Commonwealth of Albrennia
Location of Albrennia
|Government||Unitary Presidential Matthean Republic.|
|Thomas Goodwin (L)|
• Vice Chancellor
|William Ames (L)|
• Majority Leader
|Nicholas Byfield (R)|
• Chief Justice
|Legislature||Parliament of the Commonwealth|
|Stages of Independence from Rythene|
• Instrument of Governance
|15 May 1539|
• Congress of Wedayen
|7 October 1816|
• 12th Amendment to Instrument of Governance
|10 February 1817|
• Treaty of Delhaven
|21 July 1825|
|2,019,286 km2 (779,651 sq mi) (6th)|
• 2020 estimate
• 2015 census
|39.9/km2 (103.3/sq mi)|
|GDP (PPP)||2020 estimate|
|$5.159 trillion (1st)|
• Per capita
|GDP (nominal)||2020 estimate|
|$5.275 trillion (1st)|
• Per capita
|Gini (2020)|| 48.8|
|HDI (2020)|| 0.925|
|Currency||Albrennian Guilder (ALG)|
Albrennia, officially the Commonwealth of Albrennia, colloquially often simply the Commonwealth, is a sovereign state and presidential republic in Northeast Marceaunia Major. Situated on the Albren Peninsula, of which it is geographically coterminous, Albrennia is bordered by the Hesperian Ocean to the east, north, and south; by the Gulf of Colrain to the southwest; by Rowlands Bay to the northwest; and by the Lamont Range and [???] to the west. The Commonwealth is a unitary state consisting of of nine major metropolitan administrations and 4,352 rural townships, which together cover an area of 2,019,286 square kilometers (779,650 sq mi) and encompass an estimated population of 80,631,224. It is the fourth-largest nation in Levilion by population, and the sixth-largest by area.
The Albren Peninsula was inhabited by North Marceaunian indigenous peoples from at least 3000 BCE. In 1460, the Rythenean explorer Rufus Albren discovered the peninsula, and all of Marceaunia along with it. From 1504, Rotiferist colonists from Rythene, committed to a heterodox and predestinarian strain of Perendism, settled the Albren Peninsula and established the oldest Auressian society in the New World - driving the indigenous population west of the Isthmus of Lamont in the process. Albrennia remained a Rythenean colony for more than three centuries, but its republican government enjoyed substantial autonomy, and it became a center of global trade with a renowned merchant culture. It supported the Rythenean Revolution, contributed directly to the Rythenean war effort, and was granted independence in 1816 at the Congress of Vedayen in order to weaken Rythene's colonial empire.
In the nineteenth century, Albrennia rapidly industrialized and became a major hub for immigration from Auressia and Marceaunia Minor. It intervened repeatedly in Marceaunia Minor: pioneering a new brand of economic imperialism based on private companies' control of natural resources, and developing one of the world's most powerful navies - known simply as the Fleet - to defend its far-flung holdings. In the Panic of 1876, Albrennia suffered a devastating economic collapse, in the wake of which its economy became dominated by a small number of enormous, vertically integrated corporate conglomerates: the Pillars. The dominance of the Pillars generated a wave of labor unrest, finally resolved by the development of the economic and political structure known as the Matthean System. Albrennia was a member of the Coalition in the Great War and again in the Second Great War, and its naval power made an important contribution to victory in both conflicts. By the end of the twentieth century, Albrennia was a global center of finance and manufacturing, a naval power with reach across Levilion, and a key player in the global economy with interests and investments on every continent.
Albrennia is a unitary presidential constitutional republic, but international observers note its lack of political transparency and accountability, and Albrennian politics tend to be dominated by the Pillars, organized labor, and the permanent civil servants known as the Establishment. Albrennia is a founding member of the Assembly of Marceaunian States (AMS) and has economic, diplomatic, and military agreements with foreign governments around the world; it is especially active in resource-rich smaller nations. It is a confirmed nuclear weapons state and a naval power with few equals and no superiors; the Fleet receives more than 50% of government spending in an average year. It is officially recognized as a great power.
Albrennia is a developed country with Levilion's largest single economy both by nominal GDP ($5.275 trillion) and by purchasing power ($5.159 trillion) - though the overall economy of the Commonwealth of Northern Auressia is much larger than Albrennia's. The Albrennian economy is dominated by manufacturing (especially arms manufacturing and shipbuilding), the electronics and informatics industry, finance and insurance, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, and science and technology. Albrennia has few natural resources and is the largest importer in Levilion; it also has the highest rate of investment in foreign nations as a percentage of GDP. It is noted for the Matthean System, in which each sector of the economy is dominated by a single corporate "Pillar" and a single compulsory labor union, and government-mediated corporatist negotiations between the Pillars and organized labor define wage floors, healthcare benefits, and other social welfare programs. The system has provided Albrennian workers with a high standard of living, reflected in the nation's very high Human Development Index. But income inequality between the middle and upper classes remains high (Albrennia has more than 500 billionaires), and the Matthean System means that long-term household-wide unemployment can result in extreme poverty. Albrennia is regarded as an educational leader, with two of the ten highest-ranked universities in Levilion, and it has made major cultural contributions in the fields of music, film, and academic scholarship.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Geography
- 4 Politics
- 5 Economy
- 6 Demographics
- 7 Culture
Albrennia is named for Rythenean explorer Rufus Albren (1418-1469), who in 1460 discovered Maurceania when he made landfall near modern Sherborn. His subsequent voyages charted the outline of the Gulf of Colrain and Rowland's Bay. By 1490, early maps show that the hammerhead-shaped peninsula of northeastern Marceaunia Major was known as Albren's Land (later the Albren Peninsula). This was Sabarinized in official documents to become Albrennia. While many of the initial Rotiferist settlers wanted their new land to be called Rotifia, and while that name remains in occasional use as a rhetorical reference to traditional Albrennian values, it never caught on widely. Instead, by the 1530s, Rytheneans were referring to the colony as Albrennia - and, notably, to its inhabitants as Albrennians rather than Rytheneans. As the colonists came to think of themselves as Albrennian, so inevitably they came to think of their land as Albrennia. The 1539 Instrument of Governance - the origin of the Albrennian polity - declared that the government of the colony was "His Majesteie's Most Loyal Albrenyan Republicke." Ever since, Albrennia has been the only name used for the nation.
Albrennia is a "Commonwealth" in the historical sense: it is a republic, and "commonwealth" is a literal translation of the Ancient Sabarine res publica, a "public thing" or "shared thing." It is meant to indicate that the government is the shared business of all the citizens, and this meaning has been preserved by democratic reformers and labor activists throughout Albrennian history. Today, many Albrennians refer to their country simply as the Commonwealth, and in Marceaunia this term by itself is generally understood to mean Albrennia, not the Commonwealth of Northern Auressia. More rarely, Albrennians may shorten their country's name to Albren: this is most common in official contexts, and is understood to suggest a certain poetic and nationalist flair. A citizen of Albrennia is an Albrennian, and that term is also correct as applied adjectivally: "Albrennian ships," for example.
Indigenous Peoples and Early Settlement
It has been generally accepted that the first inhabitants of Marceaunia Major migrated from Marceaunia Minor by way of the Adrienne Land Bridge at least 12,000 years ago. By 4,000 years ago, the Paleoaborigines were present in the Albren Peninsula. Archeologists initially believed that the Harpswell Culture represented continuous habitation of the population by the same peoples ever since; it is now thought to be likely that the Harpswell Culture reflects merely the last of multiple waves of migration into the peninsula.
Over time, indigenous culture and political organization in the Albren Peninsula grew increasingly complex. Agriculture became the basis of life: villages composed of longhouses, each housing an extended family unit, were surrounded by fields of maize and beans. Some time between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries, a great prophet named Dekkenorhawi led a religious revival, put an end to the practice of ritual cannibalism and the internecine warfare associated with it, and bound the tribes of the peninsula together into the Hathawekala Confederacy.
In 1460, the Rythenean explorer Rufus Albren made landfall near modern Sherborn, and became the first Auressian to set eyes on Marceaunia. In three subsequent voyages, he would successfully map the Albren Peninsula. Over the next forty years, Rythenean traders came into regular contact with the Hathawekala Confederacy. They brought disease as well as cooking pots and axes, and epidemics of smallpox and measles ravaged the area, reducing the Hathawekala population by half by 1500.
Meanwhile, Rythene found itself in religious turmoil. Following a reformist preacher named Walter Hartcliffe, a new branch of Classical Perendism had emerged: the Rotiferists. Meaning literally "those who follow the direction of the wheel," this term referred to a predestinarian movement. Hartcliffe preached that everything that really matters about the Earth is inevitable and irresistible: the changing of the seasons, the movement of the stars, the tide, the cycle of life and death. Therefore, spiritual balance cannot actually be within the attainment of the individual. All that a man can do is submit himself to the world, to understand its processes and surrender to them. If God so wills it, he will achieve balance, just as the sun rises and the winter turns to spring. If God does not will it, then "not every tree survives the winter," in the old Rotiferist aphorism.
Rotiferism inspired certain distinctive values. Since Rotiferists were constantly and anxiously examining themselves for signs that they were indeed in balance with the world, the denomination acquired a reputation for self-discipline and extremely hard work - the supposed signs of a balanced soul. Since they claimed to derive their predestinarian beliefs by rational deduction from the natural world, they regarded education and literacy as a sacred duty. The movement was dominated by the educated merchant classes, who considered their prosperity a sign of God's balancing work within them. In Rythene, as this reformist proto-bourgeosie ran up repeatedly against the aristocratic elite's hold on politics and religion, it came to feel that the only way to build a truly godly and balanced society was to start over.
In March of 1504, the caravel Springsong sailed from Delhaven with some three hundred Rythenean Rotiferists aboard. They had a safe crossing, and established a settlement at Newhaven. The Hathawekala Confederacy had fallen into disarray under the pressure of epidemic disease, and the colonists were able to play different indigenous factions off against each other, offering the aid of soldiers armed with steel weapons and horses in exchange for food and knowledge of local conditions. By 1515, the colony was firmly established and had begun attracting thousands of immigrants from Rythene per year: this influx consisted mostly of Rotiferists, but it also included many Classical Perendist families who simply wanted free land. By 1530, the eight original cities of the Commonwealth had been founded along the rocky Hesperian seaboard: Providence, Newhaven, Tolland, Alford, Colrain, Wellfleet, Lanesborough, and Sherborn. Within a generation of its founding, Albrennia had become self-sufficient in food and raw materials from Rythene. It was a functioning society in its own right.
Albrennia was a colony of Rythene for 312 years: well over half of its history. It was the oldest Auressian colony in the New World, and the first to develop sophisticated institutions of its own: by the time the first Tyrnican colonists settled in what is now Audonia, Newhaven had been a major city for almost two centuries. Alford and Tolland Universities, both established in the 1540s, are older than many prestigious institutions on the other side of the Hesperian. The Instrument of Governance adopted by the colony in 1539, and reluctantly ratified by the Rythenean crown two years later, provided for a democratically elected Assembly and Governor. Since the Commonwealth only slightly amended the Instrument of Governance when it became independent, Albrennia has long claimed to have the oldest continuous democratic constitution in the world.
The colony's expansion was slow but steady, pushing the remnants of the Hathawekala beyond the mountains of the Isthmus of Lamont. This was a process of mass ethnic displacement, but the colonists attempted neither assimilation nor extermination of the natives: their goal was to remove the Hathawekala to the interior of Marceaunia Major, not to annihilate them. This was because, already by 1550, Albrennia's culture had evolved to orient it toward the sea; colonists had no desire to press on beyond the Isthmus, for the promise of trade was more alluring than the dangers of further expansion. This campaign of mass displacement explains why very few Native Marceaunian communities, or even individuals of Aboriginal descent, remain in Albrennia today.
As a result of the colonists' limited territorial ambitions, Albrennia ceased to be a frontier society more quickly than many New World colonies. Safe behind its natural border along the Lamont Range, and rendered homogenously Auressian by the mass displacement of the Hathawekala to the west, its economy thrived as it turned the vast pine forests of the Albren Peninsula into a fleet of sailing ships. Those ships, in turn, became the backbone of much of the colonial trade that connected many Auressian nations to their colonies: carrying slaves to Marceaunia Minor, and carrying sugar and rice and coffee and tobacco from the New World back to Auressia. Rythene's 1622 International Market Act, which allowed upper-class Rytheneans (including Albrennians) to trade with the rest of Auressia, was essential to the colony's prosperity: it permitted Albrennian shipping to serve as a crucial link between the New World and the Old, not just between Rythene and its colonies. Most Auressians, by the mid-seventeenth century, no longer really thought of Albrennia as the frontier: it was a place of universities, coffee shops, busy trading ports, and century-old cities - a little piece of the Old World on the shores of the New - and its legions of merchants were a common sight in ports on every shore of the Hesperian.
But as Albrennia became a more established and comfortable place, so too did it change in the process. By the eighteenth century, the voyage of the Springsong was already two centuries in the past, and the Rotiferist majority was consigned to history. Generations of immigrants had come seeking not a godly society but economic opportunity: cheap land, and work on the docks, and the chance to sail the world with the Albrennian merchant marine. While most immigrants continued to hail from Rythene, there were far more Apostolic and mainstream Classical Perendists than Rotiferists. And increasingly, the major cities of Albrennia became a magnet for immigration from Blayk, Vervillia, and Tyrnica as well. The colony remained majority-Auressian only because, while Albrennian merchants were central to the slave trade, slavery itself was banned in Albrennia.
This prohibition testified to the lingering cultural influence of Rotiferist values, even as Albrennia became less and less religiously homogenous. Those values had other consequences, too. Despite constant encroachment by the royal court of Rythene, Albrennian politicians successfully defended their republican colonial government, and old Rotiferist families continued to dominate the colonial capital at Providence. From 1624, Albrennia required municipalities to fund the world's first system of universal primary education, a testament to the centrality of learning in Rotiferism; the great universities of Tolland and Alford, though, remained the preserve of the same old Rotiferist families that controlled the colony's government. Rotiferist values of competition and self-improvement led the colony to abandon all mercantilist protections other than those imposed by Rythene, creating one of the freest markets in the world and turning Albrennian harbors into centers of global commerce. To secure the global trade network that had evolved, the Albrennian Assembly created the Albren Bank in 1757: one of the world's earliest central banks, created not by a sovereign crown but by a mere colonial government. Its purpose was to give the colonial government additional liquidity to support Albrennian companies, by issuing bank notes secured against the government's loans. Albrennia would remain a leading player in global finance forever afterwards.
Independence and Marceaunian Engagement
By the late eighteenth century, Albrennia was already a country of six million souls. It had its own global trading networks and well-developed political institutions, and almost three centuries of its own history. In 1786, Charles IV of Rythene revoked the 1622 International Market Act. This was a fatal threat to Albrennian trade networks, and it infuriated the old Rotiferist elite and the more secular merchant classes alike. Accordingly, when the Rythenean Revolution erupted in 1790, support for the new Republic was almost universal in Albrennia. In turn, the 300-year republican tradition of Albrennia's colonial government earned it a level of respect unique among the Republic's colonies.
