I am currently reading Forward the Foundation by Isaac Asimov. However, I won’t review the book here, but I would like to discuss the topic of “galactic empires” – a common trope in science fiction. Though galactic empires are meant to be impressive, I question both the feasibility and desirability of such political configurations.
Let for the sake of the argument assume that both faster than light communication and travel is somehow possible – without these any discussion of galactic empires is meaningless anyway. Even with this assumption then the feasibility of a galactic empire is questionable.
In Asimov’s description of the galactic empire, it consists of 25 million inhabited planets and 500 quadrillion people, 20 billion per planet on average. It is hard to even imagine a planetary empire, and no such thing has ever existed in human history, let alone such enormous empire.
The fundamental issue with an empire of this size is effective control by the central government. Its sheer size makes it inevitable to delegate many administrative powers to “local” planetary official. But the more power is transferred to individual planets, the less power remains with the central government. The question is then what is the proper function of the imperial government?
There is no evidence in the foundation series, that the galaxy and humanity is subject to an external threat and hence the most obvious reason for the existence of the empire collapses. What other benefit does the empire provide to its citizens and is the empire really the best way to achieve this?
One could argue that the empire brings peace and stimulates interstellar trade. Honestly, I am not convinced this is really the merit of the galactic empire. First planetary governments will have to spend most of their efforts to appease their own populations, which reduces the likelihood of war. And secondly if a planetary government would be tempted to wage war, it will be limited to neighbor planets. Also I am very skeptical whether the empire can actually promote peace given the sheer size of its territory.