local startup which provides bicycles for rent across Hangzhou and other large Chinese cities. Mr. Wendler was born in Hanbo - "Hamburg in the local language" - one of China's treaty port cities near the Holy Roman Populist Republic. "My parents fled to Hanbo from Germania just after the revolution," Mr. Wendler explains, "and came to Hangzhou when I was five for work. As one of the few actually succesful ethnic minorities in China, the bureaucrats would hold me up as a success story - if I wasn't a Democrat."

"The bureaucratic regime is much more stagnant than the scholar bureaucrats are even capable of believing," Mr. Wendler explains. "You have to be wholly immersed in Confucianism to be a scholar bureaucrat, and they ensure that the next generation is as well. They can't see anything outside of the lens of paternalistic authoritarianism, because that's all they've been trained to know. China is socially the same as it was 900 years ago. If you want a great example," Wendler says, stabbing the desk with his finger for emphasis, "if you are a widow, you can't remarry, ever. The scholar-bureaucrats refuse to change that, because that violates Confucian rules of filial piety. There's millions of women in China who can't have romantic fulfillment because it violates a 4000 year old concept of patriarchal loyalty. Meanwhile, in Rome -" He stop to correct himself "- the Roman Republic, South Rome, nobody in Populist Germania has rights, really - women have actual rights and can vote, hold senior roles in the workforce... Here, women can't sit any level of exam."

The stagnation is not just limited to the government. "The big corporations are just as bad. None of them are ever really innovative - all the big innovations of the last sixty years came internationally or from companies that didn't practice examinations for advancement. Hangzhou has a startup sector because here's where the money is, but the government hasn't done anything to encourage it."

"A lot of the other supposed promises of bureaucratic government are pretty exaggerated too," my contact continues, ticking them off on his fingers. "It's not as meritocratic as the privileged elite tell us. They insist that they're at the top because they deserve it, but almost every jinshi is the child of another, and scholastic attainment tends to run in families. A lot of them are products of hereditary institutional privilege, as much as they try to justify it with exams. The vast majority of people can't afford the private education and tutoring you need to sit them, and China's school system will basically only prepare you to work in a factory. It's not a coincidence that the first thing the Populists did in Germania was behead their local Mandarins. Fewer and fewer countries are part of the Song tributary system these days, and most of the ones that remain are only paying lip service to the Empire because their economies are reliant on favourable trade status. The major powers in the system have have foreign policies that run counter to Song interests and have for years. And sure, we have free speech - as long as you don't stir the pot or get too popular. There was a round of protests a few years back in Guangzhou which got big enough to annoy the provincial authorities - they got the riot hoses turned on them and the leaders are still in prison for 'violating social harmony.' We have plenty of social division, between rich and poor, urban and rural, Han and minority, but the Scholar-Bureaucrats refuse to see it."

I ask Mr. Wendler what his alternative is. Does he wish to see bureaucratic government abolished? "That's not the official position of the League, despite what the Mandarins keep claiming to shut us out. There's a few radicals in China who want that, but the country doesn't know how to function without powerful scholar-bureaucrats and it'd never get popular support. We just want Roman style popular representation - create an elected body which can approve and debate bureaucratic policy. We want the people of China to have a say in their own governance. Change is happening here - we want to be a part of it rather than let the scholar-bureaucrats pretend it isn't happening."
Man, this China has managed to avoid the Century of Humiliation, but the leaders are so complacent, they seem to be setting themselves up for ANOTHER period of humiliation.
 
Kingdom of Belgium

After the fall of Napoleon's empire, France had to cede its slice of Flanders - Maritime Flanders with Cassel and Dunkirk, and Walloon Flanders with Douai and Lille - to the newly established Kingdom of the Netherlands, that also included the whole of historical Luxembourg, its borders being restored to those of 1659. By the 1820s, however, the rule of William I had come to be perceived as tyrannical by the Catholic inhabitants of the south, who rose up in revolt. [1] The Catholic lands of the Netherlands were then granted independence, from Dunkirk to the south to Eindhoven to the north, with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha being crowned King of Belgium in 1821. [2]

However, Leopold proved unable to manage the rising tensions between the Kingdom's various components and, by the time of his death in 1865, the country was split, along lines of language and politics both. Enter Paul-Émile de Puydt, son of a former governor of Hainaut, current governor of the province, [3] and advocate of panarchy, a political philosophy that emphasized each individual's right to freely choose (join and leave) the jurisdiction of any governments they choose, without being forced to move from their current locale.