And so, while every other Auressian colony in Marceaunia succesfully rebelled between 1790 and 1820, Albrennia remained politically bound to Rythene - albeit that many Albrennians now saw that relationship more as an equal partnership than as a colonial yoke. In the Upheaval, the colonial government nationalized hundreds of merchant vessels and their experienced crews: an act that would go down in history as the origin of the Fleet. This new naval force sailed all the way across the Hesperian Ocean to engage royalist forces in the Strait of Casmire. When the conflict finally ended, it was clear to the victorious monarchists that Albrennia was too important an asset to be allowed to remain in Rythene's hands, but that it was also too powerful in its own right simply to be transferred to another colonial power. The Congress of Vedayen (1816) saw Albrennian independence as the simplest solution to an insoluble problem, and so the Commonwealth gained its sovereignty not on the battlefield but as a grudging gift of its erstwhile enemies.
Independence brought few immediate changes after 1816. By the 12th Amendment to the Instrument of Governance, Albrennia's colonial governor became the chancellor, its assembly the parliament, and references to the Crown of Rythene were removed; otherwise, politics continued very much as before. But the coming decades would be more tumultuous.
Albrennia began rapidly to industrialize from the 1820s on: a dense network of canals, railroads, textile mills, and eventually armaments factories sprang up, taking advantage of iron and coal deposits in the Lamont Range of western Albrennia. The accelerating demand for labor that resulted, together with Albrennia's political stability in an unstable era, brought another wave of immigration: this time more from Tyrnica and Palia than from Rythene. As Albrennian manufacturing boomed, the Commonwealth began to look abroad for markets, and so it was drawn into the tumultuous affairs of Marceaunia Minor.
The Continental War (1831-1836) witnessed the defeat of the Confederation of Southern Marceaunia by the Aillacan-Rocian Union, followed by the Confederation's collapse altogether. Albrennian companies profited greatly off the war by selling arms and supplies to both sides; Albrennia's status as one of the world's largest arms dealers dates to this period. But when the conflict ended, the real victor was the Free Republic of Audonia: the collapse of the Confederation left Audonia as the dominant commercial and naval power in Marceaunia Minor.
The next twenty-nine years witnessed a contest for influence between Albrennia and Audonia in the emerging markets of the Southern Hemisphere. Albrennian tactics were ruthless, and by the 1850s the Commonwealth had begun the sort of gunboat diplomacy that has characterized its foreign policy ever since: Albrennian merchants would establish themselves in remote corners of Marceaunia Minor, sell guns and buy sugar or bananas or rubber, and call in Fleet gunboats and Marine shore parties when local chiefs or caudillos attempted to back out of the deal. In order to protect these economic adventurers, the Fleet ballooned in size. It absorbed first its civilian superiors in the Department of the Navy, and then most of the budget of the Department of War, and it acquired unique legal privileges and protections as it went. By 1860, Albrennia's army had been reduced to a gendarme force of fewer than ten thousand men, but its navy was among the most powerful in the Western Hemisphere.
Albrennia also pursued an alliance with the Federal Republic of Amandine, which had emerged after the Continental War as the most powerful rival to Audonia in Marceaunia Minor. In the War of the Adrienne Sea (1865-1869), Albrennia's first major war as an independent state, Amand troops and Albrennian Marines seized Audonian forts and trading posts all over Maceaunia Minor, and the Amand Navy and Albrennian Fleet defeated the Audonian Navy. Though Audonia was never invaded, the war marked the end of its preeminence in the affairs of Marceaunia Minor, and its replacement by an Amand-Albrennian axis that lasted for the rest of the nineteenth century. The war also so disrupted life in much of Marceaunia Minor that it sparked a wave of immigration from the continent to Albrennia, sharpening social tensions at home.
After the Treaty of Ste-Lourine, Amandine became the hegemon of Marceaunia Minor, but Albrennia replaced Audonia as the continent's greatest trading power. Albrennia's network of trading posts and "economic adventurers" evolved into a modern web of corporate subsidiaries, trading concessions, monopoly agreements, and anti-smuggling patrols across the Western Hemisphere and beyond. Between 1869 and 1874, politicians and journalists in the Commonwealth first began to speak of their "invisible empire": Albrennian companies bought up plantations and mines throughout Marceaunia Minor, and the Albrennian-Amand alliance ensured the Commonwealth a blind eye from Amandine when it used the Fleet to defend or expand those investments by violence. Economic imperialism, with its risks and riches, has been a consistent feature of Albrennian history ever since.
Pillarization and the Matthean System
Forty years of uninterrupted prosperity and growth came to an abrupt end with the Panic of 1876. A crash in the price of silver made it impossible for the Harp-Wellfleet Bank to redeem millions of guilders in bonds from the Bank of Albren, causing a cascading crisis of confidence in the credit of most big banks and, ultimately, in the value of the Commonwealth guilder itself. To force the crisis under control, the Bank of Albren ultimately switched entirely to a fiat money system, abandoning the silver standard altogether. Then it bailed out the banks with the new paper guilder, known widely as the "greyback." But this did not resolve the crisis: widespread doubt as to the greyback's true value put Albrennian companies abroad at a severe disadvantage against their economic competitors. The Commonwealth responded with fourteen small-scale military interventions in Marceaunia Minor between 1876 and 1880 - mostly shore bombardments and Marine incursions - against towns and companies that refused to accept payment in greybacks. The show of force succeeded: the Albrennian guilder became the first valuable currency in Levilion to be guaranteed not by specie but by the credit of a central bank alone.
The greyback may not be backed by silver, but it is backed by lead.— Chancellor John J. Heathering, 1879
By 1880, the worst of the economic depression was over, but the Albrennian economy had been changed beyond recognition. Hundreds of companies with origins going back to the sixteenth century were bankrupt. The few corporations that had survived bought up billions of guilders' worth of distressed assets, and many succeeded in consolidating an entire sector of the economy beneath their single corporate umbrella. Almost all shipbuilding - from the iron mines and the lumberyards, to the factories producing screws, to the shipyards themselves - became controlled by Wellfleet Industries. General Armaments had a similar top-to-bottom control of the arms industry. By 1882, the Albrennian economy was unprecedentedly centralized and vertically integrated, with just a dozen corporate conglomerates accounting for nearly three-quarters of GDP. These became known as the Pillars. They have dominated Albrennia's economy and politics ever since.
Pillarization enormously increased Albrennia's industrial efficiency: vertical integration reduced transaction costs at every stage of the manufacturing process, and permitted economies of scale that have allowed the Pillars to undercut foreign competitors ever since. But pillarization also created a de facto employer cartelization of the labor market: a small group of corporations, by deciding on a common compensation plan, were able to prevent wage competition across the entire economy. Albrennian workers, previously accustomed to a fairly high standard of living, suffered completely stagnant wages for almost twenty years. Widening economic inequality exacerbated preexisting social inequality, because the native-born, ethnic-Rythenean, mostly Rotiferist Establishment - educated primarily at Tolland and Alford Universities - controlled both the Pillars and the government. Tens of millions of non-Rythenean, Apostolic citizens - many of them immigrants from Tyrnica or Palia, or refugees from the conflicts in Marceaunia Minor - found themselves utterly excluded from economic and political power.
Working-class Albrennians turned to increasingly radical labor activism as the solution to their plight. Local union organizing drives were met with brutality by Frontier Force troops and even Fleet Marines, but organizers tended to succeed anyway: repression only generated a greater pro-union backlash. As one workplace after another unionized, organized labor mirrored the vertical integration of the Pillars: all the unions in the shipbuilding industry federated into the United Brotherhood of Shipwrights, which represented Albrennian workers at every point along Wellfleet Industries' supply chain from the mine to the shipyard. Ultimately, these sectoral unions went one step further; they federated again, creating "one big union": the Albrennian Conference of Labor, or ACL. By 1898, more than seventy percent of Albrennian industrial and farm workers belonged to unions affiliated with the ACL, and there was open talk of syndicalist revolution in most major cities.
In July 1898, tensions boiled over after Fleet Marines gunned down strikers in Sherborn, and the ACL called a general strike. Chancellor Samuel Penry declared martial law, and gun battles between armed strikers and Fleet Marines ensued in several cities, leaving hundreds dead. But the strike successfully shut down the entire Albrennian economy for fifteen days - known in Albrennian labor circles to this day as the Glorious Fifteen. On the sixteenth day, the government capitulated: it recognized the unions, and called a conference of the Pillars and the ACL to discuss fundamental changes to Albrennia's economy and society.
The Providence Conference was chaired by Vice Chancellor Edwin Matthews. It seems to have been clear to all the participants that Albrennia was on the brink of civil war; in avoiding that fate, they painstakingly reached a compromise that fundamentally altered Albrennia's government and economy. That compromise became known (after Matthews) as the Matthean System. It created a new entrance exam on which all university admissions would be based, and it made all universities, including Tolland and Alford, tuition-free: these reforms substantially democratized access to Albrennia's powerful Establishment. But the Conference also allowed the Pillars to retain their unofficial sectoral monopolies, refusing to adopt any antitrust laws that would break them up.
Far more importantly, the Providence Conference recognized the sectoral unions that represented each Pillar's employees, and made union membership compulsory in order for a worker to be hired in any given sector of the economy. Each sector of the economy was thus defined by a single corporate conglomerate and a single labor union, to which all of that Pillar's workers belonged. Every three years, the government would mediate between all of the Pillars and the ACL as a whole, and the results of those negotiations would become law: setting the minimum wage, pensions, healthcare benefits, and unemployment insurance that every employer would have to pay to every worker. Albrennia's welfare state would be paid for directly out of corporate profits, not tax revenue; and it would reflect the result of corporatist bargaining, not legislation. That paradigm shift defines the Matthean System, and it has been the foundation of Albrennia's political economy ever since.
The system has worked fairly well in the 122 years since the Providence Conference, and in the first decades after 1898, it was overwhelmingly successful. The Pillars adjusted to sharply increased labor costs by relying on the unions to improve the skill of workers, which increased per-worker efficiency and boosted overall production. This symbiosis of labor and management was most successful in the arms industry, which in five years made General Armaments the world's largest private arms dealer, but it contributed to a rise in productivity in every Pillar. Albrennia entered the twentieth century as a rising economic power on the world stage.
The Great Wars and the Invisible Empire
General Armaments found a profitable market for its products in the Aillacan-Rocian Union, where Albrennia's "invisible empire" received its greatest setback. Albrennia first backed a coup by the Union's vice president, in hopes of protecting the Pillars' economic interests. This unleashed such dramatic political unrest that in 1904 the Commonwealth was obliged to back a second coup, this time by the Union's landed elite. The new government proved incompetent: it promptly declared war on Amandine, and despite repeated arms deals with Albrennia, it suffered several devastating defeats. The Union military then seized power, expelling and nationalizing Albrennian corporate holdings in the process. By the time peace returned, the Aillacan-Rocian Union had collapsed into civil war, and the Lacasine Republic of Aiyaca had been born: an implacably left-wing polity that has been a frequent foe of Albrennian influence ever since. Moreover, Albrennia had sacrificed its alliance with Amandine, because it had supported the Union government's war with that country. The "invisible empire" had suffered a severe blow.
But a much bigger arms market was opening up in Auressia, as that continent's arms race accelerated toward the outbreak of the First Great War in 1908. General Armaments and Wellfleet Industries sold hundreds of millions of guilders' worth of arms and warships to both the Coalition and the Galene League, and many Auressian historians would later blame Albrennian greed for the outbreak of war. When the war finally came, however, Albrennia immediately joined the Coalition: the Commonwealth's historical ties to Rythene remained powerfully culturally resonant for the Establishment, and the Establishment still controlled the Albrennian government. As the Albrennian Army had already withered into a gendarme force, no Albrennian ground troops were sent to Auressia; but for the second time in history, the Fleet sailed into the Galene Sea. Unlike in the War of the Commons, the Fleet was no longer a hastily assembled force of armed merchantmen; rather, it was product of one of the world's most powerful shipbuilding industries and strongest naval traditions. At the Battle of Evverkäben (1912), the Fleet failed to achieve outright victory, but it bloodied the Tyrnican Navy badly enough to force it into port. Thereafter, the Fleet imposed a crushing blockade that helped to starve Tyrnica out of the war. At the Treaty of Arden in 1914, Albrennia was seated as the equal of the other Coalition nations - an event still remembered today as the moment when Commonwealth became a world power.
In the postwar period, Albrennia was both an asset and a hindrance to Rythene's global dominance. The Albrennian Establishment still felt a deep loyalty to Rythenean culture and republican values, and so the Fleet was a willing partner to the Rythenean Navy in enforcing a vision of maritime law based on free trade and free navigation. By the late 1920s, Albrennia had actually gone further in this regard than Rythene: it was consistently advocating for a more forceful stance against Songha, and unsuccessfully attempted to assemble a coalition to stage a freedom-of-navigation operation through the Straits of Qes.
But Albrennia was in other ways a competitor to Rythene: while the older country remained a major imperial power, Albrennian companies quietly established themselves in Rythenean colonies and purchased lucrative local industries out from under the Rythenean administration. The Commonwealth's "invisible empire" spread across the world like a parasite on Auressia's colonial empires: a global network of corporate subsidiaries and private oilfields, in which the name on a contract mattered more than the flag that flew over a city. In Marceaunia Minor, Albrennia managed to reestablish its alliance with Amandine: both nations had ultimately joined the Coalition in the First Great War, while Audonia remained neutral, and so Albrennian diplomats used wartime public opinion to maneuver Amandine away from Audonia and back into alliance with the Commonwealth. With its southern flank thus secured, Albrennia was able to restore its influence in Rocia: supporting a succession of conservative and authoritarian regimes during Rocia's so-called Años congelados, and receiving control of lucrative mines and agricultural concessions in return. In 1919-20, the Fleet Intelligence Corps even helped the Aiyacan military to stage a coup and place Pablo Pardo in the presidential palace; for the next twenty-eight years, Pardo's regime secured Albrennian access to Aiyaca's cash crops and natural resources, and Albrennian weapons and cash kept Pardo in power. By the mid-1930s, Albrennia's "invisible empire" had reached its apex.
Problems were already apparent, though. Waxing Songhese influence in Amandine put pressure on the Amand-Albrennian alliance, since Albrennia remained committed to a hawkish line against Songhese expansion. After more than a decade of issuing lonely warnings about the Songhese threat, both the Albrennian government and the Albrennian public were eager to fight when the Second Great War broke out in 1937. Albrennia joined the Coalition, and the Fleet immediately sailed for Isuan. But after its victories against Tyrnica in the First Great War, the Albrennian military establishment suffered from crippling overconfidence, and it had difficulty working with its new Audonian allies. Alone, the Fleet sought battle with the Songhese Navy to defend the Ta-Puia Archipelago, and was forced to retreat - leaving eight thousand Fleet Marines marooned on the islands, where most of them would perish in battle or from mistreatment after capture. When the Fleet rallied to defend Blaykish Mesonesia, it was shattered again, losing four aircraft carriers and twelve thousand lives. The myth of Albrennian naval invincibility had been obliterated, and the Commonwealth's influence waned accordingly: in Rocia, a new liberal government managed to win election, and was able to negotiate a far more equal trade agreement with the distracted and weakened Albrennians.
