[ASH] Derek Radner's Private Journal #10 - "Who Wants To Rule The World?"

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at eyrie.org
Wed Jun 29 15:19:41 PDT 2022

[May 21, 2027 - Heavily encrypted file on an isolated terminal built from
non-standard parts and hidden in a vault]

     An eternity or ten years ago I considered the nature of conquerors, as
an intellectual exericise.  But now that I have become one, if only over a
small "rogue state," I clearly need to give the practical side of conquest
more thought.

     Having grown as a person and a ruler since those youthful days of
college, I have come to a conclusion about the traits one must possess in
order to want to rule the world.  Not all are needed, but you need at least
one of them.

     1. Insanity.
     2. Utter foolishness.
     3. An unquenchable desire to save a world that doesn't want to be

     Seriously, actually ruling is a huge hassle.  With great power there
also very annoyingly comes great responsibility, unless you want your
conquests to fall apart.

     No, nobody really WANTS to rule the world, not if they've given it any
rational thought.  People want to be unfettered, to do what they will and
know that no one can hold them to account for it.  Some want the praise, the
riches, the comforts that they think ruling will bring them.  Or they want to
fix things, and accept rulership as the horrible price of doing so.  The
benevolent tyrant generally finds the crown a burden.  But actually RULING,
all the duties that entails?  No, no sane person actually wants that.

     If you look at the most successful empires throughout history, one thing
you notice pretty quickly is that there's some sort of hierarchical system in
place, with the guy (almost always a guy, to be honest) at the top having
very little direct influence over the average subject's life.  Whether
appointing satraps or governors or just letting the existing rulers stay in
charge so long as they send tribute, it's uncommon to find empires where the
entire structure from top to bottom is managed by one person.  Chinese
dynasties come close, in that the civil service started to become so
standardized that it really was a single government subject to the commands
of one man.  But even then, the Emperor didn't actually worry about any but
the broadest strokes and most general structures.  Even later dynasties were
content to let the civil service keep doing its thing and just enjoy being at
the top.  

     And that comes down to a fundamental issue that is necessary for any
large state to function: trust.  And what does your average world-conquering
villain have trouble with?  TRUST.

     The successful ruler has to trust the satraps and bureaucrats to run
things properly, whether it's a very hands-off Persian style empire or a
monolithic bureaucracy in the Chinese mold.  A conquering villain tends to
have a singular and rather uncompromising vision, even if it's just "all must
bow down to me!"  Even the wise villain, who surrounds himself with a healthy
balance of followers, consorts, and opponents, may have trouble letting go of
whatever purity of purpose got them to the throne.

     How do you trust your underlings enough to actually run an empire when
you built that empire on the breaking of existing social structures?  "To the
strong" tore apart Alexander's empire almost immediately upon his death,
after all...when you build your empire on conquest and surround yourself with
people good at conquest, they're not all going to want to stop and be
satisfied with their ministerial portfolios.

     And, of course, no one has actually conquered the entire world, not
really.  Despite the fears of conspiracy theorists in the 2000s, the super-
state trend halted without creating a One World Government, and it has even
reversed somewhat with the fracturing of China into three states.  No one who
has tried, either through mundane means or supernormal powers, has managed to
quite seal the deal.  Oh, there's been very brief cases of powerful magic
being used to control the world, but those always ended in failure within
days or even hours.

     I suppose that in addition to one of the three traits I listed at the
start, you also need to be supremely confident in your abilities, although
that could just be part of insanity.  There may been people who were
confident that they could rule the world, they just didn't desire to do so.
It doesn't mean they were right, or even sane, they just had different

     Do I really want to rule the world?  Is my ego so in need of massaging
that I desire all who live to bend a knee?  On a bad day, perhaps.  Even the
gods seem to want worship for itself, not just for whatever mystical benefits
they may gain from it.  (Polla says her universe killed its gods, which seems
like it was probably a good idea.)

     So.  Getting back to my original points, as I've rambled enough and my
private time is a precious resource.

     A madman wants to rule the world because he is broken somehow.  Maybe he
thinks ruling will fix what is broken, maybe he merely thinks he is the only
real person and it is his right to rule over the meat puppets.  In a world
where desire can shape reality, a madman might one day rule the world, but
probably not for very long.  The power to keep everything running by force of
will rivals that of the gods, and I've seen what happens to those who attract
the jealous eye of those outside of time.

     A fool wants to rule the world because he thinks it will make his life
better and easier.  A powerful fool can be a danger, or at least an
inconvenience, but because it's all about the getting power no real thought
has been given to actually running the world.  If a fool were to rule the
world, he would be overthrown if he didn't surrender the crown in despair
first.  At best, he'd become a figurehead, to be thrown to the rabble as a
distraction once he was no longer useful.

     And lastly, he who would conquer the world because the WORLD is broken
will find that the job never ends.  There is no one way to fix the world,
people are too diverse for any solution to work.  The conqueror is in for a
lifetime of constantly fixing what breaks, facing opposition from those who
disagree with what constitutes "fixed" in the first place, and managing
underlings who have their own minds and motives.  The virtues of the
conqueror and the virtues of the ruler rarely come together in one person,
and even if the emperor manages it, some of the satraps will be more
interested in further conquest than in administering their satrapies.

     I have decades left to me before vitality wanes.  I could still decide
the world needs conquering, but for now I will try to be content with merely
being one of the most powerful men in the world, with an unbelieveably hot
wife and some great kids.  Frankly, college-me probably never thought he'd do
so well.

            This has been a Conclave of Super-Villains Special:
   ( )                Derek Radner's Private Journal                 ( )
    I           An Academy of Super-Heroes Universe Comic             I
    I               copyright 2022 by Dave Van Domelen                I
                    #10 - Who Wants To Rule The World?

Author's Notes: 

     This came out of some just-before-bedtime discussion on Discord, so I
quickly typed up the three points and a few lines of explanation, then went
to bed.  Given that Derek's journal addressed the issue of conquerors
already, I decided the next morning that this should be a "ten years later"
journal entry, touching on some earlier topics but with the benefit of
experience.  They can't all be college student thinkpieces, right?

     One of the themes that's been running through my later ASH writing is
the idea that when the dog finally catches the car, what next?  With a few
institutional exceptions like Doctor Doom, when supervillains take over a
country in the comics they usually get overthrown (especially if they take
over a real country instead of one that was specifically made up for them to
conquer), but we rarely get to see what happens when the villains keep
control and realize that now they have DUTIES.  And when it does happen,
often the villains just bail (current Black Adam is so far an exception, but
he's got that noblesse oblige going on).  So, Radner actually has to be a
competent ruler, not just a conqueror.  The Boys of Pain and NY Macoute find
themselves the new municipal government.  And so forth.  An empire, be it
world-girdling or just a few city blocks, is not static and it needs to be
managed.  You can't really rule without also administering, otherwise you're
just a parasite that the actual rulers tolerate.


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