Is My Evil Republic Anti-Democratic?

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Hey Mythcreants, I’ve been working on a novel for some time – 13 months and 17 days, to be precise, and after many long nights staring at my computer, I’m finally getting in the final stages of the writing. And I realized that in my quest to create a nuanced, complex world, my Empire might be a little too sympathetic.

Anyway, my question is, How do I portray a functioning republic (albeit with a lot of oligarchical tendencies) as the oppressor, without coming across as anti-democracy?


Hey Evan, great to hear from you again!

Fortunately, I don’t think you’re in any danger of writing an anti-democracy story just because the bad guys are (nominally at least) a democracy. Democratic countries do shitty things all the time, including invasions and occupations. The US, UK, and France have all done such things while still being democracies.

The only way your story will seem anti-democratic is if you portray authoritarianism as the solution. Like, if your plot is about how you have to restore the republic’s monarchy so the king can end the occupation, that will seem pretty anti-democratic. But it doesn’t sound like you’re doing that, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

As to why people would fight for the empire, as long as it isn’t cartoonishly evil, this isn’t likely to be a problem either. People sign up to fight for their country and then serve in that country’s army even when it’s doing horrible things like bombing civilians or torturing prisoners. People will justify a whole lot in the name of patriotism, and that’s before you bring in all the propaganda tools that an expansionist government can use, like demonizing a racial enemy as subhuman.

For the empire being too sympathetic, that could happen if you focus too much on how imperial soldiers feel or what have you, since that can distract from the actual wrong being done. A lot of American war movies have this problem. But if you’re portraying an expansionist republic that invades other countries to acquire resources, that will just seem realistic, regardless of whether or not the invading soldiers are nice at a personal level.

Finally, I have a post that might be help: How to Realistically Depict Evil

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!

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  1. Star of Hope

    The Problem with such narratives of an evil Democracy or Republic is that they can play into the authoritarian idea of Democracy being a degenerative form of government. Very often the concept of Democracy is often treated by some stories as a joke and a system that has no protection against fascists and corruption, when other form of Government are as, if not more susceptible to Fascism and corruption.

    Don’t treat the Democracy as the source of evil or brush off the idea of Democracy as stupid, other stories had opportunities for Democracy and they were all turned down all for the narrative being focused on the Lords or people blessed with Divine powers.

    Personally I am all for a commune that fights against the tyranny of a king a la Robin Hood or Assassin’s Creed style.

  2. Sedivak

    I don’t know whether Evan used the terms “democracy” and “republic” this way on purpose, but a republic doesn’t have to be democratic at all. You can easily portray an evil republic without sounding anti-democratic at all simply by showing, that the republic in question is in fact not democratic (it is totalitarian). They can still proclaim that they are democratic, but the reality can be depicted otherwise. Should you so wish, you can depict the main characters struggle to achieve real democracy.

    Many examples can be drawn from the Soviet union and the other countries of the eastern block.

    • Cay Reet

      Yes – a republic as a such doesn’t really have to be democratic. Even a democracy can be ‘in name only’ and exclude a lot of people living in it, such as women or people below a certain income. That would tie in nicely with the oligarchy.

    • Star of Hope

      A republic is a system of government, not a form of power like Democracy. A republic is a central group which makes collective decisions for the population, which does sound compatible with Democracy, but unlike Democracies, they do not have to include the will of the people and a parliament, which are the 2 biggest feature of Democracy. So you can have a roundtable conference, but they can ignore the people’s wishes. Ancient Athens was such a system, both the Soviet Union and modern day Russia are republics, yet they are dictatorships. The Papal states are theocratic, but they do have a group of people making decisions, thus they could claim to be a republic.

      Republic is not the same as democracy and democracy is not the same as a republic, but they could go in hand with one another, just be clear that these terms and political ideas are different.

    • El Suscriptor Justiciero

      Yes, “republic” pretty much means just that the head of state is elected by several people, not hereditary. An example of a republic with no democracy would be the Vatican (inasmuch as it can be considered a country), where the Pope is chosen by the council-of-the-elder-like governing body, but those council members are not chosen by the people they govern.

