Höhenschar, officially the Greater Höhenschar Empire (Höhenschar: Grösser Höhenschar Reich), is an interstellar nation in the Space Opera Universe, located spinward of the United Systems Federation ("USF, or simply “Federation”), and rimward of the Unified People’s Directorate (“UPD”). Höhenschar’s Coreward Colonies region (Höhenschar: Herzwart Kolonie) is divided from the rest of the Reich by the so-called “Dead Zone” – a region with a low density of heavy elements and few terrestrial planets.
Höhenschar space directly borders that of the Federation and the Ruwaar Autonomous Enclave for substantial stretches, as well as numerous smaller nations. It is the third largest nation in the known galaxy by volume and number of systems (behind the Federation and the Arrhraggln Confederation), and the fifth largest by population (also behind the Imperium and the UPD). It has been a major galactic power for over a century, with extensive economic, military, and political influence.
Origin of the name Höhenschar
The name “Höhenschar” literally translates as “High Clan” or “High Band”, a title originally referring to the hegemonic senior family band among a loose confederation of interstellar nomadic tribes known as the Star Clans (Höhenschar: Sternsippe)
The Führer’s power is ultimately absolute, and operates over and independent of other law and authority in the Reich. A Höhenschar maxim has it that it is not power that corrupts, but rather the pursuit of it – It is believed that by bestowing absolute power on an individual specifically selected and trained to utilize it wisely, the Reich can avoid the pitfalls of autocratic rule while enjoying its benefits, such as consistency of policy and counteraction of the inertia and infighting endemic to large organizations. A Führer owes no political debts, and can brush aside bureaucratic “turf wars”. Moreover, the very existence of his power and authority tends to encourage cooperation among subordinates afraid of the consequences of seeming unreasonable or obstructive.
The office of Führer is held for life, with an early order of business for any Führer being the selection of his successor from the population of adolescent male citizens of the Reich – a search facilitated by the extensive intellectual and psychological assessment data compiled on all of the Reich’s youth in the course of their education. Though the precise criteria are secrets of the highest order, they are believed to extend beyond broad intellectual, social, and managerial aptitude to subtler talents for calculated risk-taking and bluff.
A Führer-in-Training (Höhenschar: Führer-Lehrling) leaves his family to be formally adopted by the current Führer, and is comprehensively mentored by him along with an extensive staff. His education encompasses professional topics such as economics and military strategy, together with such broader disciplines as psychology and sociology. The lack of opportunity for unsupervised socializing and recreation in the life of a Führer-in-Training has led many outside the Reich to speculate on the sanity of the Führers the process produces. By extension, the fact that candidates selected by the screening process seem to take to it quite naturally, for all its rigors, has led some to dub it “Headhunting for Sociopaths.” Rather than subordinating everyone and everything to their own desires and aggrandizement, however, it seems clear that the process selects for personalities likely to subordinate everyone and everything, including themselves, to the perceived welfare of the Reich.
Civil administration in the Reich is largely decentralized, but hierarchically structured, with all authority ultimately deriving from the Führer. The Executive Branch is made up of several ministries, directed by Führer-appointed Ministers.
- SS (encompassing foreign intelligence, internal security, and law enforcement)
- Foreign Ministry
- Colonial Ministry
- Ministry of Economics, Commerce, and Finance
- Ministry of Public Information and Communications
- Ministry of Law and Justice
- Reich Technical Guild (science and engineering)
The various Ministers, together with the Grand Admiral of the Fleet, the Marshall of Planetary Defense Forces, and the Führer’s Chief of Staff constitute an unofficial “cabinet” upon which the Führer traditionally calls for advice, particularly with regard to the allocation of the national budget (Höhenschar: Reichsbehalten), which funds their respective ministries. Führers also frequently establish connections to other individuals with expertise in fields of importance as well, and notoriously double-check information supplied through regular channels via informal secondary sources, as well as outright surveillance and eavesdropping.
