Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Universal State

The psychologist in Poul Anderson's "Genius" presents a simplified version of Chunderban Desai's theory of the decline of civilizations. See here. In "Genius":

cultures clash;
wars intensify, leading to fears, resentments and economic breakdown;
one nation founds a "universal state," whose peace is merely that of exhaustion;
the state decays and either collapses or falls to foreign invaders.

Pre-Imperial scientists based their semi-mathematical theory of history on:

thousands of years of records and archaeology;
extrapolations from individual and group psychology.

On the basis of this theory, the Empire has been able to:

conquer humanly inhabited planets;
make truces with non-human empires;
tell whether a proposed policy might provoke revolt;
know how to phrase proclamations;
divide the barbarians with psychological and economic pressures.

However, they can at best maintain the status quo until an eventual collapse:

if they allowed free invention, then there would be regular industrial revolutions with consequent social upheavals;
if they allowed new religions, the there might be jihads;
if they allowed population growth, then there would be a land problem;
if they stopped subjugating or even exterminating non-human races, then they would have to cope with many alien psychologies.

It is hoped that the planetary experiments will make their science properly quantitative. Although the psychologist character defends this oppressive regime, I do not think that the author approves of it.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    The problem is, however, that both major characters, the psychotechnician Heym and the soldier Marshal Goram both agree on the rightness or necessity of the repulsive ideas we see in "Genius." It was that which caused the critic whose name I can't, maddeningly, recall to say that story had ideas which contradicted Poul Anderson's moral beliefs.

    Of course I'm aware of how foolish it would be to say the ideas and beliefs of fictional characters in a story are also what the author believes. Still, I think one reason why "Genius" is a crude early work of Anderson is how he failed to have a character in it argue against things like the extermination of non human races and the totalitarianism of the Solarian Empire. It made it easy to at least think Anderson toyed with such ideas himself, at least in that single, uncharacteristic story.


  2. Sean,
    Remember, of course, that "Marshal Goram" was a role played by one of the geniuses.