Nevertheless, under the leadership of Chancellor Alfred Temple, Albrennia rallied. Late 1939 to early 1941 witnessed an unprecedented national mobilization: Wellfleet Industries ceased work on all civilian shipping, and managed to produce twelve aircraft carriers, thirty cruisers, and ninety destroyers in twenty months. To crew the new Fleet, Albrennia instituted its first - and thus far only - national draft. The Albrennian admiralty finally learned to work with its Audonian counterpart, and Amandine belatedly joined the Coalition, bringing with it priceless intelligence about Songhese naval movements. In July 1941, acting on Amand intelligence and supported by the Audonian Navy, the Fleet intercepted and practically annihilated a Songhese invasion armada at the Battle of Saint-Baptiste: establishing Coalition control of the eastern Demontean and paving the way for Amandine to liberate Blaykish Mesonesia. The next year, Coalition troops seized the southern peninsula of the Qes Straits Zone, and the Fleet used this opening to force a path through the straits: fighting one of the largest naval battles in history, and damaging the Songhese Navy beyond repair. By the end of the war, the Fleet was the single largest force in the Sea of Qes. While Albrennia had not fought on land since the debacle of Ta-Puia, and while it had not contributed in the Auressian Theater at all, its naval might had been crucial to the outcome of the war in the Demontean.
Modern Albrennian History
The Second Great War was a unique historical event: the first time that Albrennia, Amandine, and Audonia had fought together on the same side. In Albrennia, it marked the beginning of a certain limited sense of Marceaunian solidarity: this reached its apex in 1959, when Albrennia became a founding member of the Association of Marceaunian States. To most observers, great-power war in the New World has seemed exceedingly unlikely ever since.
The postwar period brought tensions of other kinds, however. Hawkishly anti-Songhese since the early 1920s, Albrennia was outraged by the relatively generous terms granted to the Empire at the Treaty of Porte-Tordu. Alone among the Allied powers, it remained deeply invested in the Sea of Qes for years after the peace: aggressively patrolling with freedom-of-navigation operations; running Fleet Intelligence Corps operations to slow and destabilize Songha's recovery; and investing heavily in Songha's neighbors, in order to surround the Empire with states fearful of its expansion and sympathetic to Albrennian corporate interests. Albrennian efforts were imperfectly successful, at best, but they did hinder and delay Songha's recovery. They also earned the Commonwealth a lasting enemy in Isuan.
Engagement in Isuan also distracted Albrennia from Marceaunia Minor, where its "invisible empire" suffered some meaningful setbacks. The dawn of the Pachequist Era in 1947 meant the nationalization of key Albrennian companies in Rocia, where Albrennian influence reached its nadir in the 1950s. Likewise, the Pardo regime in Aiyaca was overthrown by the Illescas Revolution in 1948, driving Albrennian corporations out of that country permanently. Albrennia was able to restore its economic power in Rocia by backing a military coup in 1961, exploiting the Pacheco regime's own political overreach. It has successfully maintained its position ever since: supporting a second coup in 1967, and then the sixteen-year regime of President Horacio Calixto-Ortega - during which Albrennian funding, training, Fleet Marines, and airstrikes were essential in the fight against rural insurgents. Albrennian influence waned in 2002 with the election of President Fernándo Ortolano, but was restored in 2012 with Ortolano's impeachment and replacement by a military-backed, firmly pro-Albrennian government: events in which many in the region suspect the Commonwealth had a hand. The "invisible empire" had an unforeseen consequence, though: violent unrest fueled a wave of immigration from Rocia to Albrennia in the 1980s, making people of Rocian descent the largest ethnic minority in the Commonwealth.
In Aiyaca, Albrennia failed to reestablish its influence: when the Commonwealth sent the Southern Hesperian Task Force to topple Estadias control of Aiyaca by force, a joint Amand-Audonian naval task force confronted the Albrennian expedition and prevented it from entering Aiyacan waters. This 1963 standoff became known as the Callaqua Crisis, and it represented Marceaunia's closest brush with a new great-power war. In the end, Albrennia backed down and its ships retreated. The next year, seizing their advantage, Audonian and Amand businesses managed to dislodge Albrennian corporations from Saint-Baptiste, buying out several lucrative industries and pulling the tiny island mostly out of Albrennia’s sphere of influence. In the face of these setbacks, Albrennia adopted a new diplomatic strategy: for the next twenty years, it sought greater influence within the Amand government. Albrennian diplomats exploited that country's relatively corrupt politics, and the Pillars expanded their investment in Amandine so that Albrennian business became crucial to Amand prosperity. The goal was to prevent any recurrence of the Callaqua Crisis by guaranteeing that Amandine could not afford to interfere with Albrennian actions.
On balance, however, the "invisible empire" grew significantly in the second half of the twentieth century. Auressian decolonization offered the Commonwealth a distinctively Albrennian imperial moment: as the old empires gradually withdrew, Albrennian corporate emissaries arrived to congratulate former colonies on their independence and present enticing offers of investment. When newly independent governments discovered that this left their mines and oil reserves and agriculture owned by Albrennian companies, the Fleet stood ready to discourage any unwise attempts at nationalization: airstrikes, shore bombardment, and Marine incursions backed up Albrennian corporate influence in small nations around the globe. Military spending remained accordingly high, and it continues to account for more than half of the Commonwealth's government budget even in peacetime. Albrennia's influence has not been entirely self-centered, though; as Rythene ceased to be the unilateral arbiter of global order, the Fleet has become Levilion's most prominent anti-piracy and anti-smuggling and free-navigation force - the principal guarantor of the Law of the Sea.
But in time, the "invisible empire" began to have unforeseen consequences: in response to high labor costs at home, the Pillars quietly began to offshore many of their less-skilled manufacturing operations to other nations where they possessed commercial interests. By 1990, the great majority of radios, televisions, and home appliances produced by Albrennian companies were actually made overseas - especially in Amandine, where labor costs were lower. The result was a crisis unseen since 1876: the collapse of a Pillar conglomerate, the General Helpmeet Group. An immense taxpayer-funded bailout was necessary to rescue GHG's pension and healthcare and unemployment-fund obligations, while at the same time easing the company into bankruptcy. Even so, Albrennia suffered three years of severe recession in the early 1990s.
But GHG's demise coincided with the rise of the newest Pillar: Albrennian Informatics, or AlbrInfo. A uniquely organized conglomerate known as the "Start-Up Pillar," in which employees are able to start their own businesses within the corporate umbrella at will, AlbrInfo has been at the forefront of information technology since the mid-1990s. Many of the search engines and social media platforms used across Levilion are actually AlbrInfo intellectual property. In just twenty years, it has surpassed Wellfleet Industries to become the largest and most profitable Pillar, and its power is beginning to cause significant political unease within the Albrennian Establishment.
Other changes have also arisen. Many communities have never fully recovered from the collapse of GHG - and since Albrennia's entire social safety net is predicated on compulsorily unionized employment, long-term full-household unemployment can result in a depth of poverty hardly known elsewhere in the developed world. The postwar period has also wrought substantial cultural changes in Albrennian society: in a movement led by the universities, which have retained their immense influence ever since the sixteenth century, women have been largely accepted as equals in the workplace. Homosexuality has also been normalized, with even the Rotiferist Church agreeing to perform gay marriages. Not all Albrennians, especially in rural western areas, are comfortable with these changes. Finally, despite a wave of immigration from Marceaunia Minor and Isuan, the Albrennian Establishment remains overwhelmingly white, and tensions over unfair policing and unequal access to political power have provoked repeated bouts of urban unrest.
But despite its flaws, Albrennia remains a critical nation in Levilion's international community. Its position in global trade and finance remains dominant; it is still a leading naval power capable of projecting force within days anywhere in Levilion; and it is prosperous and peaceful enough to remain a locus for immigration from nations developed and developing alike. As the twenty-first century unfolds, its status as a world power is secure.
The Commonwealth of Albrennia occupies a total area of 2,019,286 square kilometers (779,651 square miles). This figure does not include the various small naval bases, trading concessions, and embassy compounds that the Albrennian government leases from other nations worldwide. Nor does it include the more substantial lands owned by Albrennian corporations in foreign countries: the so-called "invisible empire." Nevertheless, Albrennia remains the sixth-largest nation by land area in Levilion.
Albrennia occupies the entirety of the Albren Peninsula of northeastern Marceaunia Minor, and is almost entirely surrounded by water. It is is bordered by the North Hesperian Ocean to the east, north, and south; by the Gulf of Colrain to the southwest; and by Rowlands Bay to the northwest. To the due west, its natural border is the mountainous Isthmus of Lamont, where Albrennia's westward expansion ceased in the sixteenth century. In general, Albrennia includes three geographic zones: an area of long rolling hills along the rocky, jagged coast; a central highlands region of granite ridgelines and long, narrow glacial lakes; and the Lamont Range of the west, a spine of Precambrian mountains characterized by steep but low peaks, narrow valleys, and rich deposits of coal and iron.
The coastal hills are by far the most populated area of Albrennia: home to all eight of its major cities, more than eighty percent of the population, and the great majority of the arable land. It is very densely populated and heavily urbanized; the Wellfleet-Newhaven megalopolis, for example, is a continuous metropolitan area stretching for 120 miles along the eastern coast - home to twelve million people. Some of Levilion's great cities are to be found in this region: the preserved 16th-century Old Quarter of Newhaven; the high-rises of Alford, linked by soaring skyways; the downtown of Providence, with food trucks and art galleries from every corner of the globe. But outside the major cities, the coastal hills are primarily owned by Reynolds Midland & Co. - the Pillar that has all but monopolized Albrennia's agricultural and food-processing industry. That conglomerate has created a manmade landscape of continuous, systematically irrigated fields, subdivided and leased to farmers. This treeless, rolling expanse is crisscrossed by canals and railroads and highways, and dotted by preplanned company towns. It is far from a tourist attraction, but it makes the most of Albrennia's limited arable land. Only a few areas of famously beautiful deciduous forests remain as national parks.
Further inland, the sparsely-populated central highlands contain Albrennia's most spectacular scenery. Originally, primeval forests of white pine and spruce covered these rocky hills, but Albrennia's early settlers clear-cut more than half of them in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in order to build the nation's original trading fleet. Today, most of the remaining forests are protected as national parks. So is much of the rest of the highlands, where the absence of forests has created a starkly beautiful landscape of bare rock and purple heather around clear glacial finger lakes. Only about five percent of Albrennia's population lives in the highlands, though the area comprises thirty percent of the Commonwealth's land area; those who do choose this secluded life are an odd mix of retired millionaires and reclusive environmentalists who have opted out of the corporate rat-race. The regional economy relies on artisanal cheesemaking and charcuterie - a cottage industry that remains outside the control of the Pillars - and on tourism; tens of millions of Albrennians from the coastal cities vacation in the highlands every year, as do millions of visitors from overseas. A hunting lodge in the highlands is a quintessential mark of the Albrennian Establishment, and the Chancellor has an official country estate located here.
The Commonwealth's western border lies along the Isthmus of Lamont. The Isthmus is dominated by mountains: a spine of Precambrian rock that raises long, relatively low ridgelines encompassing narrow, steep-sided valleys. The region is exceedingly rich in coal and iron, and remains dominated by mining towns associated with corporate subsidiaries of seven different Pillars. It is culturally distinct from the rest of Albrennia: far more socially conservative and libertarian, and far more socialist. The Lamont Range has long been one of the heartlands of the Albrennian labor movement, and dominates the conservative wing of the Labor Party. Lamonters are also substantially overrepresented in the ranks of the Fleet Marine Corps. The Lamont Range remains an area of substantial underinvestment, with measurably worse infrastructure, lower average incomes, and poorer educational and healthcare outcomes than the rest of the Commonwealth. And it suffers the cultural disdain of urban Albrennians, who imagine the Lamonter as an illiterate, shoeless bigot.
Albrennia has a humid continental climate, ranging in Köppen classification from Dfb in the north to Dfa in the south. Winters are long and cold with heavy snow, especially in the north; in the south, winters are still harsh, but the summers are longer and warmer. Spring tends to be short, but autumn is glorious in those small areas of the coastal hills where deciduous forest remains: Albrennian fall foliage is a famous tourist attraction. Precipitation is heavy across most of the country, especially in the coastal hills: most locations receive more than 50 inches of rain and snow per year. The Commonwealth suffers regular blizzards and occasional floods, especially during the hurricanes and nor'easters that emerge in the North Hesperian, but otherwise has a low occurrence of extreme weather events.
Albrennia's ecology is less diverse than that of many Marceaunian nations: it is home to 134 mammal species, 312 bird species, 117 reptile species, and 86 amphibian species. Among the most well-known of these are the wooly deer - one of the largest deer species in the world - and the Albrennian osprey, the world's fastest seabird. The Commonwealth has 35 national parks, concentrated heavily in the central highlands but also encompassing remaining old-growth forest in the coastal hills. The Bureau of Environmental Management is responsible for enforcing the Clean Springs Act and the Osprey Act, the legislative bases for environmental protection in Albrennia. The Bureau faces many challenges, including Albrennia's partial reliance on coal from the Lamont Range; the status of nuclear power plants located in most major metropolitan areas; the ecological implications of intensive monoculture farming across much of the coastal hills; and substantial air and water pollution, both in the Lamont Range and in poorer areas of many cities.
Major Metropolitan Areas
68 percent of Albrennians live in just eight major metropolitan areas: these date back to the sixteenth century, and are represented by the eight stars on the Albrennian flag. Today, the Big Eight enjoy a substantial degree of self-government, and each is home to at least five million people. Each city has a unique history, economy, and culture, and these play a crucial role in most Albrennians' identity.
- Providence: The national capital, Providence is famous for its diversity: it is the initial destination for most immigrants to Albrennia. A twelve-block area of downtown Providence is often claimed to have restaurants, art galleries, and musical venues reflecting more different cultures than anywhere else on Earth. The principal employers are the Commonwealth government and the George Greenhill Company, which is headquartered on the Providence waterfront and has most of its news, film, and TV studios in the city. The stereotypical Providence native is cosmopolitan, ambitious, and greatly concerned with appearances.
- Newhaven: The oldest city in Albrennia - established in 1504 by the Springsong Pilgrims - Newhaven is famous for the Old Quarter: a cobblestone warren of pedestrian streets at the city's center where the original sixteenth-century town is preserved. This is one of the best-preserved and largest areas of original Rythenean half-timbered architecture anywhere on either side of the Hesperian. Newhaven also hosts the Albrennian Institute of Visual Arts and the Matthews Center for the Performing Arts. The largest employers are Alford Outfitters (which is headquartered in Alford but has most of its manufacturing facilities outside Newhaven) and Highland Mutual, which is based in the city. The stereotypical Newhavenite is sophisticated, affluent, and minimally aware of anything outside Newhaven.