His proposal, merely five years old - as the first article about it had been published in 1860 - was implemented by the new King of Belgium, Louis-Philippe I, [4] as the country was descending into civil war, as a desperate attempt to keep the country together. But, did de Puydt's quixotic proposal work, in this version of Earth and this version of Belgium? That's what I sought out to discover, as I met with the current Prime Minister of Belgium, Carice de Boer, in a Brussels that had preserved much of its olden charm.

As I walked through the city, however, I couldn't help but notice a few details that clashed with its postcard appearance: each and every building, alongside its street number, sported one or more roundels, carrying a wide variety of symbols; the Flemish and Walloon flags were by far the most common, followed by symbols not unlike those a political party would have. There were religious symbols - from the Christian cross and the star of David to the odd Islamic crescent and wheel of Dharma - and a wide variety of other symbols as well. There seemed to be some kind of correlation between the symbols and certain details of the buildings themselves, from how well-kept they were to subtle or striking differences in style.

The Palace of the Nation was, of course, very well-kept, not looking any different from how it looked back when it was built, in the late 1700s. The Prime Minister's office was in a room of the same building - that might have been used for a different purpose at some point of this Belgium's past, due to a few indescribable quirks in its design; the room was, nonetheless, elegantly furnished, as one would expect a Prime Minister's office to be. Here and there, what looked like family pictures, as well as a few pictures of the Prime Minister in her youth and adulthood, such as a huge print of de Boer as a young adult, working on an early, huge computer.

"It's very simple, Mr. Chana" the elderly Prime Minister said, mindlessly fiddling with a wooden walking stick whose pommel was in the shape of a lion, her thin, wizened fingers running across it. "Say, a group of people united by some common characteristic or another, such as their mother tongue or political beliefs, wanted to run itself as if it were, for example, a kingdom in Germany, a canton in Switzerland, or a state in America or Italy? As long as they're of a viable size, send a delegate to the Estates General, and agree to respect and uphold the Constitution, they can do it. The first Estates were, of course, the old linguistic and political Pillars."

But, I asked, if the federal subjects of Belgium are not territorial, how do big projects get done? "Well, Mr. Chana, they are federal subjects, that agree to work according to a commonly agreed upon framework, that of the Constitution; that's what the Estates General are for, if something requires the cooperation of more Estates, we argue about and vote on it, like in every other democracy - matters such as the election of national representatives such as myself. Of course, from time to time it's hard work - if I'm old and blind, Mr. Chana, it may be because of the hard work I've been doing - but it's far better to be governed by laws you agree on as an individual, than..."

The Prime Minister's expression darkened. "...a long time ago, my older brother, God bless his insane, mad soul, moved to America, in a state where a minority of rich white folks lorded it over everyone else. Had the black folks there been able to create their own state... he got spared during the riot only because he'd been quite close to a few black kids he sold books to, I can't say I like all the death and destruction that happened, but those poor wretches had no other option left. Belgium could've ended up like that too, if not for the reforms of the 1860s."

I then met with one of the representatives in the Estates General, a representative of a very peculiar estate - the United Belgian States, a group of people united behind the belief that Belgium would be better off as a traditional federal state. I asked him - Vincent Dubois - his opinion about the current state of affairs, after telling him all about my visit to the Prime Minister. "Nothing gets done, and too much gets done. In places where Estate membership varies wildly among the populace, no one can agree on anything but the bare necessities and, since the Estates General are so weak, people keep living in a de facto absence of laws, with predictable results - ever been to Kowloon, Mr. Chana? That's what some places in my dear Namur look now, nearly enough. In places where Estate membership is uniform, they might as well be absolute monarchies. Some of the bigger Estates are sensible enough, like the oldest ones, you know, the Walloon one, or the Liberal one... but Estates like the Antipapal one are allowed to run medieval theocracies in broad daylight, they may look like something out of a painting but what goes on inside them, it's a Bengali horror movie."