The Reich’s unicameral legislature, known as the Reichsrat (“Imperial Council”), seats a number of delegates (currently 7,865), each representing a bloc of approximately 10 million citizens. Thus, the most populous worlds of the Reich may be represented by upwards of 300 delegates, while some individual representatives may have constituencies of dozens of small colony worlds. Individual candidates for elected office petition the Ministry of Law and Justice for a slot on the ballot, and, if accepted, are allocated media space for their “campaign”. Formal political parties are not tolerated in the Reich, being considered treasonous usurpations of government authority and official judgment. While informal voting blocs exist, alliances tend to be opportunistic and short-lived.
While the Reichsrat has the power to enact laws, in practice the various Ministries are the real authors of law and regulation within their respective areas of responsibility. The primary focus of the Reichsrat is distributing the civil budget (Höhenschar: Staatsvergabe) from the core allocation made by the Führer from the Reichsbehalten. The inherent imbalance in power between core planets and colony worlds is offset somewhat by the provision made for the latter via the Colonial Ministry budget in the Reichsbehalten.
While often referred to as a “police state”, the cultural homogeneity of the Reich means that the law directly intervenes relatively little in the maintenance of social order. The most commonly cited exception to this rule is the “Capital Sanctity of Marriage” – Adultery is not only criminal, but technically punishable by the death of both offending parties at the discretion of the aggrieved spouse. In practice this is considered socially vulgar, and seldom occurs, but the existence of the law frequently expedites property divisions in related divorce cases.
Criminal Justice in the Reich operates under an inquisitorial system. Its proceedings are not a matter of public record, though defense counsel, as well as the accused, victims, and their immediate family generally receive regular progress reports. Capital punishment is the norm in cases of violent crime, sometimes being dispensed in cases of manslaughter, aggravated assault, or conspiracy as a means of dealing with “social undesirables”. Uniquely among the advanced interstellar nations of the Space Opera Universe, the Höhenschar penal code follows the medieval model of authorizing the sentencing judge to prescribe higher degrees of capital punishment under certain aggravating circumstances relating to the crime or its victims.
The sanctity of contract is paramount in Höhenschar civil law, and both inter-business and employer/employee relationships are little interfered with by government absent national security concerns. Organized labor, lacking any supporting legal structure, exists only in certain skilled trades akin to the guilds of the Terrestrial middle ages.
While certain civil liberties ostensibly limit official power in cases of search and seizure, arrest and detention, etc., invocation of those liberties in the face of a clear objective (e.g., searches of homes or vehicles in pursuit of a fugitive) is typically considered socially improper, and challenges are easily set aside on the basis of “necessity”. Law enforcement agencies’ real accountability in such matters is to their respective oversight offices, which are staffed and managed in adversarial fashion in a structure ultimately reporting to the Führer himself. While this system hardly preserves anything resembling the privacy rights enjoyed by citizens of the Federation, systematic abuses of authority are discouraged by draconian penalties.
About 1000 years ago, at the end of the Interregnum following the last (or at least most recent) of the so-called “Bug Wars”, the first major interstellar nation to reemerge in the known galaxy was the Akalon-Sargonian Federated Union of Worlds, more commonly known simply as “The Federate”. The Federate grew and prospered, peacefully absorbing a number of potential rivals before reaching the apex of its power approximately 600 years ago.
The last few centuries of the Federate’s existence were what socio-political analysts term a “post-growth” phase, colloquially described (particularly among the modern Höhenschar) as “decadent”. Stability and security took precedence over growth and innovation in framing policy. Government and civic leaders regulated ever-expanding realms of activity (commercial, cultural, and personal) in ever-greater detail in order to manage conflicts and perceived inequities. Similarly, large, consolidated cartels had come to dominate the major sectors of its economy, promoting innovation and change that they perceived as benefiting them and which could readily be absorbed into their existing order, and squelching that which could not.