- Tolland: One of Albrennia's two great university cities, Tolland is famously divided between the beautiful, gated 16th-century campus of Tolland University and the tough working-class city outside. The latter is dominated by Palian-Albrennians and Rocian-Albrennians, and was one of the strongholds of the early Albrennian labor movement. General Locomotive Co. is headquartered in Tolland and has most of its factories here; General Helpmeet Group was also based in Tolland, and its collapse in 1990 left large areas of this city more economically deprived than anywhere else in Albrennia. The stereotypical Tollander is either a struggling Palian-speaking autoworker, or a tweedy left-wing intellectual prone to performative solidarity with the cause of labor.
- Alford: Albrennia's other great university city, Alford is home not just to Alford University but to six other major institutes of higher learning. Most of these specialize in science and technology, creating one of the greatest concentrated brain trusts in Levilion. The town suffered a devastating fire in 1917 and has since been repeatedly redeveloped by innovative urban planners: today, the downtown is a green city dominated by parkland, out of which rise glass skyscrapers connected by skyways and elevated passenger trains. The main employers are Euterpia Laboratories and AlbrInfo, which constructed its massive corporate headquarters just outside Alford. The stereotypical Alfordian is young, smart, self-involved, and extremely online.
- Colrain: Albrennia's traditional gateway to Marceaunia Minor, Colrain is an old-fashioned port city with a nineteenth-century brick downtown and a 200-year-old fish market. Today, the fishing industry is mostly controlled by Reynolds Midland, but Colrain's seafaring culture remains strong. The city has Albrennia's second-largest cargo port and hosts the Fleet Academy and the Commonwealth War College. Its largest employers are OCN Resources and Osprey Industries, both of which are headquartered in the city: the former at the port, the latter in an immense complex of aircraft hangars and assembly lines twenty miles to the north. The stereotypical Colrain resident is tough, pragmatic, and unpleasantly blunt.
- Wellfleet: The largest city in Albrennia, and one of the largest in Levilion, Wellfleet is a true metropolis. It is not considered a beautiful city: the downtown is a grid of boxy skyscrapers, surrounded by seemingly endless neighborhoods of brick apartment blocks interspersed with small parks. Wellfleet is defined by the Albrennian military-industrial complex: both Wellfleet Industries and General Armaments are headquartered here, and the city hosts the largest shipyard in Levilion. Close to half of the Commonwealth's government spending goes directly to Wellfleet, paying for the new warships and new guns that keep millions of Wellfleeters employed. Crime is a problem, and Wellfleet law enforcement has been repeatedly censured for brutality and racism. But Wellfleet inspires fierce loyalty. It is a city of real communities: ethnic enclaves, close-knit neighborhoods, and union locals with century-old histories. The stereotypical Wellfleeter is a proud factory worker, deeply loyal to family and community, and largely ignorant of the world outside of his or her neighborhood - much less outside of Wellfleet.
- Lanesborough: A modest city until the 1880s, Lanesborough boomed during Pillarization, when Reynolds Midland & Co. bought up most of the farmland in Albrennia and began leasing it back to farmers. Reynolds Midland was headquartered in Lanesborough, and the city grew up around the company instead of vice versa. It is a planned city, full of green space and old-fashioned tram lines. But Reynolds Midland still owns almost all the actual land in Lanesborough, and all the residents are merely tenants. The conglomerate's extensive and unwelcome control of daily life has made Lanesborough the last remaining labor battleground in Albrennia: the only place where strikes and lockouts remain commonplace. The rest of the Commonwealth is inclined to regard it as a failed Potemkin Village, and the stereotypical Lanesborough resident as a justifiably surly corporate drone whose house, car, and favorite restaurant are all on loan from Reynolds Midland.
- Sherborn: The smallest and farthest north of the Big Eight, Sherborn is a cold, blustery, unusually friendly city. It has an atypical density of small businesses that have resisted Pillarization, and a reputation for producing entrepreneurs. The quality of life is generally felt to be better here than in any other major Albrennian city, especially for families with children - notwithstanding the terrible weather. The largest employer is Alleine-Sherborn, a hometown Pillar that has made a point over the decades of reinvesting back into Sherborn's community institutions. Notably, the Sherborn Wolves are the most successful rugby team in the Albrennian Rugby Union. The stereotypical Sherbornite is friendly, hardworking, unusually religious, and somewhat condescending to everyone not from Sherborn.
Albrennia is a unitary presidential constitutional republic, which claims to have Levilion's oldest continuous democratic constitution: the Instrument of Governance of 1539, originally adopted in the early colonial period. It is a rule-of-law state with a robust tradition of judicial review and individual rights. Nevertheless, international observers note that almost nonexistent campaign finance regulations mean that Pillar conglomerates and organized labor exercise an outsized influence on the outcome of elections, and thus on government policy. Moreover, Albrennia's powerful permanent civil service remains overwhelmingly staffed by ethnic-Rythenean, Rotiferist men educated at Tolland or Alford: the so-called "Establishment." Albrennia is distinguished by the Matthean System, which delegates substantial areas of state responsibility to private industry through government-mediated corporatist bargaining between corporate conglomerates and powerful labor unions. While Albrennia is not a federal system, municipal administrations have a high degree of delegated self-government; they are responsible for primary and secondary education, local law enforcement, and other day-to-day duties.
The Albrennian government is based on a system of checks and balances defined by the text of the Instrument of Governance. The unicameral Parliament is composed of 255 members elected by plurality vote from equipopulational single-member districts for six-year terms. It has sole power of the purse, originates formal legislation, and has the power of impeachment over any member of the government. The chancellor is elected by a plurality of the nationwide popular vote for a six-year term; he is the chief executive of the Commonwealth and admiral-in-chief of the Fleet. The chancellor is the head of the Chancellery, Albrennia's powerful administrative state, and can appoint or remove agency heads. Lower-level civil servants, however, have career tenure and can only be fired for cause. In practice, the chancellery has primary responsibility for the day-to-day running of the country: the chancellor adopts "interpretive memoranda" that define existing law in certain ways, and these form the basis for actual government policy. Since the National Security Act of 1927, the chancellor has had the power to sign trade deals and to deploy the Fleet overseas without seeking Parliament's formal consent. Parliament's primary remaining check on executive authority is its ability to threaten funding through its control of the budgetary process.
The Instrument of Governance has been amended 34 times, and these amendments primarily define the scope of Albrennians' individual and collective rights. The Instrument guarantees equality before the law, and forbids invidious discrimination by the state, labor unions, or the Pillars. It protects rights to human dignity, privacy, bodily autonomy, humane treatment, and due process of law. Freedom of conscience, religion, and speech are strongly protected, as is the right to vote, stand for election, and form a political party. These rights extend to corporations and labor unions, and justify those institutions' power in Albrennian elections. Property rights are very strongly protected, and the Albrennian government's powers of eminent domain are strictly circumscribed. Economic rights are considered collective rather than individual, which is why the law requires compulsory unionization: the Instrument of Governance protects the right of workers to bargain collectively, not the right of individuals to choose whether to join a union. Nor is there any individual right to start a business that is infringed by the Pillars' de facto monopolies. Slavery has been banned in Albrennia since 1556.
Both the structural provisions and the rights provisions of the Instrument of Governance are defined by Albrennia's courts using principles derived from Rythenean common law. Judges are appointed by the chancellor from a list of candidates chosen by a panel of permanent civil servants within the Ministry of Justice; they serve for life unless impeached. All courts have power of judicial review to void any government action or law as contrary to the Instrument of Governance; this power extends to elements of the triennial Grand Bargain between the Pillars and the ACL, since it carries the force of law. The decision of the Court of Cassation is final in all such matters. The role of multimillion-guilder campaign contributions in the electoral process means that most Albrennians report greater trust in the courts than in Parliament or the Chancellery.
The Matthean System
The Matthean System was the product of the Providence Conference of 1898, and is named for that Conference's chairman, Vice Chancellor Edwin Matthews. It was an attempt to reconcile the Pillarization of the Albrennian economy with workers' rights. As implemented by the 29th, 30th, and 31st Amendments to the Instrument of Governance, the Matthean System combines democratic politics with a corporatist political economy. Its central feature is that certain state responsibilities are delegated to private industry, and given the force of law by government-mediated negotiations between organized labor and corporate conglomerates.
In Albrennia, twelve major corporate conglomerates - the Pillars - account for more than three-quarters of the gross domestic product. The absence of antitrust laws means that each Pillar represents an unofficial sectoral monopoly: Wellfleet Industries controls all shipbuilding in Albrennia, for example. The Pillars are also vertically integrated. For example, corporate subsidiaries of Wellfleet Industries control every stage of the shipbuilding process, from the iron mines and lumber yards to the paint factories to the shipyard itself. Each Pillar exercises equivalent control over its own sector of the economy, from agriculture and food processing to information technology. The Pillars resolve disputes among themselves through the Albrennian Commercial Council, on which each Pillar is represented by delegates.
Each sector of the economy also has one labor union, to which all employees of that sector's Pillar belong. These unions are compulsory: by law, a Pillar can only hire members of its sector's union. Thus, for example, all employees of Wellfleet Industries must be members of the United Brotherhood of Shipwrights, and Wellfleet Industries can fire them only for cause. Therefore, Albrennia has twelve major labor unions, one for each of the twelve Pillars. All twelve of these sectoral unions, in turn, are members of "one big union": the Albrennian Conference of Labor, or ACL. The ACL therefore ultimately represents every Pillar employee, and includes 71 percent of Albrennian workers (the remainder work mostly for the government, for the Fleet, or for small retail businesses, or they are classified as managers).
Every three years, the Albrennian Chancellery mediates negotiations between the ACL and the Commercial Council. These negotiations are called the Grand Bargain. The Grand Bargain sets the pay, benefits, and workplace safety standards that all Albrennian businesses will be required to provide to all Albrennian workers. It decides the Albrennian minimum wage; it writes the health insurance plan that all employers must provide; it defines the pension plans and unemployment insurance that all employers must offer; and it sets safety standards for every workplace. Both the ACL and the Commercial Council must sign each Grand Bargain. If they take more than a month to do so, the 31st Amendment requires the government to impose an indefinite, nationwide, unpaid holiday in order to incentivize compromise.
Once the Grand Bargain is signed, it carries the force of law: any employer that does not provide the minimum wage, benefits, pension, and safety standards is criminally liable upon pain of fine and even imprisonment. This applies even to small businesses that have resisted Pillarization, and so were not represented by the Commercial Council. On the other hand, any strike, lockout, or slowdown by workers - except as retaliation for an employer breach of the Bargain - is not legally protected: employers can fire striking workers without violating their union contracts. Because employers are required by law to provide such a wide array of social benefits, the Albrennian government does not offer welfare payments, food assistance, or public housing of its own.
The Matthean System confers three major benefits. First, it largely ensures labor peace: it gives unions a forum in which to negotiate the best deal possible for all workers nationwide, and gives the Pillars mostly strike-free workplaces. Second, it provides every Albrennian worker with health insurance, a pension, unemployment insurance, a safe workplace, and a decent wage. The Matthean System is thus responsible for the Commonwealth's high standard of living. Third, the Grand Bargain makes employers pay directly for the Albrennian welfare state: the burden of paying for workers' health and pension expenses is met by corporate profits, not by tax revenue, and so it falls directly on those most able to pay. Relieved of that burden, the government can keep taxes relatively low, and invest far more of its own budget into the Fleet.
The Matthean System also has one major flaw. As long as a household has one employed member, that worker's pay, health insurance, and pension should provide for the rest of the household. Even if the breadwinner loses his job, his unemployment insurance will meet the household's expenses for a few years; and if he is disabled, then his pension will support the household indefinitely. But if years pass when no one in a household is either employed or drawing a pension, then the entire household has no social safety net: for Albrennia has no public welfare payments, and no government food or housing assistance. Its entire welfare state is conditioned upon employment. The one percent of Albrennians who are chronically unemployed therefore face exposure to a level of poverty unknown anywhere else in the developed world.
Nearly five million Albrennians work for the government - not including the 800,000 more who serve in the Fleet. Most of Albrennia's public employees are municipal in nature, but close to a million work for the Chancellery. These roles typically require substantial higher education and specialized skill, and carry civil service protections: Chancellery employees cannot be fired except for gross misconduct, and can appeal their dismissal in court. Accordingly, although chancellors and ministers may come and go, there is very little turnover among the career administrators who keep the Albrennian government running. This cadre of bureaucrats has its own institutional culture and norms, and its members have great latitude over how they apply Parliament's laws and the Chancellor's interpretive memoranda. They are widely seen as the real power in the Albrennian government, and are known collectively as the Establishment.
Because hiring decisions are made by the existing civil service, the Establishment is a self-perpetuating culture. It is mostly white, Rotiferist, ethnic-Rythenean, male, upper-class, and educated at Tolland or Alford. It remains that way because civil servants who match that description hire new civil servants who also match it. Despite this, there is a deep meritocratic streak in the Establishment: while it is far easier to enter the civil service if one fits the traditional profile, one's ability to rise through the Establishment's ranks still depends on work ethic, analytical skill, and intellectual agility.
The Establishment stands for certain political principles. It is pragmatic rather than ideological, and views itself as an honest mediator between the Pillars and labor. It scrupulously avoids affiliation with either political party, though its policy priorities strongly influence both. Its view of foreign affairs is grounded in realpolitik, and it is comfortable with ruthless measures to advance Albrennian interests abroad. Nevertheless, the Establishment does have certain fixed philosophical positions: it is committedly pro-Rythenean, and loyal to a broad liberal tradition derived from the Rythenean Revolution. Most of all, the Establishment values the responsible, competent, undemonstrative exercise of power; it may not be publicly accountable, but it is a culture of public service all the same.
The Establishment is also associated with a certain cultural style. Senior civil servants are rich, but not millionaires: they have nice apartments or townhouses in Providence, and perhaps a beach house on the Gulf of Colrain or a hunting lodge in the central highlands. They wear a lot of tweed and drive Audonian or Auressian cars. They read poetry and military history, and enjoy the opera. They often served as junior officers in the Fleet at the start of their careers, and have small collections of Idican antiques. They speak several languages. They are Rotiferists, and active in charitable societies associated with their church. This image is deeply rooted in Abrennian culture as the model of responsible leadership, and even elected politicians frequently imitate it in order to borrow some of the Establishment's prestige.
Albrennia has two major political parties: the Reform Party and the Labor Party. The parties are not ideologically polarized; each includes conservative, moderate, and liberal wings. Traditionally, the Labor Party draws most of its support from blue-collar workers and powerful labor unions, while the Reform Party is more associated with the professional classes and the influence of the Pillars. They have different political styles, histories, symbols, and cultural identities. But this does not entail mutually opposing ideological positions. In fact, Albrennian politics is characterized by a broad consensus on many issues - a consensus shaped by the Establishment's influence on public policy. Both parties support the Matthean System, though they back different sides within it; both parties agree that the Fleet must remain a naval power with few equals and no superiors; both parties recognize the value of the "invisible empire" and of good relations with Audonia and Amandine. That broad consensus produces a high degree of bipartisan cooperation.