  3. Elga

    Republic doen not mean that all its citizens are equal and allowed to vote on free and clear elections.
    You can describe republic that discriminates people of different religion, race or gender. Also, its citizens may freely support invazion to other contries because they were brainwashed or because they truly believe that invazion is good (at least for them). Such people will consider that in the past someone took their true land from them and they just restore justice. Or they say something like: “I do not like war but our vital interests make it necessary” (true phraze from my former friend about invazion of army of his country to my contry). By the way, republic not necessary guarantee free of speech, so you can show that opposition has a huge problems with sharing their opinion, you can have “fake” opposition that isused by goverment just to demonstrate fake democracy.
    And to make your plot pro-democratic you just can make opposite country(-ies) more democratic that evil side. It still can have a corruption or other problems but demonstrate more of freedom of speech, less or no discrimination and so on.

  4. Muakhah

    Content warning: slave trade as example

    There was already a good post on this site about factions, and another that pointed out that even in tyrannies people oppose decisions made by their leaders.
    Have a look at how your democracy functions and who holds the power. Perhaps it acts as an oppressive empire because it is more limited democracy where only certain groups can vote or hold office. You could look at the Roman republic for this, or most republic’s early days where voting rights are limited.
    Or the problem could be an information gap. Modern examples aside the British empire fits this very well. All the information coming to people seemed to reinforce the notion that white Anglo saxons were gods chosen, invincible, destined to rule and very little time or effort was actually made to even consider other peoples at all. However, at the same time people could pressure their leaders if they actually knew about something.
    For example lots of towns and cities in the UK benefited massively from the slave trade. But most of them had very little notion of what it entailed. When the abolitionists spread information about the inhumanity of it, it no longer correlated with most people’s ideas of morality. Pressure was put on government to end the slave trade on moral grounds.

    Either your empire doesn’t have enough democracy.
    Or the people are misled about the true costs of their countries actions.

    Find a historical example or two that fits the oppression in your story and then adapt it to your nations situation. If it maps well you are probably on the right path.

  5. Jeppsson

    In addition to possibilities everyone else has pointed out, I have written a pretty bad nation which you might call semi-democratic: There are elected councils, but the problem is that although they have SOME power, it’s pretty limited. The emperor (or really the court – the emperor is more of a figurehead), the heads of the biggest corporations, and on a more local level mayors (that are appointed by the emperor/his court, not elected) have much MORE power. In addition, the biggest media outlets are controlled by the non-elected powers in this situation.
    The idea is that more democracy would have been better, the main problem is that there isn’t enough of it.

    • Jeppsson

      Also, they have this ideology according to which it’s only for the best that elected councils have limited power – because everyone can vote, but everyone isn’t equally rational and intelligent. The people at the top, basically, are at the top because they’re better than those at the bottom, and better people will make better decisions. Therefore, the amount of power that the masses can wield through voting SHOULD be restricted.

  6. Esq

    Democracy can be an easy to satirize or made to look bad at the time because there are lots of real life examples of not so great moments in democratic politics because politicians decide to appeal to people’s worse nature to get votes or the entire system is slow acting and indecisive during a crisis. With less representative governments or out right dictatorships, you can easily portray the leader or leaders acting as a decisive people in times of need rather than having to deal with large groups of citizens and politicians that might not see the big crisis as any real issue.

    So pitting a monarchy against a democracy or republic can make democracy look bad because you usually have the Wise Monarch or daring, caring, and courageous Prince or Princess save the day. I’ve also noticed a trend where the aristocracy in these stories are dazzling good looking while the more democratic or republican politicians tend to be ordinary or even quite ugly, which isn’t a great message. Democracy is a messy form of government, so doesn’t necessarily come across well in fictional circumstances.

  7. Tony

    One way to humanize imperial soldiers without making their side too sympathetic is to have them desert, whether in the backstory (like Jeong Jeong on A:TLA) or in the story itself (like Finn in TFA).

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