The Longue Duree of the Galactic Empire

In response to this symposium at Wired about the Battle of Hoth, my thoughts:

“The overly episodic focus of military historians and policy experts rather typically leads them to ignore the deeper structural considerations shaping this period in the history of galactic society. The Battle of Hoth is in fact an epiphenomenal afterthought notable largely for the waste of lives and resources on both sides, rather than any kind of turning point in the conflict. In the longue duree, what is more striking by far is the escalating failure of bureaucratic centralization under the late Imperial government, which was in turn little more than an extension of a similar structural contradiction in the late Republic period. Paying too much attention to ideological superstructures like ‘The Force’ conceals the degree to which galactic governance in either period had become a form of tributary extraction from separate polities whose cultures and languages were poorly integrated into the dominant elite culture. The Empire’s racial preference for humans with pink skin and a selected set of other privileged subaltern cultures was simply a ratification of the tendencies towards speciescentric elitism in the Republic, and the tendency to rely upon technological violence and coercion to keep systems in line merely a variation on the use of highly trained paramilitary “Jedi” to intimidate rebellious or dissenting local elites in the late Republic.

Battles like Hoth were a constant feature of the late Republic and Imperial periods alike, but have received less attention from scholars due to the lack of participation by charismatic leaders whose long-term importance was negligible, like Darth Vader and Leia Organa. In many ways, the destruction of Imperial facilities by poorly armed indigenes in the Endor system is more indicative of the ways in which galactic governance was fragmenting and failing in the late Imperial period. Treating the Rebellion as a privileged mode of dissent in an era when many other systems and social classes were in other ways ‘slipping through the fingers’ of the Coruscant metropole is itself granting too much credit to a ragtag band of avidly self-promoting malcontents.”

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5 Responses to The Longue Duree of the Galactic Empire

  1. Brad DeLong says:

    So have you sent this to Spencer Ackerman at Wired?

  2. Ed says:

    Well this is excellent, which makes me wonder why there isn’t more (any?) science fiction written in an academic style. Some authors (like Asimov in the Foundation series) seem to really want to do it, and compromise by giving soliloquies to their academically-inclined characters, but that’s a bit of a kludge. Why not go full-bore?

  3. Withywindle says:

    Mais, non.

    “Dramatizations conceal some of the more important aspects of the Battle of Hoth. Hoth, though short, was a bloody battle, and exceptionally so among the elite soldiers and officers among both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. (These elites, of course, had both been trained in the Haut Ecole Militaire du Republique; some of the “predictabilities” of their tactics rose from their common training and reading.) The Empire, in particular, lost more than half of the Imperial Guard in this “minor action”; although it could still command the great ships of the Navy, it no longer had a trained corps available for ground action. The hastily scraped-up infantry of the post-Hoth Empire, a combination of raw recruits and clones–the latter never suitable for operations involving initiative or expertise–were much reduced in ability; their inability to fend off the poorly-armed indigenes of Ewok was dramatic, but characteristic of the general degradation of Imperial ground capabilities following Hoth.

    The decimation of the Rebel cadres was likewise of great consequence. The elite of the Rebel Alliance died in the defense of Hoth; this was also the human-Coruscant elite, and thereafter the balance of power within the Rebel Alliance shifted to the non-human Federates of the Alliance. The rise of Admiral Ackbar is emblematic of this transformation. It should be mentioned that there are persisting rumors that Ackbar conveyed the location of Hoth to the Empire, and then arranged for his portion of the Alliance Fleet to be “undergoing retrofit in the Setif Asteroids” during the Hoth campaign. This is entirely plausible of the being who would rise to be Life President of the New Republic, but these remain no more than rumors. In either case, Hoth remains an inflection point in Galactic history, the point where the civil war within the Human-Coruscant metropole so enfeebled it that it lost the long-term ability to maintain control of the Republic-Empire. While it would be too bold to say that this was a decisive turning point, it would likewise be too bold to say that it was merely an episode in an inevitable longue duree. Before Hoth, the Human-Coruscant hegemony seemed unchallengeable; afterward, it did not. We should not undervalue this contemporary perception–not least since such perceptions themselves played a role in the ensuing torrent of military and political developments. Without Hoth, the Ackbar Dynasty may well have been unthinkable.”

  4. Landau says:

    That’s more like it.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    Yes. Awesome. Thank you, Withywindle.

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