As a result, many of Albrennia's most controversial political issues cut across party lines: dividing each party's liberal and conservative wings, instead of separating the parties from each other. Immigration tops the list; Albrennia has long maintained an open-door policy, resettling tens of thousands of refugees per year and resisting a fixed cap on work visa applications. This policy is supported both by Labor Party liberals (who see it as a moral imperative), and by Reform Party moderates and liberals (who see it as necessary to meet the Pillars' demand for labor). Labor Party moderates and conservatives support greater immigration restrictions, fearing that wages will fall if the labor pool grows faster than profits; Reform Party conservatives likewise support more restrictions aimed at preserving the "Rythenean character" of Albrennia.
This sort of ideological alignment across party lines is fairly common. A progressive coalition of Reform Party liberals and moderates with Labor Party liberals has been responsible for lifting legal restrictions on homosexuality over the last two decades. By contrast, a somewhat overlapping conservative coalition of Reform Party conservatives and moderates with Labor Party conservatives has been responsible for blocking legislation on police reform and affirmative action. Significantly, though, these controversial issues are matters of social policy: they involve questions of gender, sexuality, race, and cultural identity. Albrennians are divided on these questions, but on on economic, military, and foreign policy, the Establishment-dominated consensus remains strong in both parties.
Albrennia is a diplomatically influential global power with an established structure of foreign relations. The Foreign Service epitomizes the Establishment's influence in the Albrennian government: all Albrennian diplomats are career Foreign Service officers with civil service protection, and even ambassadors chosen by the Chancellor must be drawn from the ranks of the Foreign Service. This means that Albrennian foreign policy is quite stable and consistent from one chancellorship to the next. Diplomats are usually stationed in a particular country for many years, giving them a chance to develop close relationships with local officials. This highly professional, long-established diplomatic corps has made the Albrennian passport one of the most powerful in Levilion.
In many ways, Albrennia is an establishment power. It is Levilion's most aggressive defender of maritime law, and the Fleet spends much of its peacetime energy on antismuggling, antipiracy, and freedom-of-navigation operations. Likewise, Albrennia is a champion of free trade: it has bilateral free trade agreements with many nations, and regularly negotiates to lower trade barriers between its own economy and existing free-trade zones like the Commonwealth of Northern Auressia. Albrennia is a leader in international science projects, ranging from the Levilion Space Station to climate studies, and it hosts the prestigious annual Tolland Conference to recognize international achievements in the sciences. Albrennia also spends 100 billion guilders per year on foreign aid and global health projects; while observers are quick to note that the Commonwealth often uses these payments as leverage to advance Albrennian corporate interests abroad, ALBRAID still plays a vital role in many zones of conflict or natural disaster. Albrennia is a founding member of the Assembly of Marceaunian States, and a member of many other international organizations.
Albrennia has particularly close relationships with a number of nations, mostly in Marceaunia. Military cooperation between Albrennia and Audonia dates back to the Second Great War, and the two nations' navies and marine corps continue to share annual joint exercises and cross-training. Albrennian corporations are extremely deeply invested in Amandine, where they employ several million people; Albrennian diplomats have also achieved a high degree of influence in the Amand government, allegedly in part through their willingness to bribe Amand politicians and officials. Albrennian corporations likewise own numerous mines, plantations, and manufacturing plants in Rocia, where the Commonwealth has been actively involved in propping up a series of pro-Albrennian regimes since the early 20th century. And on the other side of the Hesperian, Albrennia continues to maintain one of the world's oldest alliances with Rythene: a warm relationship that dates back to the 1825 Treaty of Delhaven, when the Second Rythenean Republic recognized Albrennian independence and the two nations pledged their "perpetual friendship." Albrennia honored that promise, following Rythene into both Great Wars without hesitation.
Finally, Albrennian diplomacy is notorious for its refusal to distinguish Albrennian national interests from Albrennian corporate interests. Albrennian diplomats are quite willing to use the tools of government-to-government relations - trade concessions, foreign aid payments, military sales or support - to extract concessions that directly benefit the Pillars, like mineral rights or special tax status. The inverse is also true: where Albrennian corporations have invested heavily in a national economy, Albrennian diplomats are skilled in using that supposedly private economic influence to extract concessions that benefit the Albrennian government directly. The result is that Albrennian foreign relations are inherently both governmental and corporate: diplomatic influence leads to corporate influence, and vice versa. This is the essence of the "invisible empire," and it is not always peaceful or legal: the Foreign Service has a long record of using bribes, propaganda, coups, and direct military interventions to secure Albrennian corporate interests overseas.
The Fleet is Albrennia's military, comprising sea, air, and amphibious forces. Notably, Albrennia has no conventional army; the Fleet absorbed the budget and manpower of the Albrennian Army in 1859. The Army's modern successor is the Frontier Force, a gendarme unit of ten thousand men responsible for garrisoning border fortifications in the Isthmus of Lamont and for responding to domestic unrest. It is not a genuinely combat-ready force.
The Fleet, by contrast, is one of Levilion's most powerful naval forces: Albrennian government policy is to ensure that it has "few equals, and no superiors." Legally, it is a sui generis entity: it absorbed the Department of the Navy in 1855, and has since been a self-administering force responsible for its own budget, procurement decisions, personnel policies, and military court system. The Chief of Staff of the Fleet reports exclusively to the Chancellor, which places the Fleet outside civil service control. It cannot be audited, and it is not required to report to Parliament on any operations outside Albrennia. The Fleet Academy in Colrain is equal in prestige to Tolland and Alford Univerisities, and produces its own naval version of the Establishment. The Fleet is, to most practical purposes, a government-within-the-government. Its own 200-year tradition of obedience to civilian authority plays a larger role in ensuring its loyalty than any legal oversight.
The Fleet has an annual budget of 316 billion guilders: six percent of national GDP and about 50 percent of Albrennia's government spending. It has 753,221 uniformed personnel, most of whom spend their careers "on-base" in Albrennia. The Fleet sails 240 ships, including six supercarriers, eight amphibious assault ships, 45 guided-missile destroyers, and 15 nuclear-powered submarines - along with dozens of frigates and more then 100 logistical ships. It fields more than 2000 aircraft, among them more than 300 strike fighters. It incorporates a 140,000-strong Marine Corps, a cyberwarfare department, an array of spy satellites, and Albrennia's notorious intelligence agency: the Fleet Intelligence Corps. Its ballistic missile submarines carry Albrennia's nuclear deterrent. As the main customer of both Wellfleet Industries and General Armaments, the Fleet is the principal engine of Albrennia's 500-billion-guilder military-industrial complex.
Corps and Task Forces
The Fleet is subdivided both vertically and horizontally. Vertically, it is subdivided into corps. Each Fleet Corps deals with a specific military mission. These include:
- Fleet Surface Warfare Corps: responsible for operating Fleet surface vessels. It is the oldest corps, and the most prestigious. Today, it relies heavily on the Springsong Combat System, and is a pioneer in the application of information technology and battlespace networking to detect, track, and destroy enemy ships, munitions, and aircraft at extreme range.
- Fleet Marine Corps: responsible for projecting Albrennian power from sea to shore in order to secure national interests on land. It is the second-oldest corps, and the largest amphibious force in Levilion. It operates a small number of main battle tanks and a larger number of armored amphibious assault vehicles, but remains primarily a light infantry force. Marine Assault Units rely on exceptional training and aggression, as well as offshore cruise missile and carrier air support, to hold their own against more heavily armored foes. Fleet Marines are globally renowned for their toughness, but are despised in much of Idica and Marceaunia Minor as the enforcers of Albrennian economic imperialism.
- Fleet Aviation Corps: responsible for operating strike fighters, AWACS, and EW aircraft from Fleet carriers and amphibious assault ships, and for operating rotary aircraft from most Fleet surface vessels. It retains a certain daredevil glamour, and its pilots are distinguished by leather bomber jackets. Albrennia's most common naval combat aircraft is the F/A-98 Osprey, a 4.5-generation multirole fighter designed to operate as part of a Springsong-networked fleet.
- Fleet Intelligence Corps: Albrennia's primary intelligence agency, known as the FIC; uniquely, it reports directly to the Chancellor and not to the Fleet Chief of Staff. Its officers use both military and diplomatic covers; they pose either as diplomats or as personnel from other Fleet corps. It is notorious for its willingness to use propaganda, bribery, extortion, and targeted killings - and even to engineer military coups - in order to protect Albrennian corporate investments.
- Fleet Submarine Corps: responsible for operating Albrennia's attack and ballistic-missile submarines, and for maintaining Albrennian nuclear weapons. It is a relatively secretive corps that requires great steadiness and scientific aptitude of its personnel. It works closely with the Fleet Special Operations Corps and Fleet Intelligence Corps to insert and recover Albrennian covert operatives.
- Fleet Special Operations Corps: responsible for unconventional warfare, counterterrorism, special reconnaissance, hostage rescue, and other special missions. The Corps is primarily composed of the Raider Teams: Albrennia's main special missions unit and one of Levilion's finest naval commando forces. Raider selection is notoriously grueling, with a roughly 80 percent washout rate and severe injury not uncommon. Raider teams work closely with the Fleet Intelligence Corps and are frequently deployed on the direct orders of the Chancellor.
- Fleet Cyber Corps: responsible for protecting Albrennian information infrastructure, and for advancing Albrennian interests in cyberspace. It also operates Albrennia's network of spy satellites. It is the newest Fleet corps, and boasts a very successful record - though this is in part because AlbrInfo software and devices are widely used internationally, and are believed to contain a backdoor access for the Cyber Corps.
- Fleet Administrative Corps: responsible for the administration, logistics, military-justice, and procurement processes of the Fleet. This is actually the largest corps by personnel, but few of its members ever leave Albrennia.
The Fleet is also divided horizontally, into six task forces. Each task force is broadly equivalent to a carrier group in other navies; it contains one supercarrier with its airwing, five guided-missile destroyers, a nuclear attack submarine, a fast resupply ship, and an amphibious assault ship transporting a full Marine Assault Unit (which includes infantry, helicopters, and light armor). Typically, each task force also includes a cyber operations unit, a Fleet Intelligence Corps cadre, and one or two Raider teams. Task forces are thus microcosms of the Fleet as a whole, flexible enough to undertake any mission. For this reason, they have geographical areas of responsibility; the regional task force is responsible for responding to crises that arise anywhere in its area of operations, and it is often based out of naval bases leased from nearby nations. The six task forces are:
- Northern Hesperian Task Force: Primarily focused on the northern Hesperian Ocean, Hemetrian Sea, and Galene Sea. It coordinates closely with the Commonwealth of Northern Auressia, and especially with the Rythenean Navy. It rarely sees combat, but has an important role in diplomacy and military ties with Auressia.
- Southern Hesperian Task Force: Primarily focused on the southern Hesperian, with its attention divided evenly between western Idica and eastern Marceaunia Minor. It has historically been very active in Rocia, and participated in the Callaqua Crisis. The 2nd Marine Assault Unit, associated with the Southern Hesperian Task Force, is the most combat-experienced unit in the Fleet Marines.
- Northern Demontean Task Force: Primarily focused on the northern Demontean Ocean, including Senejor, and the Sea of Qes. While not involved in many of Albrennia's smaller military interventions, it is a prestigious and perilous posting, since it will have initial responsibility for holding off the Songhese Navy if tensions boil over in Isuan.
- Southern Demontean Task Force: Primarily focused on the southern Demontean Ocean, including the Rum Gulf, western Marceaunia Minor, and Blaykish Mesonesia. Generally considered the most desirable posting in the Fleet: its most common missions involve antismuggling and drug interdictions, and it regularly makes shore leave at spectacular tourist islands. It cross-trains frequently with the Audonian and Amand navies.
- Western Demontean Task Force: Primarily focused on the western Demontean Ocean, including eastern Idica and southern Isuan. Widely considered a punishment posting, since its area of operations is literally on the far side of the Earth from Albrennia, and sea duty can last for more than two years. Oddly, it has a reputation for producing intellectual and liberal officers who go on to careers in politics or the Establishment.
- Fast Carrier Task Force: Functions as a quick reaction force docked in Wellfleet. It is an overstrength task force with ten guided-missile destroyers instead of five, and three amphibious assault ships instead of one - with three Marine Assault Units to match. It is intended to be deployed to support any task force in the event of a major war. Ships in need of repair or refit are often transferred to the Fast Carrier Task Force in order to allow them to remain in port for longer. It is nevertheless a prestigious posting, since the Fast Carrier Task Force is the direct descendant of the Fleet of the Commonwealth: Albrennia's enormous Demontean navy in the Second Great War, which won the Battle of Saint-Baptiste and the Battle of the Qes Straits.
In addition to these task forces, the Fleet includes a number of small interdiction squadrons: groups of a few frigates and a destroyer used for antipiracy and antismuggling patrols. It also includes the Strategic Submarine Force: a dozen nuclear ballistic-missile submarines that carry Albrennia's nuclear deterrent. At least eight of them are always out of port at any given time, so that Albrennia retains guaranteed second-strike capability. And the Qes Straits Patrol - eight destroyers, five frigates, and a helicopter carrier - has been deployed on regular freedom-of-navigation operations in and around the Sea of Qes since the Second Great War. It is an elite force: a testbed for new naval technology, a career-making assignment for a gifted officer, and a constant warning against Songhese aggression.
Tactics and Technology
The Fleet is one of the world's most technologically advanced fighting forces; it is the product of industrial and research cooperation between AlbrInfo, Wellfleet Industries, and General Armaments. While its Straits-class supercarriers are aging - all six were laid down between 1975 and 1990 - they have all been refitted in the last decade. Each still supports an airwing of 80 strike fighter, EW, and AWACs aircraft. Albrennia's naval airfleet is quite modern: the F/A-98 Osprey, while not a true 5th-generation stealth fighter, includes an AESA radar, enhanced avionics with sophisticated radar jamming capability, and a high-capacity data-link that allows real-time retargeting of its missiles based on data from networked ships and aircraft. The Colrain-class guided-missile destroyers, which are the backbone of the Albrennian surface fleet, each displace more than 9,000 tons; they are the size of traditional cruisers, and have replaced cruisers in Albrennian service. Laid down since 1992, they are built around an AESA radar with a range of 400 kilometers and the capacity to track more than 1000 different targets.
Most importantly, each Fleet task force functions as a networked whole through the Springsong Combat System. This is technology proprietary to Wellfleet Industries; its exact details are a closely guarded technical secret. It is based on high-capacity encrypted data-links connected to every radar or sonar system on every ship, submarine, or aircraft. Similar links connect the main computers of every ship, submarine, or aircraft to each other, forming a wireless computing grid whose total processing power is far greater than that of any single ship computer. This processing power is applied to collate and cross-reference the radar/sonar data of the entire task force - producing a three-dimensional sensor map in which every target is tracked and verified by multiple radar or sonar sources. The system has numerous advantages. It allows multiple radars to be focused in real time to burn through jamming; it uses the power of grid computing to analyze and distinguish the radar signatures of stealth aircraft from those of birds or insects; it permits missiles launched from Osprey fighters to find targets using the very powerful radars of destroyers a hundred kilometers away. Springsong's purpose is to turn a task force of seven warships, one submarine, and eighty aircraft into a single networked whole much greater than the sum of its parts.
