“Alexander cried when he heard Anaxarchus talk about the infinite number of worlds in the universe…’There are so many worlds, and I have not yet conquered even one.'”
—Plutarch’s “On Contentment of the Mind”
Happy New Year and welcome back to Wonderful, Awful Ideas!
Let’s try to imagine an interstellar empire. No, not that one. This empire must be based on light-speed travel, and a civilization that is advanced enough to achieve light-speed travel.
Why would such a civilization want an interstellar empire? Mineral wealth is more easily obtainable from all those rocks between your capitol and subject worlds. Labor might be nice, especially if you have some way to compel obedience, but if you have interstellar travel, surely you have mechanization as well. What can angry slaves do that robots can’t?
I suppose trade in biologicals and pharmeceuticals might work between the stars, especially high-end luxuries that cannot be grown outside their native biomes. Art, entertainment, and other intellectual property will also probably hold onto their value over interstellar differences.
So our empire might evolve as a legal body concerned with the standardization of copy-write law and drug control. Profits from trade in intellectual property will fund a fleet of trading ships for those exquisite pieces of original artwork, rare spices, and industrial secrets that cannot be transmitted and fabricated. Infractions or delinquency-of-payment can usually be punished simply by cutting off the guilty party’s network access, but for hard cases, more direct coercion might be necessary.
Rights Enforcers travel between worlds at the speed of light, which means their time-dilated perspectives are much broader than planet-bound people (this goes double if they simply transmit and fabricate copies of themselves, for whom no time at all passes between stars). Inevitably, these people will end up running things.
Unless some like Captain Lagrange can stop them! Neee-ow! Pew pew pew!