One of my hobbies is worldbuilding. The creation of imaginary worlds as the material for thought experiments and the like is something that is a good way to better understand the world. When we can understand the effect of the physical world on our behavior, aspects that we may often neglect to pay attention to in our own world because of their implications. I would like to comment on a particular fantasy world I have created and pondered the geopolitical implications of how it is that a small refugee nation used geopolitics in order to become a hegemonic power.
Let us begin with the setting. A small refugee nation composed of several different but allied groups that has become skilled at such things as combined arms and the clever use of multiple layers of federalism to decrease tensions and rivalry over government settles on the coast of a continent. That coastal region includes plains where an egalitarian farming society lives, full of provincial towns that build up according to emergent trade routes, hill peoples who are able to dwell at peace because of their friendly relationship with the lowlanders, and forest dwellers who are all able to trade and get along with each other and have a high degree of self-rule within a larger whole. The whole combined group of people is able to settle river valleys and coastal valleys and islands and expand into a large area of fertile land in the center of the continent that has previously been left untouched because they have a policy to settle and expand across any unplatted land that they find that has defensible barriers, and their refugee status prevents them from knowing the competing claims that other and more established nations have had for these lands, seeing it as free real estate and acting accordingly.
One of the things that makes this particular fantasy world so interesting, at least when compared to the reality that we live in, is that the various identities that people claim are largely of no importance whatsoever in their larger culture. What appears to be the case, for example, is that the members of this population adopt different names based on the specific local contexts in which they find themselves, but share a large base of linguistic, religious, and cultural ties that keep them connected despite the fact that they are known by a variety of different names depending on the specific other people that they are around. In general, this people operates in such a way that they seek out niches wherever they go that are not being filled, and by filling these niches find a great deal of personal security and both individual and larger-scale well-being. In one culture, for example, this people creates a middle class in a previously harshly stratified society that allows for that society to gain greater wealth while also providing upward mobility for the previously lower class while also ameliorating the conditions of downward mobility for the younger children of elites who would previously lose a lot of status by going into commerce. This has some serious consequences for the social stability of the neighbors of this unlikely empire, whose large amount of fertile land and high levels of egalitarianism mean their population skyrockets, spurring them to settle all of the empty lands that they can find and spread their pioneer culture.
Now, those who are aware of the history of the United States will certainly be aware of the larger implications of the fantasy worldbuilding I did, in that much of what I stated about the small refugee power that became a massive if unusual empire followed along from the template of America’s own history. If you put a group of people who is able to work together by demanding less from ordinary people than most governments do and setting them loose to fill the empty spaces of the world around them, then they will grow big and strong. The initial conditions, including a benign divine providence, it must be admitted, lead to a particular conclusion. And by seeking to isolate these conditions we can better understand how things got to be where they are, both for good or for bad.