And what about the powers of the central government, I ask: "Mr. Chana, do you know how de Puydt called the body that served as model for the Estates General? Bureau of Political Membership. That's what it is, the Estates General and its provincial and local branches are a bureaucrat's dream come true: they collect taxes, sure, they run the post offices, fair enough, and do the bare minimum to keep Belgium and its dozen separate armies together, but the truth is, we don't need this anymore; we probably needed this when we were at each other's throat, but now a Flemish person and a Walloon person have more in common with each other than they have with either a Frenchman or a Dutchman, and Belgium can survive as a federal state without the need for impoverished ghettos and fundamentalist havens. Barely a week passes without some newspaper or another chronicling the misadventures of some girl who tried to escape one of the latter only to find herself in one of the former, or narrating the deeds of some drunken white supremacist trying to take on the Commune by himself, and while we're not the poorest country in western Europe, income inequality is off the charts."

I nodded. So, how would you describe Belgium right now, I asked Mr. Dubois. His reply was curt: "state-sanctioned anarchy. About time we became a true state again."


[1] Long story short, the Dutch roll all sixes at Vienna, but more Catholics in the country means more people pissed at William I, and therefore an earlier revolt.
[2] Yes, it's a slightly different title than the OTL one.
[3] First part is OTL, second part is ATL.
[4] He doesn't die in infancy, sparing Belgium from Leopold II.
 
Man, this China has managed to avoid the Century of Humiliation, but the leaders are so complacent, they seem to be setting themselves up for ANOTHER period of humiliation.
It won't be so bad; China is very wealthy, deeply interconnected with the world economy and has what is unquestionably the most powerful military force on the planet alongside the ability to project it. That said, it is unquestionably declining and the next big blow will come from within.
And I'm not sure that chopping up the world gained that much. It's like seeing a map of the British Empire in 1905, just use a global map already.
A very nice scenario! I'm going to need footnotes for that map. :biggrin:
I might make a revised world map at some and make some changes, right now it's a lot of "things that look cool on the map."
 
@robbiej A well-written episode. A very astute analysis and criticism of corrupt, elitist institutions, and the tendency of those at the top to act like everything is fine.

@Neoteros A thought-provoking look at the fascinating ideology of panarchy and some of the potentially grim implications of it.

Thank you both for your excellent work.
 
It won't be so bad; China is very wealthy, deeply interconnected with the world economy and has what is unquestionably the most powerful military force on the planet alongside the ability to project it. That said, it is unquestionably declining and the next big blow will come from within.
This "Pax China", however, seems more built on a house of cards than "Pax Americana."
 
Lombard League
The Regina Matilde vacuum airship was the crown jewel of the Lombard League's commercial fleet - very loosely based on a failed prototype by aeronautics pioneer Francesco Lana de Terzi, it was the closest thing to a literal flying ship I had ever seen, down to the envelope, that was shaped like a set of sails topped by the flags of Lombardy and Italy both, and the gondola, that resembled something that wouldn't have looked out of place in the Arsenal of Venice, and was coated in imported ironwood.

While spending some time in Kêr-Is, the Breton-speaking metropolis that was located where Manhattan and Staten Island would've usually been, I had more than enough time to catch up with the history of the country that I was about to visit, a history that had begun with the coexistence and survival of the Commune of Rome, the Lombard League and the Commune of Sicily; while this coexistence was not peaceful at first - indeed, the Commune of Rome backed the Holy Roman Emperor most of the time, while the Lombard League supported the Pope more often than not - the birth of powerful monarchies north of the Alps and the shift in trade routes that followed the discovery of the Americas by Basque and Breton fishermen forced the various states of Italy together, with the 16th century opening of the Suez Canal - a project conceived by Venice, financed by Genoa and Florence, and built by Naples - being widely seen as the reason why the quarrelling regional states of the peninsula decided to put most of their old disputes behind.

