The basic human government – whether it’s the leadership of a wandering tribe of hunter-gatherers or the councils of a mighty empire – is built of three components.
First up – and often most visibly – we have the Warlord. This is the guy who’s good at killing enemies, ranging from dangerous wild animals up through rival warlords and their troops. He can keep your group safe. Of course, he’s most often in charge because he’s good at killing people who don’t do what he says. That’s a tough argument to beat when you’re setting who gets the credit and who makes the final decision.
*It’s almost always “He”; women seem less inclined to see “killing people” as a solution. That may be because women who do see things that way are less likely to reproduce successfully.
On a small scale, Warlords long predate humanity. Many group-living primates have a big, tough, leader around somewhere.
On a larger scale, warlord governments can become great empires: “obey or I/we will kill you” expands easily; you don’t have to solve problems, you simply threaten to become one. The master hunter, the war chief, the great general, and – in mythic realms – the mighty hero-king all fall into the “Warlord” category.
So does rule by Judges and Police; they’re simply Warlords who are focused on internal enemies of the group, rather than on external ones. You tend to see them in charge when the neighbors are relatively non-threatening and have little that’s worth the trouble of taking by force.
Next up we have the Adviser. This is the clever guy who can solve non-combative problems. Do you need to irrigate, find a cure for a sickness, bring in more water, or improve your port? You call on the clever people. Of course, while clever people are useful, they’re never entirely trusted by the populace; who can trust people who’s plans and activities you cannot understand?
Sadly, Adviser Governments are very limited in how big they can grow – typically being restricted to city-states. Solving problems through cleverness requires information, and study, and time – finite resources which must be spread thinner and thinner as the area to be managed expands. Worse, no matter how clever the manager, a sword in his stomach will seriously cramp his style. Safety takes priority over clever ideas in the short term – and, while an Adviser Government may leave a mighty legacy of ideas to shape the course of later history, a Warlord Empire can have a much bigger army NOW.
That’s why Adviser-types who try to take power are often remembered as “Evil Grand Viziers“. They may solve many problems, or even bring prosperity for a time – but who remembers that when they’ve led the country into being conquered, plundered, and enslaved?
In mythic terms, the engineer, legal expert, and scholar becomes the Wizard – and now you know why most tales of wizard-rulers cast them in a bad light.
Finally, of course, we have the Shaman – the priest or mystic. The guy who has a real knack for persuading people that the uncontrollable whims of nature – storms and floods, outbreaks of plagues, crop failures and earthquakes – actually CAN be controlled.
By him of course.
The Shaman-Priest (at least in reality) doesn’t usually really control the powers of nature – but he or she DOES greatly influence the general populace, who desperately want to feel safe and secure. Fortunately, major disasters are relatively rare anyway – or no one would still live in the area affected – but people tend to worry about them in proportion to how spectacular they are, rather than how actually menacing they are. That makes it easy for a Shaman-Priest to blame anything that DOES happen on failures of the people affected, rather than taking the blame for failing.
Sadly, priestly governments are poor at actually solving problems; Warlords handle military problems and Advisers do the non-military ones that can be solved – leaving the insolvable stuff to the religious types. Worse, anyone who’s persuasive enough can easily divide the what power base – the populations belief – that there is. Thus a priest-dominated governmental system tends to unite vague confederations; groups of small tribes and city-states that each have their own Warlords and Advisers but whom find a vague unity of belief sufficient to smooth over their conflicts. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as there are no major external challenges – but such confederations are generally vulnerable to a Warlord Empire, just as the Assyrians rolled over the poorly-unified tribes of Israel.
On the mythic scale this is where you find rule by miracle, by prophet, or by incarnate god. Oddly enough, for all their supposed powers, such rulers rarely seem to solve much.
Well, it really wouldn’t fit the archetype if they did. Solutions are the Advisers problem.
Ideally, of course, all three basic aspects will be combined in a single great ruler. Sadly, that’s pretty rare. While it’s easy to combine religion with either the Warlord or the Adviser role – producing God-Kings and Priestly Advisers – Warlord-Advisers are relatively rare. There may not be a good reason for that other than that most human minds just don’t seem to work that way – and there’s no use asking me. If I knew the reason for that, I’d be much too busy ruling the world to answer questions.