Albrennian naval tactics are based around the exploitation of this information advantage. When it functions properly, Springsong creates an invisible sphere around a task force, extending both above and below the waterline, with a radius of 400 kilometers. Everything that moves inside this radius is tracked, analyzed, and identified, and it can be targeted and destroyed with the appropriate weapon: air-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ballistic missiles, or torpedoes. The role of the task force is simply to move to within 400 kilometers of the enemy, and then allow the system to do its job. Accordingly, Fleet doctrine is strategically aggressive but tactically defensive; it relies on networked radars and grid computing to destroy threats before they can claim Albrennian lives. This approach is unglamorous and unheroic, and it has yet to be tested against a technologically advanced foe. But Springsong-capable task forces have achieved impressive results in simulations and naval exercises. There is at least some truth to the Fleet's lofty claim to have "redefined naval warfare for the information age."
Albrennia is Levilion's largest single economy, both by nominal GDP ($5.275 trillion) and by purchasing power ($5.159 trillion); however, economic unions like the Northern Auressian Commonwealth have far larger economies in total. Albrennia is Levilion's largest importer of goods and its fifth-largest exporter. It has, however, the highest rate of investment in foreign nations as a percentage of GDP; in practice, Albrennias's largest export is capital itself. Amandine, Audonia, and the Northern Auressian Commonwealth are Albrennia's top trading partners. Its largest exports are pharmaceuticals, electronics, ships, information technology, and arms; its largest imports are automobiles (primarily Audonian), foodstuffs, oil and gas (primarily Amand), luxury goods, and non-ferrous metals.
The Albrennian guilder is one of Levilion's most stable currencies, and plays a key role on international currency markets. The Sherborn Stock Exchange is one of the largest in the world (per market capitalization of its listed companies) at $11.6 trillion. Albrennia is a crucial center of finance: it is one of the easiest places for foreign companies and businesses to raise capital, and Albrennian banks and corporations therefore possess global networks of investment. This compensates for the country's lack of most natural resources: Albrennia is limited to coal and iron deposits in the Lamont Range, and a limited amount of arable land in the coastal hills. In this sense, Albrennia has long been a knowledge economy and a mercantile culture: it imports raw materials from elsewhere, applies expertise to turn them into valuable products, and sells them on at a profit. The modern financial system serves to streamline this process.
Today, Albrennia is a postindustrial economy. Science and technology are crucial to its prosperity; in particular, Albrennia is a global leader in pharmaceutical development and medical technology. In recent years, Albrennia has also become a major center for telecommunications technology and informatics, developing many of the search engines and social media platforms that are now in common use globally. Despite this, Albrennia retains a substantial manufacturing sector focused especially on armaments and shipbuilding: General Armaments has long been considered the world's largest arms dealer. The engine of Albrennian manufacturing remains the Fleet: Albrennia's high level of military spending has created a military-industrial complex that combines vertically integrated economies of scale with advanced research-and-development programs, focused especially on materials science, avionics, and military informatics. In total, the private sector is estimated to constitute 83.7% of the economy, though the Fleet remains the single largest employer in the nation. Albrennia has the sixth-highest workforce productivity per person in Levilion, and the fourth-highest productivity per hour.
The quality of Albrennia's infrastructure varies considerably across the country: many rural roads and bridges are in poor condition, most of the country's airports were constructed in the 1970s, and some low-income urban areas have been repeatedly subject to industrial pollution of their drinking water. However, Albrennia does possess one of the world's best high-speed rail networks connecting the eight main megacities of the coast, and Albrennian cities have achieved world-benchmark wireless broadband access. Municipal public transit has long been a priority for Albrennian city governments, and the price of gasoline is quite high because Albrennia imports all its fuel; consequently, Albrennians are less likely to own cars than citizens of most other developed nations, especially those in Marceaunia. Finally, Albrennia is a global center of trade and shipping, with the capacity to handle more than 200 million tons of cargo per year at eight deepwater ports: Albrennian ports function as transshipment points for global supply chains, not just as access points for the Albrennian domestic market.
As a result of the Matthean System, the Albrennian economy is characterized by a high standard of living, but also by a high level of income inequality and the existence of isolated but devastating poverty. The Albrennian private sector is based on compulsory unionization, and so Albrennian workers and their families enjoy relatively high wages, good healthcare benefits, generous pensions, and considerable job security. But the Albrennian economy is also based on Pillarization, which allows top-level corporate executives to take a cut of the profits of an entire sector of the economy. As a result, Albrennia has more than 500 billionaires, and the income gap between the superrich and the unionized middle class is enormous. Moreover, Albrennians who experience prolonged unemployment do not benefit at all from the general prosperity of organized labor, and often fall into homelessness and destitution. Despite all of these problems, Albrennia still enjoys a fairly high level of social mobility: educational achievement is the best predictor of success in the private sector, and Albrennian universities are tuition-free and taxpayer-funded. As a result, it is genuinely possible for most Albrennians to rise as far as their talent will take them.
Pillarization and Organized Labor
The Albrennian economy is defined by its dramatic vertical integration, powerful sectoral monopolies, and compulsory unionization. It is dominated by twelve enormous corporations - the Pillars - and twelve equally enormous labor unions. These define the contours of Albrennian economic life.
Twelve Albrennian corporate conglomerates account for more than three-quarters of the gross domestic product. They are known as the Pillars. The absence of antitrust laws means that each Pillar represents an unofficial sectoral monopoly: Wellfleet Industries controls all shipbuilding in Albrennia, for example. The Pillars are also vertically integrated. For example, corporate subsidiaries of Wellfleet Industries control every stage of the shipbuilding process, from the iron mines and lumber yards in distant continents, to the paint factories in Amandine, to the shipyard in Albrennia itself. Each Pillar exercises equivalent control over its own sector of the economy, from agriculture and food processing to information technology. The Pillars resolve disputes among themselves through the Albrennian Commercial Council, on which each Pillar is represented by delegates.
Each sector of the economy also has one labor union, to which all employees of that sector's Pillar belong. These unions are compulsory: by law, a Pillar can only hire members of its sector's union. Thus, for example, all employees of Wellfleet Industries must be members of the United Brotherhood of Shipwrights, and Wellfleet Industries can fire them only for cause. Therefore, Albrennia has twelve major labor unions, one for each of the twelve Pillars. All twelve of these sectoral unions, in turn, are members of "one big union": the Albrennian Conference of Labor, or ACL. The ACL therefore ultimately represents every Pillar employee, and includes 71 percent of Albrennian workers (the remainder work mostly for the government, for the Fleet, or for small retail businesses, or they are classified as managers).
Notably, small business does still exist in Albrennia: there are more than 500,000 non-Pillar businesses, including many publicly traded corporations with hundreds or thousands of employees. However, they are almost all based on retail, not production. Independent electronics stores sell AlbrInfo products; independent grocery stores sell Reynolds Midland foodstuffs. Restaurants, art galleries, theaters, and other artistic or creative enterprises are all non-Pillarized; so are lawyers, architects, accountants, and many other service professions. But the Pillars occupy what have traditionally been called the "commanding heights" of the Albrennian economy. If smaller businesses attempt to break into the Pillarized sectors, they are required to unionize their workforce and comply with the Grand Bargain set between the ACL and the Commercial Council; this usually proves prohibitively expensive.
The twelve current Pillars (and their corresponding sectoral unions) are:
- Albrennian Informatics (AlbrInfo): The newest and most profitable Pillar, it controls Albrennia's information technology sector. It develops both hardware - including smartphones, laptops, desktops, and industrial and military mainframes - and software, including search engines and social media applications used worldwide. It possesses a unique corporate structure: all intellectual property is held by the conglomerate, but employees are able to start their own subsidiaries within the corporate umbrella at will, and keep a share of the profits from their ideas. As a result, AlbrInfo is known as the "start-up pillar." It has swiftly become the most powerful company in Albrennia, and one of the most powerful private entities in Levilion. Its sectoral union is the Albrennian Innovation Association.
- Wellfleet Industries: Albrennia's most prestigious Pillar, it controls the Commonwealth's shipbuilding industry. It is the sole supplier of warships and submarines for the Fleet, the primary supplier of cargo ships for the Albrennian merchant marine, and one of the world's largest exporters of cargo ships to foreign companies. Wellfleet Industries remains the largest private employer in Albrennia, and it includes world-class research and development subsidiaries in the fields of materials science, maritime nuclear power, and munitions. The Pillar is the largest contributor to Albrennia's military-industrial complex, and possesses extensive political influence in Providence. Its sectoral union is the United Brotherhood of Shipwrights.
- General Armaments: The other Pillar of Albrennia's military-industrial complex, it produces military materiel for ground warfare: this ranges from small arms and crew-served weapons to artillery and armored vehicles. Often described as the world's biggest arms dealer, it has a reputation for producing cheap, robust, reliable weapons for export to governments and insurgents alike. General Armaments also offers a much more advanced product line for use by the Fleet Marine Corps, and it is on the cutting edge of research into next-generation amphibious armored vehicles. While its international reputation is unsavory, the Pillar is well-regarded in Albrennia: it has a close and collaborative relationship with its sectoral union, the Armaments Industry Workers of Albennia (AIWA).
- Reynolds Midland & Co.: The largest landowner in Albrennia, it exercises a near-monopoly on the country's agricultural and food-processing sectors. Most Albrennian farmers lease their land from Reynolds Midland; most Albrennian grocery stores stock mostly Reynolds Midland products (and the rest are imports). Reynolds Midland exports a number of processed foods and beverages that are famous worldwide: these include Nilla-Kola and Midland Ketchup, which are synonymous with colas and ketchups generally. The Pillar imports more than 40% of the fruits, vegetables, and meat that it uses, and it controls subsidiaries all over the world which own farms and plantations where land and labor costs are lower. Reynolds Midland is disliked both abroad and at home; it was deeply involved in Albrennia's "banana wars," and it has the worst record of labor violations of any Pillar. Its sectoral union is the United Food and Beverage Workers.
- Euterpia Laboratories: As Albrennia's medical Pillar, Euterpia is one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, and it develops hundreds of new medications and therapies per year. It also owns the great majority of Albrennia's hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and other medical facilities - though these are often operated by subsidiary companies that compete with each other for patients, and they operate within a detailed regulatory framework set by Establishment experts in the chancellery's Office of Public Health. Nevertheless, almost all Albrennia's private-sector doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals work ultimately for Euterpia, and Euterpia's ability to control costs and exploit economies of scale has been crucial in allowing all the Pillars to provide cost-effective medical care to their workers. Its sectoral union is the Commonwealth Healthcare Labor Federation.
- Highland Mutual: Established in 1924, Highland Mutual is a publicly regulated utility, not a conventional Pillar. It dominates Albrennia's insurance sector, and is by far the largest provider of home, health, life, auto, unemployment, and disability insurance. Because most Albrennians' insurance is negotiated through the Grand Bargain and provided by their employer, Highland mostly serves an administrative rather than an entrepreneurial role: its plans and prices are defined by corporatist bargaining, and it sells overwhelmingly to the other Pillars rather than to private citizens. Its function is to allow the other Pillars to make good on their promises to their workers. Highland's credit is guaranteed by the Bank of Albren, since it does not have the business flexibility to ensure it remains profitable. Its sectoral union is the Associated Insurance Workers of Albrennia.
- Alleine-Sherborn: While each Pillar includes its own integrated bank in order to handle financial transactions among its subsidiaries and workers, Alleine-Sherborn is the only Pillar that serves as a financial institution in its own right. It is the bank of Albrennia's small businesses, professionals, and any other non-Pillarized workers. More importantly, it is the main financial link between the Albrennian economy and the world economy: foreign companies that do business in Albrennia are de facto obliged to bank with Alleine-Sherborn, because it is the only financial institutions capable of dealing with multiple Pillars simultaneously. Its subsidiaries organize the mutual funds, hedge funds, and other complex financial products that make Albrennia's Pillarized economy accessible to foreign and private investors, and it is responsible for the pension funds of several other Pillars. Its sectoral union is the Commonwealth Financial Services Union.
- General Locomotive Co.: Albrennia's least successful Pillar, General Locomotive produces civilian automobiles, trucks, trains, and other ground transportation. It has been in decline since the 1970s, outcompeted in the consumer-car market by Audonian imports. Its business now focuses primarily on trains, construction vehicles, cargo trucks, and other industrial or specialized vehicles. It has struggled to break into the export market even with this more limited range of products. General Locomotive is nevertheless regarded fondly by many Albrennians: it is a symbol of the never-say-die spirit of Albrennian business, and it is particularly important in the Palian-speaking community, since it has long been a welcoming environment for Rocian-Albrennians. Its sectoral union is the Albrennian Brotherhood of Autoworkers.
- OCN Resources: Albrennia's most internationally notorious Pillar, OCN dominates the Commonwealth's energy economy. Its subsidiaries include both wholly private companies and publicly regulated utilities. The latter own and operate Albrennia's entire power grid, including the nuclear power plants in major cities. Private companies under the OCN umbrella are mostly focused on fossil fuels: OCN owns all the major coal mines in the Lamont Range. It is very deeply involved in other countries, primarily in the petroleum business: OCN oilfields and refineries in Amandine produce most of Albrennia's imported oil, and OCN investments in Rocia have played a role in fueling the Chawpisuyu Conflict. In much of Levilion, OCN symbolizes the worst aspects of Albrennian capitalism. Its sectoral union is the Federation of Albrennian Energy Workers.
- Osprey Industries: One of Albrennia's fastest-growing Pillars, Osprey dominates the aerospace sector, producing both civilian and military aircraft. Its military business is dominated by Fleet contracts, and Osprey naval aircraft are well-regarded internationally: the company produces balanced, reliable helicopters and carrier fighters with state-of-the-art avionics. Its civilian aircraft are mostly large airliners and cargo planes, produced both for domestic buyers and for the export market. Many of these designs are thirty or forty years old, but they are cheap and reliable, and they do well with international buyers. More than any other Pillar except AlbrInfo, Osprey is known for valuing scientific brilliance, and with sufficient skill it is possible to rise through the corporate ranks very quickly. Osprey's sectoral union is the Associated Aerospace Workers.
- Alford Outfitters: Among Albrennia's smaller Pillars, Alford produces most of the apparel, shoes, watches, cosmetics, soap, and other personal products made in the Commonwealth. It has largely been outcompeted in the luxury market by Auressian imports, and so it primarily focuses on affordable, mass-market products intended both for domestic sale and for export. Some of its subsidiaries have achieved global success: Bobcat-brand tennis shoes are as ubiquitous worldwide as Reynolds Midland's Nilla-Kola. Since 1990, Alford has moved more than a million shop-floor jobs from Albrennia to low-wage facilities overseas, which are often cited by human rights watchdogs for sweatshop conditions. This has provoked rising tensions with its sectoral union, the Consolidated Garment and Industrial Workers of Albrennia.