The Most Holy League, or Italic League, can best be described as a confederation of federations, where the member states maintain a large amount of autonomy, down to their chosen form of government - from the federal monarchy of Sardinia, now under the reign of the young Eleonora II d'Arborea, to the Lombard League, where I am headed right now, after boarding the Regina Matilde, mingling with its passengers, and discovering several peculiar variations on the classic lightbulb joke - apparently, asking an Italian to change a lightbulb in this universe is a dangerous game of delayed Russian roulette, where you have to wait several years to find out if your whole house will be burned to a crisp, or turned into a Baroque fantasy, with the lightbulb somehow being left untouched.

The core of the planned capital of the Lombard League, Sforzinda, is an archetypal Renaissance ideal city, whose most iconic, or ar least most peculiar landmark is the House of Vice and Virtue, a ten-story structure with a brothel on the bottom and an academy of learning on the higher levels. To get there, however, I had to disembark at Sforzinda's aerodrome first, and take a taxi from the city's modern CBD to the historical core of the city, and then make my way to the tenth floor of the House of Vice and Virtue, where Dr. Filippo Maria Borromeo, Duce of the Lombard League, was in the process of giving a lecture on medical matters - this, of course, meant that I had to climb several flight of stairs, enough of them to discover that gun laws in the League were lax enough that the local sex workers were allowed to open carry a rather appalling amount of weaponry.

"Enjoyed the trip, signor Chana?" Duce Borromeo said as his students exited the room, a typical university class. His booming laugh, coupled with his stocky frame and full beard, made me wonder if I'd accidentally exited an elven forest to find myself among the dwarves lurking in the mountains around it. "Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinkin', those good women are packin' heat. You never know when some kid is gonna get ideas they shouldn't get at all, a bullet to the brain's a fair enough way to stop those thoughts runnin' 'round their skull. Some people complain 'bout it of course but, between you and me, fuck 'em raw. Anyway, you were here to find out about the way we work, right? Sit down, sit down..."

"...why did we adopt sortition, you say? Well, well... it's a long story, Mr. Chana. The ancients used to say that true democracy was in sortition, rather than election, and damn right they were. All adult citizens of the League can volunteer to be selected for their local council, as if it were jury duty. If they are selected, they serve in it for a short time, dealin' with local issues while bein' advised by a panel of professionals, that know more about their chosen fields than the average citizen, you could say they're technocrats. Some of the citizens are in charge of formulatin' proposals, while others vote on 'em - but even if a proposal goes through, the people have to vote on it too later on, like up north in Switzerland. And if you do your job well and don't fuck up, you can volunteer to serve on a council that concerns itself with a wider area than just a district or town, and with more important matters than town hall stuff, like the ol' cursus honorum, in a way.

Some places do straight sortition, others alternate election and sortition to counter corruption - not that anyone would be fool enough to try that, unless they wanted to be flogged or put to death - and some places implement direct democracy but, in the end, at the top level, you have normal people who've learned the trade by serving through a whole ladder of councils, and professionals who've done likewise, cooperatin' for the good of the League. Electoral democracies, they ain't bad, but in the end, they often become ruled by an aristocracy of career politicians with nothin' but their pockets in their mind, that's why they're still huntin' whales in Avalon and Santa Marina, employin' child labour in Yeke and doin' whatever the hell the North Asia Company does whenever they feel like they ain't bein' enough of a monumental pain in the arse yet, porco di quel D..."

Sforzinda was also home to the embassies of all the other member countries of the Most Holy League in Lombardy - a name that, here, had kept its old medieval meaning, and was used to refer to the northern third of the peninsula as a whole. The current ambassador of the Kingdom of Naples to Lombardy, Sharifa Jamila Said, owed her mixed heritage for her current status of citizen of two member states of the Most Holy League (and, therefore, of Italy as a whole) and another two sovereign entities outside the peninsula, and had served in the premier legislative assembly of the Lombard League before turning to journalism and, then, diplomacy.

