Tag Archives: republic

Space settlements, ownership and form of government

In his 2009 paper A Dilemma for Libertarianism, economist Karl Widerquist shows that governments can be justified by arguing from private property rights. If one assumes that people can own land, and can exclude anyone from their land at will; then, according to Widerquist, the owner of a piece land is in fact sovereign (absolute) monarch. Even if such land is owned by a group of people rather than by a single individual, the renters or other person allowed to stay at the land, are bound by the conditions imposed by the landowner(s).

From this we can deduce that whoever owns a space habitat, also constitutes its government. Therefore the form of government of a space settlement depends on who is its owner.

In 2007 I was wondering under what conditions a space colony could become a hereditary monarchy. For the purpose of answering this question I developed several models for establishing a space settlement. These models are: 1. the colony or state model, 2. the association model, 3. the foundation model, 4. the corporate model, and 5. the private persons model.

The models differ in one aspect: who takes the initiative to establish a space settlement? In model 1, an existing (terrestrial) state create a space settlement and hence its form of government is determined by the metropole. In the second model the space colony is established by a voluntary association, most likely for ideological reasons.

The next model is similar to model 2, only that instead the space colony is established by a foundation or trust rather than by an association. The basic difference between a foundation and an association, is that the latter has member who pay a fee and who also elect the association’s board of governors. In contrast a foundation has no members, and the board appoints people to fill vacancies. Both types of organization have in common their non-profit nature.

Because of their democratic nature, space settlements established by voluntary associations are most likely to evolve into democratic republics. Therefore this is also the model preferred by Republic of Lagrangia.

In the fourth model, a space colony is created by a corporation for profit. Because of the amount of money involved and the risk, these corporations are most likely to be joint-stock companies. There are different types of stock companies, but two basic types in many countries are a companies of which the stock are at name, and those who shares can be freely traded. In this case the shareholders are in charge of appointing a board of governors of the space habitat, and therefore this model leads to the creation of a plutocracy.

The last model is also known as the pioneers model. It is derived from chapter 11 of O’Neill’s The High Frontier, in which a group of private citizens leave an existing space settlement to establish their own in the Asteroid belt. Unlike the initiators of the previous models, the pioneers are not motivated by ideology or large profits, but by a simple desire to live their own lives.

How does a monarchy fits in any of these models? If a terrestrial monarchy creates a space colony, it’s obvious it would be a monarchy too. And republics will create other republics. A corporation can be established or be owned by an individual or a single family, and therefore it could lead to an oligarchy or a monarchy. On the other hand a space settlement created by a voluntary association is most likely to evolve into a democratic republic, and hence this model is the most unsuitable for the establishment of a monarchy.

Of course, it’s possible that a voluntary association might opt to establish a monarchy, but in this case a constitutional one is more likely than an absolute one. Only it’s unlikely that the members of such association are able to agree upon who should become king.

But also the pioneers model seems not a suitable way to create a monarchy. Small groups tend to be more democratic than larger ones. Even if such groups would elect a “king”, he would be under close scrutiny of his “subjects” and he would probably impeached when the citizens believe the king is abusing his authority.

If one wants to become the monarch of a space settlement, the best thing you could do is to make sure you are the sole owner of the habitat. And by stating in your will that a close relative will inherit your property, you will found a hereditary monarchy. Only it’s quite unlikely that a single individual would be able to afford to buy a space habitat on his own. Hence the emerge of absolute monarchies in space is very unlikely.

A constitutional monarchy might, however, arise from the corporate model. It’s imaginable that one person owns substantially more shares of a space settlement than others. Since voting power in the shareholders conference is proportional to the number of shares, such person might play a pivotal position. By creating a coalition, such person can become the effective monarch of the settlement. However, since he depend on other shareholders for maintaining his position, his liberty to rule is restricted.

It’s, however, more likely that several shareholders will own shares of almost equal size. In that case an evolution towards an oligarchy is much  more likely. Further it’s doubtful whether the shareholders are interested in the day-to-day affairs, as long as their dividends are paid out.