These trends inhibited exploration and expansion of the Federate’s frontiers, and government sanction of such activity was effectively halted altogether with the official adoption of the so-called “Footfall Doctrine”, under which no systems containing planets with indigenous life of any kind were to be colonized or significantly exploited for their resources. While this policy was ostensibly justified by desire to preserve unique lifeforms and emerging cultures, and prevent conflict over such worlds with other starfaring nations, some in the Federate saw it as merely another oppressive mechanism by which the existing oligarchies could maintain their control. Clandestine exploration and colonization by Federate emigrants and entrepreneurs thus continued, particularly in the region of the Ebon Veil Nebula (Höhenschar: Ebenschal Nebelfleck), and eventually unauthorized colonies developed that saw no need to recognize Federate sovereignty.
Over the course of decades, these colonies developed a distinct culture in self-consciously sharp contrast to that of the Federate, incorporating elements combed from the spotty records of the distant (and of course, romanticized) human past of old Earth. The colonies idealized a disciplined warrior ethos and aggressive expansion over managed compromise and co-existence.
Initial clashes between Federate and allied corporate security forces and the independent colonies were inconclusive, but what did not crush the colonies made them stronger. Chased from their original bases, they took on a nomadic existence, stealing from the Federate what they could not produce themselves. These roaming Star Clans honed their combat tactics and salvaged advanced weaponry while the Federate burned resources and eroded military morale in continuing inconclusive conflict. Disengagement from the colonies was politically unacceptable as an acknowledgement of the limits of Federate authority, while escalation of the conflict was likewise unacceptable in terms of cost. Consequently, the Federate’s advantages in resources, technology, and numbers were gradually squandered, and the Star Clans seldom lost the initiative in the conflict. Over a period of decades, the Clans not only re-established colonies, but began to seize whole outlying Federate worlds, and momentum built with each Federate defeat. At the same time the Star Clans grew together, first in a sort of working confederation, and finally as a single nation.
By about 300 years ago, the Federate had begun to disintegrate politically, due to both an inability to protect trade and communication from Höhenschar predation, and to mounting and increasingly violent friction between human and non-human populations. The latter was no-doubt instigated in some measure by the Höhenschar, but chiefly grew out of paranoia as news of Höhenschar atrocities against non-humans compounded with successive Federate defeats, soon turning into more-or-less open and systematic genocide. Particular Höhenschar wrath was reserved for the canine humanoid species known as the Ruwaar, who formed a majority of the population in the trailward regions of the Federate, and had wielded significant influence in its government. A smaller, but prosperous, independent Ruwaar nation bordering the Federate provided increasing material and financial support to those resisting the Höhenschar onslaught, but sought to avoid direct conflict.
Höhenschar commerce raiders soon struck without hesitation into Ruwaar space as the last worlds of the Federate surrendered, and open warfare quickly followed. The small fleet and armed forces of the Ruwaar resisted bravely, but were outclassed by the battle-hardened Höhenschar. As Ruwaar worlds surrendered, disturbing rumors emerged that the Höhenschar had begun to deploy mobile industrial facilities for the purpose of converting captured non-human populations into foodstuffs.
The Ruwaar wavered on the verge of collapse, but were saved by the sudden intervention of the United Systems Federation, which had been ascending as a major power over the centuries of Federate collapse. Fearful of Höhenschar expansionism and appalled by its policy of genocide, the USF negotiated temporary settlements in its ongoing conflicts with the UPD and Imperium on its opposite borders, and redeployed against the new threat.
The USF fielded some capable veteran combat forces, and if the Höhenschar maintained any net qualitative advantages over them, they were more than counteracted by sheer numbers, backed by a population and industrial base that hadn’t been battered by decades of total war. The Höhenschar were swiftly driven from all but a sliver of Ruwaar space, and found themselves struggling to defend their own borders. Only renewed conflict between the USF and the opportunistic UPD and Imperium gave the Höhenschar respite, and soon they negotiated peace with the Federation. The Höhenschar retained the few depopulated Ruwaar worlds they still held, but the Federation underlined their commitment to defending the rest by annexing the Ruwaar nation into an “Autonomous Enclave” that remained self-governing, but was fully militarily integrated with the USF.