- The George Greenhill Company: Often just called the "GG Company," George Greenhill controls most broadcast media and entertainment in Albrennia, as well as the film industry. Its news operation is broken up into competing subsidiaries and closely regulated by the chancellery's Office of Public Information, which gives all three news networks a distinct pro-Establishment bent. Its entertainment operations are subdivided by genre, with specific subsidiaries for arthouse films, action movies, detective television shows, comedies, and so on. Most of the GG Company's output is regarded as mindless entertainment by foreign and Albrennian film critics alike, though Swanhill Films (GG's arthouse subsidiary) does produce the occasional acclaimed drama. Nevertheless, the GG Co. produces an enormous volume of film and television, and dubs and subtitles it for foreign distribution; it has become a cornerstone of Albrennian cultural influence. Its sectoral union is the Media Equity Alliance.
The Invisible Empire
Albrennia has very few natural resources. As a result, almost every Pillar relies on imports of raw materials. Likewise, the Pillars rely on economies of scale that require access to export markets; they simply produce too much for Albrennians to consume. As a result, all Pillars are multinational conglomerates: they have subsidiary companies incorporated in dozens of different nations that provide the crops, ore, oil, base chemicals, cheap labor, and global market access upon which the Albrennian economy relies. This international network of corporate holdings is often called Albrennia's invisible empire.
The best-known role of the invisible empire is as a source of raw materials. Marceaunian Energy, for example, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of OCN Resources incorporated in Amandine; it is also one of Amandine's largest oil companies, employing hundreds of thousands of Amand citizens and providing more than sixty percent of Albrennia's oil imports. Reynolds Midland & Co. still owns just under a million acres in Rocia, which is mostly used for intensive cultivation of sugar, coffee, and tropical fruits. These are the investments that have made Albrennia the largest importer in Levilion: the Commonwealth relies upon raw materials extracted by its own companies, but from foreign nations. That global network of private corporate property is what most Albrennians first think of when they imagine the invisible empire.
But the invisible empire has always served a second purpose, as well: it opens global markets to Albrennian exports. General Armaments, for example, uses a sprawling network of corporate subsidiaries incorporated in various countries in order to sell arms to multiple parties in the same conflict. The George Greenhill Company has subsidiary television networks and movie-theater companies around the world, increasing its global advertising and box-office revenue while saving money on licensing fees. This side of the invisible empire takes advantage of the Pillars' economy of scale to undercut local competitors, and it also provides a global outlet for the Pillars' overproduction. Finally, it advances Albrennian soft power and cultural influence, by making Albrennian products and media ubiquitous around the world.
The invisible empire is distinct from other nations' multinational corporate holdings for another reason: the Albrennian government is openly prepared to use state resources to defend and expand it. Albrennian diplomats are quite willing to use the tools of government-to-government relations - trade concessions, foreign aid payments, military sales or support - to extract concessions that directly benefit the Pillars' local holdings, like mineral rights or special tax status. The inverse is also true: where Albrennian corporations employ hundreds of thousands of local workers and generate billions in local tax revenue, Albrennian diplomats are skilled in using that economic influence to extract political concessions that benefit the Commonwealth. As a result, the invisible empire is not merely a network of Albrennian money; it is a network of Albrennian power. And the Establishment has proven that it will stop at little to defend that network: Albrennia has a long record of using bribes, propaganda, coups, and direct military interventions to secure its corporate interests overseas.
After than the Fleet, public education is Albrennia's largest governmental expenditure. A generally high level of educational attainment is critical to the Albrennian economic model, which is based on the application of expertise to add value to goods and services extracted from the invisible empire and sold on as exports. Albrennian schools provide the expertise on which the country's prosperity is based; they are foundational to the economy. And so the Commonwealth has always prioritized education: Albrennia established the world's first universal public school system in 1624.
Primary and secondary education is free, public, and compulsory in the Commonwealth, though parents can opt to send their students to private school if they so desire. This is an unusual decision: Albrennian public schools score highly on international rankings, the average teacher earns 90,000 guilders per year, and the country's most prestigious secondary schools are elite public boarding schools where admission is based upon test scores and essays alone. Private schools are mostly sectarian; they represent a refuge from the general culture, but cannot compete in quality or prestige with public education. In an economy where the corporate upper class and the unionized middle class are sharply segregated, universal high-quality public education is the great equalizer.
Albrennian primary and secondary schools are considered rigorous but effective. Primary education is based on Rotiferist principles of "educating the soul," and includes a strong emphasis on instilling an independent and self-motivated work ethic, habits of rational analysis and argument, and an appreciation and enjoyment of reading. The goal is to teach a love of learning itself, not necessarily expertise in itself. After six years of this preparation, secondary education shifts the focus from personal formation to practical skills: foreign languages, history, civics, math, and sciences. Unusually, economics and engineering are taught as standard to every Albrennian student. After secondary school, every student has the option of going on either to a polytechnic college or to a university.
Albrennia has 135 universities, including two of the ten highest-ranked universities in Levilion. All are public and tuition-free, with admission based on test scores without regard to race, class, gender, or ability to pay. Graduate and professional schools - law and medicine are graduate degrees in Albrennia - are likewise wholly taxpayer-funded and tuition-free, though the tests for admission are more demanding still. As a result of these policies, 49 percent of working-age Albrennians have a college degree or higher. Most of the rest possess a polytechnic degree, which is required for many forms of unionized employment.
Albrennian universities are globally respected educational institutions. Pedagogy is primarily Socratic, with students challenged to interpret and defend the material in which they are instructed. Universities are also crucial centers of scholarship, and Albrennian academics are prominent in the study of politics, law, economics, sociology, philosophy, and other fields (research into the sciences is primarily driven by the Pillars and not by universities). Academic success is crucially important in Albrennian society: the Pillars compete for top university graduates, and the right grades from the right school can result in a starting salary of half a million guilders at the age of twenty-one. Labor unions compete in a similar way to attract top polytechnic graduates, albeit that they offer job security and prestige instead of high pay and stock options.
Tolland and Alford Universities are the two oldest, most selective, and most prestigious institutions of higher education in Albrennia, and they are among the ten highest-ranked universities worldwide. Traditionally, Tolland specialized more in the humanities and social sciences, while Alford prioritized the sciences. Jointly, the two institutions have always occupied a unique role as the gatekeeper of the Albrennian elite. Eight out of twelve Pillar CEOs, six out of the last seven Chancellors, and nearly ninety percent of Establishment civil servants graduated from either Tolland or Alford; a degree from one of those two universities is an immediate passport to wealth, power, and success. Today, nearly thirty percent of the student body at Tolland and Alford is comprised of international students: a testament to the power of these two universities to propel their alumni into the global elite anywhere in Levilion.
Albrennia is the fourth-most populous country in Levilion, with an estimated population of 80,631,224 as of July 2020. The total fertility rate in Albrennia is estimated at 1.48 children per woman, which is below the replacement fertility rate of approximately 2.1. The median age of the Albrennian population is 39.4 years.
Immigration accounts for more than one-third of population growth, which is why Albrennia's population is growing instead of shrinking; as a result of immigration, the Albrennian population increases at a rate of approximately 0.75 percent per year. 31 percent of Albrennians are either immigrants or Albrennian-born children of immigrants. Among foreign-born Albrennians, 45% are naturalized citizens, 38% are lawful permanent residents, 9% are temporary lawful residents, and 8% are undocumented. Albrennia has historically issued hundreds of thousands of long-term work visas per year; it is among the easiest developed countries in Levilion to which to immigrate. Albrennia is also a global leader in refugee resettlement, welcoming roughly 150,000 refugees per year. While immigration is a hotly contested political issue, high levels of immigration are widely considered essential to satisfy the Pillars' demand for labor.
About 88% of Albrennians live in urban areas (including suburbs); 62% reside in just eight major metropolitan areas, the "Big Eight" represented by the stars on the Albrennian flag. Most of Albrennia's population growth is concentrated in these major urban areas as well, because this is where most immigrants arrive and remain. Residents of small cities in the Lamont Range and rural areas of the central highlands are economically and demographically distinct from the urban mainstream of Albrennian society: they are much more likely to be of Auressian origin, and they have lower average incomes.
Ethnicity and Ancestry
Albrennia has a very diverse population; census data suggests that at least 500,000 Albrennians can trace their ancestry to each modern nation in Levilion. The majority of Albrennians remain of Auressian origin, and "mixed Auressian" is the most common ancestry group in the Commonwealth; this usually refers to a mixture of Rythenean, Tyrnican, Palian, Blaykish, and other ancestry. 14.8% of Albrennians are of primarily or exclusively Rythenean ancestry, and they form the country's traditional elite: mostly wealthy, highly educated, and Rotiferist in religion. Many Rythenean-Albrennians can trace their ancestry back to the original period of settlement in the sixteenth century; having a "grandfather on the Springsong" is shorthand for being from a privileged background. Other Auressian immigrant communities have been more successful in resisting assimilation: Albrennia's major cities retain Tyrnican and Palian neighborhoods with their own traditional restaurants, houses of worship, and native-language newspapers and social clubs. Finally, 3.1% of Albrennians are Rasmi: one of the largest Rasmi communities in Levilion, and a product of Albrennia's welcoming policy toward immigrants and refugees throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
After Auressia, Marceaunia Minor is the most common ancestral continent for Albrennians. 9.6% of Albrennians trace their family roots back to Rocia or Aiyaca. Many of these are actually fifth or sixth generation Albrennians: their ancestors came to the Commonwealth fleeing the violence of the Aillacan-Rocian Union in the nineteenth century. Others came more recently; hundreds of thousands of Rocians fled civil unrest and repression in the 1980s and 1990s. 7.2% of Albrennians are of primarily Amand origin, and they share much of this same history: while some Amand-Albrennians came seeking lucrative unionized work in the last forty years, others trace their origins back to ancestors who fled the collapse of the Confederation of Southern Marceaunia. Most Amand-Albrennians no longer use Blaykish in day-to-day life; Palian, by contrast, remains widely spoken in many major cities, and there are close ties between the Palian-Albrennian and Rocian-Albrennian communities.
Albrennia also has large populations from the continents of Idica and Isuan. Slavery was outlawed in Albrennia in 1556, so the Idican-Albrennian population is largely descended from two sources: slaves fleeing Audonia in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and more recent immigration from Idica itself. Recent Idican immigrants remain concentrated in specific neighborhoods of major cities, especially Providence. The descendants of escaped slaves - often called Idican-Marceaunian, to indicate their centuries-long heritage in the New World - are more evenly distributed throughout Albrennian society. Notably, many converted to Rotiferism and successfully won their way into the Establishment. Finally, Isuan now provides more immigrants to Albrennia than any other continent. Most are solidly middle-class and come seeking economic advancement, but many are refugees. Since the 1920s, Albrennia has regarded all Songhese subjects as prima facie refugees: any Songhan who manages to reach Albrennia and wishes to stay will automatically receive refugee status. This has led many generations of Songhans to flee corruption, authoritarian rule, and poverty for the Commonwealth's shores, and Songhatowns are now a landmark of every Albrennian city.
Albrennian society is marked by systemic racism and ethnic discrimination, but these problems are balanced by strong egalitarian institutions. First-generation immigrants earn, on average, 30 percent less than native-born Albrennians; for Idican-Albrennians, Rocian-Albrennians, and Songhese-Albrennians, those inequities can persist for generations. Members of the same three groups are also disproportionately likely to be stopped by police, arrested, and convicted of crimes. By contrast, Albrennians from long-established Rythenean families remain sharply overrepresented in the top 1 percent of earners, and in positions of governmental or corporate power. But Albrennia's labor unions and tuition-free universities have a moderating effect on these inequalities. Immigrants and Albrennians of color work the same compulsorily unionized jobs as everyone else, and so they receive the same healthcare, pensions, and job security; true destitution is rare, regardless of ethnicity. And Albrennia's tuition-free, high-quality schools and universities function as social equalizers, allowing the children of immigrants to rise alongside the children of the traditional elite. The promise of social mobility in Albrennia is real, even for immigrants and ethnic minorities.
In 1835, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Instrument of Governance guaranteed the free exercise of religion to all Albrennians, and disestablished the Rotiferist Church; prior to that, Albrennia was an officially Rotiferist and Perendist state. Today, 73.4% of Albrennians identify as Perendists; 35.8% are Classical Perendists, 22.4% are Apostolic Perendists, and 14.2% are Rotiferists. 3.1% of Albrennians are Rasmi. Other important religions include Morism, Songhese Folk Religion, and traditional Idican beliefs. 22.9% of Albrennians describe themselves as agnostic, atheist, or irreligious.
Despite its small size, Rotiferism remains the most influential religious tradition in Albrennia; Rotiferists founded the Commonwealth, and they continue to dominate the highest levels of government and business. Rotiferism is a fifteenth-century outgrowth of Classical Perendism based on the teachings of a reformist Rythenean preacher named Walter Hartcliffe. Meaning literally "those who follow the direction of the wheel," Rotiferists are predestinarians. They believe that everything that really matters about the Earth is inevitable and irresistible: the changing of the seasons, the movement of the stars, the tide, the cycle of life and death. Therefore, spiritual balance cannot actually be within the attainment of the individual. All that anyone can do is submit oneself to the world, to understand its processes and surrender to them. If God so wills it, the believer will achieve balance, just as the sun rises and the winter turns to spring. If God does not will it, then "not every tree survives the winter," in the old Rotiferist aphorism.
Rotiferism is associated with certain distinctive values. Since Rotiferists are constantly and anxiously examining themselves for signs that they are indeed in balance with the world, the denomination has a reputation for self-discipline and extremely hard work - the supposed signs of a balanced soul. This is directly connected to Albrennia's enterprising culture. Since Rotiferists claim to derive their predestinarian beliefs by rational deduction from the natural world, they regard education and literacy as a sacred duty: hence Albrennia's distinguished educational traditions. And just as Rotiferists view success or failure as the consequence of divine will, Albrennian society exalts competition - including between capital and labor - as a kind of sacred divination, in which the just reward of each party is revealed. While Rotiferism may be a minority faith, it is in many ways the foundation of Albrennia's majority culture. It holds an important place in the national identity even of non-Rotiferists.
Albrennia is a cultural fusion. An originally Rythenean and Rotiferist culture gradually absorbed influences from elsewhere in Auressia, from Native Marceaunians, and then from Idica and Isuan and Marceaunia Minor as well. Many of those waves of immigration were assimilated by the general culture, creating the broad "mixed Auressian" cultural mainstream of Albrennia. Others remained distinctive subcultures, often focused on urban neighborhoods with their own restaurants, community organizations, and cultural institutions; this is particularly the case for Idican-Albrennians, Rocian-Albrennians, and Songhese-Albrennians. However, the cultural contributions of these minorities are claimed and appreciated by Albrennian society as a whole.
Albrennian culture remains characterized by certain traditional values derived from its Rotiferist origins. These include a strong work ethic, reverence for education, suspicion of arbitrary power, and belief in the rule of law. Albrennian culture contains both deeply communitarian impulses, derived from the influence of organized labor, and individualist and competitive impulses, derived from Rotiferism and the meritocracy of the educational system. These values are often in tension in Albrennian politics. Albrennians are often stereotyped as ruthless and uncaring, and there is some truth to that; opinion polling frequently identifies laziness as the personal quality most disliked by Albrennians. But Albrennians are also proud of their country's long tradition of welcoming refugees and immigrants, and they like to imagine that the influence of their "invisible empire" overseas is ultimately benign, bringing prosperity and democratic influences in its wake.
