Examining the Systems of Government in Iain Banks’ Culture Series

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Alex Carchidi
Sci-Fi Addicts
October 17, 2016

Anarchists, Theocrats, Monarchists, Fascists, and Sadists in the Culture Series

Iain Banks’ The Culture series is a technological space opera that is well-known for its smart investigation into the interplay between various alien societies. Each of the alien societies that have an associated political presence in space have a different form of government. The various systems of government each society has frequently dictate their interaction with the protagonists. Most of the books in the series are told from the perspective of people within The Culture.
The Culture in The Culture Series

To start off our analysis, let’s first describe the titular “Culture” so that we have an understanding of the perspective that the books are written from.

The Culture is an anarchistic utopian society, and as such, it has no formal central government. The resources of the Culture are vast, and its citizens are the most materially wealthy in the galaxy, and, as they have no currency or scarcity, perfectly egalitarian. Culture society is organized around either massive colony spaceships dubbed General Systems Vehicles or small planetary colonies scattered across the galaxy. Each Culture vessel or planetary colony is independent from the others, though in practice there is a large degree of cultural overlap between population centers, much like provinces of the same country.

All Culture citizens are united by ultra-liberal political leanings in which anything is permissible if there is consent. In practice, for matters of governance, citizens grant consent to artificial intelligences which they call Minds. Minds exist in multiplicity inside of every Culture spaceship or colony, and, together with their semi-sentient robotic drones, run things in the Culture. Each Mind is separate, and they do not necessarily collaborate with other Minds, though most do. Minds are sentient beings and are characterized as having the best interests of the citizens hard coded into their operations.  In this sense, the Culture is a hybrid of enlightened despotism and anarchism in which a few elite Minds shepherd their portions of the citizenry with their full knowledge and consent.

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