We can conclude that democratic republics and oligarchies are the most likely forms of government to develop in space settlements, depending on the type of ownership. Absolute monarchies are unlikely, and constitutional ones might arise under certain circumstances.

What is a monarchy?

A popular misconception is to define a republic as the opposite of a monarchy. According to this line of reasoning any non-monarchist government would be automatically a republic. This is, however, a fallacy.

The definition of a republic is not depended on what title the head of state has, but on the idea of mixed government. If, however, we would proceed with defining a republic as a form of government without a monarch, then we should provide a definition of what a monarchy is. In this post we will attempt to work out what a monarchy is.

A popular definition of a monarch is that of a head of state who has inherited his or her position, instead of by election. This conception is, however, wrong. Throughout history monarchs has been elected, and in Malaysia the monarch is still assigned by election. And Sweden and Denmark were elective monarchies until the sixteen century. In the past elective monarchies were the rule. And only when members of the same family were elected as monarch generation after generation, these monarchies transformed from elective to hereditary ones.

Instead we could better look at the literal meaning of monarchy, which is Classical Greek for “the rule by one”. Thus a monarchy is system of government in which all power is concentrated in one person. The Greeks did classify forms of government by the number of people who had power, hence we get: the rule by one (monarchy), the rule by the few (oligarchy) and the rule by many (democracy).

Aristotle did not only categorize forms of governments by the quantity of people, but also by quality. For every number, there was a good and bad version. According to Aristotle monarchy was a good form, and tyranny was its bad correspondent. Whether a form was good or bad, is dependent on whether the ruler(s) did pursue the general interest (res publica in Latin), or their own interests. Those rulers who pursued the general interest are, of course, the good ones, whilst those who only pursued their own interests are the bad ones.

The problem the Greeks were facing was the fact that a good government could become corrupted, i.e. turn into a bad one. A monarchy could become a tyranny. Usually such a transition happens gradually overtime.

Important to note is that the Greek definition does not depend on how a monarch gets his/her position. Election, appointment or inheritance doesn’t matter, the number of people with power does. Only pure absolute monarchies are quite rare, and have been throughout history. In most governments there are several institutions, each with their own amount of power.

A more practical approach can be found in the political philosophy of John Locke. According to Locke government can be divided into three branches: legislative, executive and federative (this is foreign policy) power. Whether a state is a monarch, an oligarchy or a democracy, depends on the composition of the legislative power. If the legislature is consists of only one person, then this state is a monarchy in Locke’s view.

However, in most countries the legislative power is assigned to an assembly of (elected) people, rather than to just a single person. In constitutional monarchies, the monarch is, however, involved in the legislative process in several ways. First, laws can be proposed by the king, and secondly the King has to sign any law passed by the legislature.

When we study the legislative process of a state, we have to ask how has the right of initiative (the right propose bills). In many constitutional monarchies both the king and the members of parliament can propose bills. This is not necessarily the case, and most upper chambers have no right of initiative and are only allowed to vote on the bills. Hence we can have a legislature which can only vote on bills proposed by the king.

Related to the right of initiative is the right of amendment. Even if a legislature cannot introduce its own bills, it might propose amendments to those bills introduced by the king. Both the right of initiative and the right of amendment shift power from the king to parliament. And if these rights are absent, the position of the king is strengthened.

Even if a parliament has the right of initiative and the right of amendment, then there is issue whether the king might veto a bill. If the king has veto power, can it can either be absolute or suspensive. In the first case, if the king refuses to sign the bill as passed by parliament, it’s game over for that bill. In the second case, if the king refuses to sign a bill, then parliament has to reconsider the bill. But if parliament still upheld its bill, then the king looses.

Finally we have to consider whether the king might dissolve the legislature. It can be that a parliament refuses to pass any bill proposed by the king, in that situation (s)he can do two things: either (s)he accepts his/her defeat or (s)he dissolves the legislature and calls for a new election. By doing so the king can try to change to membership of parliament, in the hope of securing a majority for his/her bill.