Her own office in the Neapolitan embassy was a painfully tacky and possibly blasphemous mishmash of disparate cultural influences, every single one of them drowned in pastel colours; the sight of a pink prayer rug and a statue depicting a caricature of Saint Januarius were more than enough to convince me that I'd gone straight from the frying pan into the fire.

"Don't be fooled by the Duce's heavy accent and rustic demeanour, Professor Chana, the man is anything but a yokel - just a quick glance at his family name would be enough for most people to rule out that hypothesis. And that, is not a coincidence, dear." I told her that yes, the Borromeo name was a fairly well-known one in many of the versions of Italy I'd encountered. "Dr. Borromeo was right, when he told you that the citizens serving in the councils, from their local town hall to the Universitas Societatis, are advised by technocrats, that are there to serve as masters to the apprentices, so to speak. Now, habibi, what tends to happen when inexperienced people have to rely on experienced people to get something done? The latter's input can often hold far more weight than the former's, for reasons that should be obvious."

Even the professionals and technocrats are chosen by lot however, I told the Ambassador. "But of course, being a doctor or an economist does not imply being a sensible human specimen however, they could very well be an advocate of the benefits of cow dung and a follower of the German School. And it shouldn't be a shocking reveal that a country where common citizens are allowed to make and vote on laws with next to no experience beyond the minimum requirements a volunteer should have is also a country that, from time to time, passes laws that owe far more to the commons' gut feelings than to any rational considerations; that's why GMOs are completely banned in Lombardy, but military grade weaponry is not."

Ms. Said paused. "And that's why that atrocious lightbulb joke has far more than a single kernel of truth to it, technocrats with delusions of grandeur and average citizens raised on Bazembe science fiction and Persian fantasy are exactly the kind of people likely to pursue whole herds of white elephants rather than concern themselves with more pressing matters. And due to the aleatory nature of the League's legislature, dozens of laws can be done and undone in the matter of just a handful of years, owing just to a metaphorical, but quite real in a way, throw of the dice."

"Ya Allah... for every cultural and scientific prize the Lombard League is awarded..." the Ambassador went on, "...there are at least ten separate instances of something going horribly wrong, and not just in Lombardy or Italy; the fact that the Universitas approved the development and deployment of biological and chemical weaponry is something that will never be forgiven or forgotten, and the less I say about the barbaric way Lombardy deals with criminals, the better."

"Maybe, the Duce's loathed professional politicians would be a more stable bunch, sure they can be a very unpleasant bunch, but no form of government is perfect - we can only pick the one that's got the least downsides. Now, caro, it would be very rude of me to let you leave without a cup of coffee in your system..."

 
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Nice work, @Neoteros ! Basing it on an OTL city design from the Renaissance was a cool idea. And of course, airships shaped like seafaring ships sound intriguing. My only criticism is that I believe sex worker is the preferred term.
 
Nice work, @Neoteros ! Basing it on an OTL city design from the Renaissance was a cool idea. And of course, airships shaped like seafaring ships sound intriguing. My only criticism is that I believe sex worker is the preferred term.
I will edit that, then. :p

The Most Holy League is what happens when people realize they're living in a country that doesn't have much in the way of natural resources, and whose access to the world's markets used to be dependent on having friendly relationships with whoever controlled Gibraltar and the Sinai until air travel became viable: it adopted OTL Japan's strategy of focusing on cultural soft power and quality manufacturing a few centuries ahead of schedule - indeed, the Most Holy League has a very close relationship with Japan in this 'verse.

However, it shares many of its woes with OTL Japan, too: an abysmal birth rate, a business environment that's not quite what it should be - with guilds being akin to zaibatsu in more ways than one - and a culture that can be rather conservative at times: while the Most Holy League's own version of the Age of Discovery featured battles fought with money rather than muskets for the most part, leading to a society where someone like Ms. Said is not seen as anything unusual, it's also true that classism is way more of a thing than anywhere in the OTL West, or even in OTL Japan - as she pointed out, Borromeo's surname is not a coincidence, even in a country where legislators are chosen by lot.

For example, burakumin that try to flee Japan for Italy often find that the peninsula adopted the concept of kiri-sute gomen quite readily, once they found out what it was.
 
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