Despite three major wars and ongoing proxy conflicts, the Höhenschar/USF borders have remained largely static since their first contact some 150 years ago. An early campaign against the UPD was successful in securing the borders of the Coreward Colonies, but that border too has been unaltered since. While the Reich has been involved in numerous alliances-of-convenience, and takes care to maintain cordial diplomatic relations with most major nations, even during wartime, its cultural chauvinism is fundamentally incompatible with the development of long-term alliances. The Höhenschar appear to be playing the “long game” in the international political arena – expanding colonial development where they are unopposed, intent on maintaining and increasing their economy and technological advantages, and always remaining alert for a sign of weakness from their opponents.
The Höhenschar Reich is one of the most developed nations in the galaxy, possessing the second largest economy by nominal GDP, a high standard of living and technological advancement, and a highly educated population. While its consumer economy and industries are more highly developed and less restrictively regulated than those of any major interstellar nation (including the ostensibly more democratic USF), the Reich’s economy also benefits greatly from its exploitation and development of the “Hinterlands” – A spin-rimward region unbordered by any other major nation and apparently possessing a high concentration of both habitable worlds and ones rich in mineral wealth. The Reich’s notorious policy of exterminating contacted non-human sapient species no-doubt expedites their exploitation of this region.
Private individual and corporate capitalism drives most of the Höhenschar economy, which has been called the most “laissez faire” that has ever been implemented by a technological nation, much less on an interstellar scale. While natural boom-bust cycles prevail, the general trend, fueled by development of the Hinterlands, is one of ongoing growth. Organized labor is not facilitated by law, and actively restrained where it would interfere with individual rights of contract. Businesses, however, find it difficult to utilize government leverage to obstruct competition or to benefit from subsidies outside of the military contracting sector. While corrupt business practices are not unknown, penalties for fraud (be it financial, product-related, or contractual) can be quite severe, and legal enforcement arms are subject to few practical constraints on their investigative power.
Having violently purged “alien” influences as it grew, Höhenschar society is culturally monolithic, with little variation across planets or regions compared to other human nations. Social folkways and mores throughout the Reich resemble those of 19th century “Victorian” Earth in many respects, particularly sex roles, the importance of the “nuclear” family unit, and formalized extra-familial social interactions. The Höhenschar are not religious as such, professing strict agnosticism (see below), but have contrived materialist philosophical underpinnings for values often justified in religious terms in Terrestrial human history. Women, for example, are expected not to work outside the home or serve in the military not because they are “weaker” or disfavored due to Eve’s disobedience, but rather because evolution is assumed to have optimized them for child-rearing and domesticity, while psychologically disadvantaging them in pursuits favoring aggression and ambition. Homosexual relationships are similarly discouraged as “evolutionarily aberrant”. Surreptitious “counter-cultural” habits and behavior are tolerated to varying degrees so long as “proper appearances” are maintained, and/or the individual wields sufficient social capital through personal connections or achievement. While the law generally does not intervene directly against social offenders, in practice the closing of the doors of “polite society” often drives such outsiders either out of the Reich altogether, or into criminal activity, where they face harsher punishments than “conventional” criminals.
Prevailing aesthetics in the Reich, in terms of architecture, fashion, and design, also tend to display a heavy “Victorian” influence. The intersection of such styles with technologies well-advanced beyond those of the 19th century can produce what Terrestrial observers often describe as a “steampunk” look, though generally confined to a device's packaging, rather than encompassing its workings. Military technology naturally tends to favor functionality over gratuitous ornamentation, with a look sometimes closer to “art deco” rather than Victorian.
It is unsettled whether the Höhenschar language, descended as it clearly is from Terrestrial Germanic languages, was a conscious cultural affectation, or simply happened to have been the shared dialect of a core of the original colonists. While it is known that many of the directly Nazi trappings of the Reich (uniform styles, the institution of the “SS”, use of the Fascist/Roman-style salute, etc.) were consciously adopted by some of the early Star Clans, the extent of their familiarity with Nazi history and ideology remain uncertain. Some historians claim evidence of flirtation with intra-human racial hygiene doctrine in the early Star Clans, though this is not the prevailing view.