Albrennian culture, therefore, is substantially defined by creative tension: between Rotiferist traditions and global immigration, between working-class solidarity and corporate-class meritocracy, between generosity toward refugees and contempt for the unemployed, between democratic idealism and the reality of a politics dominated by corporations and unions. Most of Albrennia's cultural achievements have emerged from the effort to negotiate these contradictions.
Literature, Art, and Architecture
Albrennian art and literature were formatively influenced by Rythene, and formatively retarded by Rotiferism's suspicion of visual art and stage drama. Philip Herle (1511-1577), widely considered Albrennia's first great writer, was a priest and poet famous for his sermons and devotional work. Herle and John Nye (1598-1661), the allegorical poet whose Wheel of Winter is widely considered the first classical epic of the New World, remain among the founders of Albrennian letters. As Rotiferist strictures eased, they were followed by the dramatist Herbert Poole (1709-1784), whose work critiques the materialism and complacency of eighteenth-century Albrennian society. By the nineteenth century, Albrennian authors had established a distinctive literary voice: Agatha Rogers (1778-1851) wrote society novels that exquisitely observed bourgeois Albrennian families adjusting to industrialization, and Graham Larkswell (1831-1899) revolutionized Albrennian literature by adopting the stories (and the multilingual patois) of the urban industrial underclass. In the twentieth century, "genre" writing won new respect as legitimate literature; Henry Kreuz's hardboiled crime fiction won acclaim, as did Catherine Rice's magical-realist novels about life in corporate outposts of the invisible empire. Albrennian literary culture remains deeply influenced by Rythene, and Emma Arlette's novels and poetry are taught in every secondary school.
In the visual arts, early Rotiferist iconoclasm exercised a lingering conservative influence. When representational painting became acceptable in the seventeenth century, Albrennian painters initially imitated Auressian naturalism; the Highlands School made the rugged western Albrennian landscape a symbol of New World values. For several centuries, Albrennian arts were notable mostly for the prevalence of portraiture; Peter Stone's oil portraits and Sarah Upsall's portrait busts are famous for their expressive specificity. That legacy remains vital today - most notably in the medium of photography, where naturalistic Albrennian photographers like Marie Redmund continue to focus on capturing realistic snapshots of human experience. In the early twentieth century, however, other artists - appalled by Pillarization and cultural materialism- rejected this naturalistic heritage, and embraced modernism and influences from Idica and Isuan. In the last century, Albrennian painters and sculptors helped to pioneer cubism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism. Ironically but inevitably, their work was eventually adopted by the corporate class and the Establishment that they despised, and Albrennian visual arts remain defined by this tension today: most Albrennian art is individualist, transgressive, and anticapitalist, but most Albrennian art connoiseurs are corporate executive and Establishment civil servants.
Albrennian architecture has likewise been strongly influenced by modernism. It has its aesthetic roots in the clean lines and whitewashed facades of Rotiferist churches and public buildings. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, architects applied that sensibility to new techniques and materials, pioneering the first skyscrapers based on steel-frame, glass-faced construction. Albrennia's most famous architect, Irene Norton, combined modernist sensibilities and building techniques with close attention to natural features in order to create homes and businesses that were "at home with the landscape;" among other things, she designed Northspring, the Albrennian chancellor's official retreat in the central highlands.
Literature and the arts play a crucial political role in the Commonwealth. Albrennian authors, poets, and artists - unlike most musicians and filmmakers - remain outside the Pillar system, and so they have often used their independence to harshly criticize Albrennian corporations, labor unions, and the Establishment. The Establishment, ironically, is sympathetic to this role, and the Ministry of Culture sponsors the prestigious Larkswell Prize for authors, poets, and artists from anywhere in Marceaunia who produce work of "high artistic merit and great social significance."
Philosophy and Scholarship
While Albrennian arts and letters have been moderately influential, the Commonwealth has long been among the world's leading producers of scholarship in the fields of politics, law, economics, sociology, and philosophy. Albrennian achievement in these fields is a testament to the level of academic freedom at the Commonwealth's universities, since much Albrennian scholarship and philosophy is based on intellectual critique of Albrennia itself.
Albrennian philosophy is dominated by the century-old debate between existentialism, identified with 19th-century Rotiferist theologian John Mather, and analytic theology - associated with 20th-century Alford University professor Arthur Leigh. This academic debate has occasionally electrified the general public, since it is often taken to stand for the struggle over the role of individual experience in Albrennian society; the existentialist-analytic dichotomy is a common interpretive lens for films, literature, and other cultural expression. Albrennian political philosophers have also produced important work in political theory, exemplified by the Principia Democratica of Joshua Gray: a highly influential work of philosophical liberalism that also stands as a sharp critique of the Albrennian polity and the "invisible empire." And the Fleet Academy has developed its own distinctive tradition of virtue ethics, with an unusual emphasis on the importance of combining independent judgment with institutional humility; this approach, known as Eatonism after philosopher and Fleet officer Isaiah Eaton, is revered in both the civilian and the naval Establishments.
Many Albrennian scholars in other fields have also won renown in the criticism of their country. Albrennian legal scholars, for example, pioneered ideas about participatory democracy, deliberative decision-making, and public trust theory in order to diagnose the flaws in the Commonwealth's own system of government. Albrennian economists have been at the forefront of their field since the eighteenth century: first as the original theorists of free trade in opposition to Auressian mercantilism, then as prophets of vertical integration and complex corporate structures, and finally as prominent critics of Pillarization, which many have come to see as exploitative and innovation-stifling. Likewise, Albrennian sociologists and anthropologists have used the reach of the invisible empire to study foreign cultures since the late nineteenth century, and have developed a theory of culture that is both dynamic - informed by the rapid change that Albrennian economic influence often brings - and deeply suspicious of any claims of Albrennian cultural superiority.
In all of these areas - philosophy, politics, law, economics, and sociology - Albrennian universities stand at the forefront of original and creative thinking in Levilion, and they host numerous and prestigious academic conferences dedicated to advancing the state of the field.
Film, Music, and Mass Media
The George Greenhill Company, Albrennia's media Pillar, controls most of Albrennia's music, film, television, and newspaper industries. While some independent media and entertainment remains - local bands, neighborhood comedy clubs and theaters, and foreign-language newspapers in immigrant communities - if these achieve substantial commercial success, they are usually bought out by the G.G. Co. As a result, Albrennian media and entertainment is based upon sectoral monopolies, not market competition: one TV studio produces all the crime dramas, another studio produces all the romance movies, another studio records all the pop albums, and so on. These studios are distinguished by quantity, not necessarily quality: they produces an enormous amount of content very quickly, but its artistic value is very variable. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of Albrennian films, TV, and music - and the G.G. Co.'s ability to distribute its products cheaply and widely through international subsidiaries - means that entertainment is among Albrennia's most influential cultural exports.
Albrennian films and television shows are entertaining and typically well-acted, though often lazily written. Both film and TV comedies express a cheerful materialism: they usually follow good-looking young corporate executives or civil servants, who live in nice apartments in Providence or Newhaven and spend a great deal of time eating oysters and exchanging suggestive banter. Police procedurals and crime thrillers are also popular, often dealing with the menace of organized crime or the threat of terrorism against Albrennian corporate assets overseas. The George Greenhill Company's ability to control costs means that it produces several hundred-million-guilder blockbusters per year - often romantic historical epics carefully written to include characters from as many potential export markets as possible. Notably, one G.G. Co. subsidiary focuses exclusively on nature documentaries, and its work is widely respected even by foreign film critics. And Swanhill Films, G.G.'s arthouse subsidiary, produces two or three genuinely first-rate dramas per year, often focused closely on lives forgotten by the rest of Albrennia: coal miners in the Lamont Range, recent immigrants in Tolland, or rubberworkers on Albrennian-owned plantations overseas. Since the 1940s, Swanhill has contributed substantially to the corpus of influential cinema classics with works such as Black Smoke, The Manager, Farewell to Carro, and Margaret Brimsley. The Media Equity Alliance - the compulsory union for the George Greenhill Company's employees - hosts the Equity Awards every year for the best Albrennian films, and many G.G. Co. subsidiaries enthusiastically compete in international film festivals.
Albrennian music is a fusion tradition with important influences from Auressia and Marceaunia Minor. Many of Albrennia's greatest classical composers found only limited success during their lifetimes; Aaron Downame, for example, incorporated Rocian and Palian rhythms into traditional Tyrnican melodic structures, and was regarded poorly until the very end of his career. He paved the way, however, for modern Albrennian rhythm and pop music, with its distinctive mixture of traditional Rythenean folk elements (fiddle playing, the tin whistle, grace notes) and Rocian and Aiyacan elements (rapid dance rhythms, the concertina, propulsive drumming). Those influences are present in most Albrennian music, even modern rock-and-roll and hip-hop. Albrennia has inherited an eclectic, constantly evolving musical tradition that has substantial appeal to listeners in other countries, especially in Marceaunia. This is in part because the George Greenhill Company exercises careful editorial influence in order to maximize its artists popularity in export markets.
By law, the George Greenhill Company's news media operations must be broken up into at least three competing subsidiaries: these are the Albrennian Broadcasting Network (ABN), the Commonwealth Broadcasting Company (CBC) and the National Broadcasting System (NBS). All are regulated by the Office of Public Information, which is staffed by the Albrennian government's permanent civil service. In general, CBC is thought to be more sympathetic to the Labor Party, and ABN is more sympathetic to the conservative wings of both parties. But all three news networks take a clearly pro-Establishment line on foreign policy. Albrennia's major newspapers are all owned by another George Greenhill subsidiary, Polaris Media; Polaris is likewise closely regulated to limit its editorial control over print news. The most respected Albrennian newspapers are the Providence Gazette, the Commonwealth's paper of record, and the Tolland Times, which is known for its defiantly left-wing editorial perspective and frequent criticism of the Pillars, including its own corporate owner. All major Albrennian news outlets, both print and broadcast, include Palian-language and Songhese-language offerings.
Besides these outlets, many Albrennians now get their news from social media platforms owned by AlbrInfo. The most popular websites include Matrix (a combined career-networking site, dating app, and image host), Convo (which limits posts to 300 characters), and Constellation (where users create multimedia collages of images, videos, and music).
Albrennian cuisine is shaped by the Pillarization of the agricultural sector and by the influence of immigration. The power of Reynolds Midland & Co. means that mass-produced processed foods remain common in the Albrennian diet: soft drinks like Nilla-Kola, bright orange "LavaCheese," pseudo-Tyrnican Kraftwaser lager, and so on. But there is more to Albrennian cuisine than just shelf-stable "food products": Reynolds Midland also provides staple ingredients like flour, coffee, beef, and fresh vegetables in enormous volume and at very low prices. Home cooks and independent restaurants have adapted to that bounty.
In both home and restaurant kitchens, the influence of immigrant communities is strong. Songhese restaurants are the most common eateries in Albrennia, and braised beef noodles - a thick stew of wheat noodles and beef in a broth of soy sauce and medicinal herbs - is perhaps the most beloved winter meal in the Commonwealth. Likewise, Rocian empanadas have become the standard lunch of the Albrennian union worker, even in households with no ties to Marceaunia Minor: the empanada stand is ubiquitous near Albrennian workplaces. Traditional home cooking reflects older patterns of immigration: Palian paella, Tyrnican braised sausages, Audonian gumbos. Coffeeshops are common in the Commonwealth, and most Albrennians drink three times as much coffee as tea. Most Albrennian restaurants continue to specialize mostly in one national cuisine or another, and Blaykish and Amand restaurants remain more prestigious and expensive than most. But both Albrennian home cooking and Albrennia's most expensive fusion restaurants reflect the creative combination of different dishes, techniques, and ingredients to create a new and uniquely Albrennian cuisine.
Albrennians consume an average 13 liters of alcohol per person per year: well above the global average. Beer is the most common alcoholic beverage, with Reynolds Midland's poor-quality Kraftwaser the most common brand. But Albrennians are also heavy drinkers of spirits: rye whiskey is the traditional national beverage, and Reynolds Midland subsidiaries produce a number of high-quality versions. Among the Establishment and the corporate executive class, wine and cocktails are an expected part of any social gathering; the "three-Martini lunch" remains an important ritual of life in business or government administration. Albrennians' high consumption of alcohol, processed foods, refined sugars, and red meat means that alcoholism, diabetes, and heart disease are substantial public health issues; it is widely believed that the influence of Reynolds Midland & Co. has blocked any meaningful attempts by the government to change the Albrennian diet.
Rotiferism imprinted on Albrennian culture a belief that success is divinely ordained, and therefore that competition reveals divine favor. That belief extends to sports. Today, Albrennia is an intense sporting culture with influences from all over the world. Notably, Albrennian sports teams are maintained by municipal governments: they are publicly owned. Thus, while teams must work closely with the George Greenhill Company to manage publicity and broadcast games, they are genuinely outside corporate control. Athletes are accordingly seen, in some sense, as public servants; although they are very highly paid, they are widely admired for representing their communities. This is especially true for athletes on the Albrennian national teams, who are publicly revered not just for their skill but for their patriotism. They are symbols of Albrennia at home and abroad.
The most popular sport is rugby union, in which Albrennia maintains a strong but friendly rivalry with Audonia and Amandine. Rugby is an object of manic fandom for many Albrennians. The main domestic league is the Big Eight, in which each Albrennian megacity fields a team; matches can attract enormous crowds and the championship game is a spectacle of fireworks, live music, and sometimes Fleet Air Arm flyovers. The Sherborn Wolves are famously dominant in the Big Eight, and they frequently contribute most of the players to the national rugby team. Albrennia has won the Rugby World Cup three times: in 1957, 1981, and 2011. World Cup matches are frequently declared unofficial holidays by the Pillars, giving seventy percent of Albrennian workers a day off. Rugby's importance to many Albrennians can scarcely be overstated.
Other sports are less culturally central, but remain important. Cricket and association football are widespread; football, in particular, is important in many recent immigrant communities. Golf and squash are strongly associated with the upper classes; golf and squash clubs are often exclusive to executives of a particular Pillar or to civil servants of a certain rank, and serve a crucial networking function for the Albrennian elite. Shooting sports are also an important elite preoccupation, and hunting in the central highlands is taken just as seriously by many Establishment professionals as rugby is. Finally, General Locomotive has always included a motorsports division, intended mostly to advertise its products and promote competition among its subsidiaries; its marquee race, the Tolland 500, is widely viewed.
In international athletic competition, Albrennia has traditionally been highly competitive, especially in swimming, skiing, and triathlon; famously, Albrennian Fleet officers have dominated international biathlon for many years. Albrennia invests substantially into its athletic programs, identifying promising young athletes and providing them with the resources necessary to reach their full potential. Notably, any Albrennian athlete who wins a gold medal at the highest level of international competition is awarded a lifelong pension from the government, sufficient for a comfortable retirement in perpetuity.