Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Babylon 5 Governments

Unlike most Science Fiction shows, Babylon 5 concentrated on several alien races in detail. Although details are sketchy, we have some idea of how these governments were run - a better idea than we have of Star Trek's Federation, even after five series. Also, during the run of the series all of the governments suffered a major upset.

(note - I'm doing this all from memory. I may get details wrong and I probably will mess up spelling.)

First, there was Earth. The central government was Earthdome in Geneva. We know it had a president and a Senate but I don't remember a House or an independent judiciary. This might be how Clark was able to grab so much power. They did have the Nightwatch which seemed to function separately, more as a party than an arm of government. This was probably meant to suggest the KGB officer in USSR submarines with Nazi overtones.

The Mimbari were ruled by the Council of Nine. The number 3 was basic to their civilization and the Council was three members from the three castes. Later it was replaced with a council that had five members from the Workers and two each from the Religious and Warrior castes. At times there was also an individual who was separate from the Council and advised it. He could override it when he felt he had to.

The Centari had an emperor and a secondary body, the Centarum. The Centarum chose the emperor and seemed to have some political power. There was an implication that the emperor had total power but often chose to delegate most of it to the Centarum. Presumably membership in the Centarum was either directly hereditary or indirectly with the major houses putting forth a representative.

The Narns were overthrown before we learned much about their government or their world. They had a ruling body known as the K'aree and G'kar was the youngest member. How did you get to be a member? In the first season the Narn played up their role as the recent winners of a nationalist struggle against a colonial government. I'm going to take a guess here and say that they were set up something like Cuba in the 1960s with people who fought for the revolution getting government posts. After they Centari conquered them and left, G'kar refused to lead them and we have no idea what happened after that.

We know very little about the Vorlons and only slightly more about the Shadows. Kosh II said "We are all Kosh." On the other hand, Kosh II had a different personality than Kosh I and the two even fought. At the climax of the Great War, both races agreed to leave the galaxy. All of this implies that both races are individuals who can communicate through some form of telepathy to resolve all issues. No government would be needed in this case.

Babylon 5 itself started as sort of a UN, a place where the races could meet and air differences short of war. Like the UN, it was not very successful at preventing war and its ambassadors did not have much real power. This was replaced by an alliance which seemed to follow the Earth model of a president and a senate (council). The exact powers and roles of each were still evolving during the first year. Sheridan seemed to surprise people when he exercised actual authority through the White Star fleet. He also had to bargain with the council and they were free to use their own military resources as they saw fit.

So what do we learn from all of this? Probably the biggest lesson is that science fiction writers don't waste much effort on designing new types of government. Or, given the limited time available in a movie or TV series, the writers choose to save time by using types of government that are familiar to the viewers.

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