The Höhenschar officially view most religious doctrine as mere superstition, and are agnostic with regard to most matters spiritual. A form of directed philosophical inquiry, however, occupies a social niche akin to that of religion in many other societies. The basis of this inquiry is a book known as the Treatise on the Socio-Cosmic Order (Höhenschar: Abhandlung über die soziokosmische Ordnung). While referred to as a single work, the Treatise is clearly a composite of the work of numerous authors over a considerable period of human history.
The surviving “Core Treatise”, of perhaps 25,000 words, is of unknown authorship, but linguistic analysis and certain obsolete scientific references indicate that it likely originated with pre-starfaring Terrestrial civilization. Various annotations and supplements have apparently been added over the course of millennia, some by identified authors, and others anonymously. The Höhenschar Ministry of Public Information and Communications determines which such materials, currently totaling almost 90% of the total volume, may be considered the “actual” Treatise. The precise accrual and source of these supplemental materials in the early history of the Star Clans and the Reich is unclear, and much debated by social scientists outside the Reich.
What remains of the Core Treatise is of limited scope – being largely an argument for a deterministic cosmology accommodating rudimentary concepts of quantum mechanics, with occasional observational digressions into human social, political, and historical structures and their possible reflection of said cosmology. The various supplements tend to build on these observations in an explicitly prescriptive fashion, turning the work into something like a utopian social blueprint.
An illustrative example of the work’s “accretion of meaning” is its discussion of conflict between human and alien cultures. The Core Treatise discusses the relationship of human empathy to cultural, physical, and genetic similarity, discussing the significant “common ground for interaction” possessed across cultures among humans, and further among primates, and even terrestrial mammals as a group. It addresses in passing the potential difficulties (its ancient author apparently speaking only hypothetically) in empathizing with extraterrestrial life forms. The authors of the various supplements amplify this point – ultimately establishing as fundamental truth that human and alien motives and values can coincide only coincidentally, and their interactions must obviously be ones of zero-sum conflict.
The Ministry of Public Information and Communications supports both scholarship and private study groups focusing on the Treatise. These groups function as the closest Höhenschar analog to the counseling functions provided by clergy or psychotherapists in other cultures.
The national flag of the Greater Höhenschar Empire displays an angularly-stylized black leaf, the “Ironleaf” (Höhenschar: Eisenblatt), in a white disk over a black and white-bordered black cross on a sun-gold field. The Höhenschar national colors of sun-gold (Höhenschar: sonnengold, a shade likely to be called medium or “lemon” yellow in English), black, and white symbolize the personal motto of the Höhenschar Führer: Beauty, Strength, and Purity (Höhenschar: Schönheit, Stärkheit, und Reinheit). The Ironleaf symbol alone is used as an insignia on Höhenschar military vehicles and aerospace craft.
The Ironleaf symbol is derived from the leaves of certain trees of the genus Paraquercus, colloquially known as “Irontrees” (Höhenschar: Eisenbaume), currently found extensively on several worlds within the Reich, including the capital, Höhenschar Prime. Trees of this genus favor mineral-rich bog soils, and absorb dissolved metals such as iron, copper, or sometimes silver, as a defense against disease and both macro and micro herbivores. Under the right conditions, some species absorb metals in sufficient volume to give their leaves a metallic, foil-like texture. Irontrees are prized ornamental plants, though temperamental in cultivation. Particularly well-metalized examples of their foliage were arranged into wreaths and given as awards for heroism by the Star Clans, and ultimately became part of the ceremonial regalia of the Höhenschar Führer.
- ↑ Anastasia Doom has reported that elements of the Treatise strongly resemble a philosophical work her father, Crack of Doom, apparently wrote and self-published in the period from his college years through the time of her birth, indicating that the Space Opera Universe may be a temporal parallel of the Dark Sentinels Universe.