A Seldon Crisis is a fictional socio-historical phenomenon in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series of science fiction novels. They are part of the field of psychohistory, and refer to a social and political situation that, to be surmounted, would eventually leave only one possible, inevitable, course of action.
They are named after Hari Seldon, who founded the field of psychohistory, and who appears as a pre-recorded hologram at the climax of each crisis. Before his death, he used psychohistory to predict and manipulate each event. A Seldon Crisis usually involves both an external pressure (such as threat of attack) and an internal pressure (such as threat of revolt). Both pressures will come to a head simultaneously, and be resolved with the same action.
Known Seldon Crises
There are at least eight Seldon Crises.
The Balance-Of-Power Crisis
Encountered fifty years after the foundation of the Encyclopedia Foundation Number One, as the Foundation was originally known, the surrounding areas of the Galactic Empire had rebelled and declared themselves independent kingdoms. The new nations were known as the Four Kingdoms, the largest of which was the Kingdom of Anacreon. The new barbarian kingdoms would inevitably try to absorb the militarily weak and resource-poor First Foundation, with Anacreon actually establishing a military base in an unoccupied portion of Terminus as a prelude to outright annexation. The solution to the crisis was, as Hari Seldon said in his first recorded message to the Foundation, obvious; as the only source of atomic power in the Periphery (as the edge of the galaxy was known), to allow any one kingdom to gain control of the Foundation would be tantamount to suicide on the part of the other Kingdoms, as such a move would quickly be followed by the annexation of the rest of the Kingdoms. Thus, the three other Kingdoms united against the Kingdom of Anacreon, jointly ensuring that no nation assume control of the Foundation and forcing Anacreon to recall its soldiers. In this and the next crisis, the Foundation was guided by Salvor Hardin.
- External Crisis - Secession of Periphery from Galactic Empire, threat of conquest by the Four Kingdoms.
- Internal Crisis - Failure of Imperial Government (Encyclopedists), replacement by bloodless Coup of Terminus populace (Salvor Hardin, Yohan Lee)
- Resolution - New Terminus democratic government under Mayor Salvor Hardin, Anacreonians left Terminus under group-threat by other three Kingdoms. Foundation maintains independence thanks to its value as a source of high technology, at this time principally Atomics.
Occurring approximately thirty years after the first crisis, the Kingdom of Anacreon, still the largest of the Four Kingdoms, once again planned to conquer the Foundation in order to gain its technological resources. Having grown in power since the original Crisis, even the other three kingdoms united were not enough of a deterrent to forestall attack. Aware that this was always a distinct possibility, the Foundation had since spread a cult of science through the barbarian kingdoms. Providing technological aid to the Four Kingdoms in a further attempt to forestall hostility, the Foundation had withheld all scientific explanation on the functioning of their technology, the equipment was operated by technicians who only had an empirical knowledge of the science surrounding the feats that were accomplished. Furthermore, the technicians and populace were indoctrinated into a religion that placed all science within the realm of magic and Terminus in the role of a religious capital. This religion was ingrained deeply enough into the mentality of the populace that the common people of the kingdoms would oppose any attack on Terminus by their leaders because it would be regarded as "sin," and the soldiers of Anacreon rebelled when they learned what their leaders were planning.
- External Crisis - Rising strength of Four Kingdoms, particularly Anacreon, due to Foundation industrialisation. Aggressive and fearful royal families wish to annex Foundation, a movement which Regent Wienis spear-heads.
- Internal Crisis - Formation of Actionist Party, chaired by Sef Sermak, demanding impeachment of Mayor Hardin for appeasement of Four Kingdoms.
- Resolution - Royal houses are dissolved, and the land re-distributed under Sef Sermak. Mayor Hardin remains in power, but his council is almost exclusively of the Actionist Party, which ends appeasement and puts the Four Kingdoms under complete Foundation control.
With the use of religious awe the Foundation managed to maintain control of the Four Kingdoms for the years after the second crisis and, through the use of missionaries who spread the religion to other nations, managed to assume control of Askone, a distant stellar system. However, the barbarian kingdoms outside of the original four heard news of the subversion of the populace by the presentation of atomic science as religion and denied all religious missionaries entry. Thus, though the religion was successful in preventing further attacks from the Four Kingdoms, it provided no means of offense against hostile nations. Hober Mallow, one of the Foundation's Traders, who were essentially economic pioneers who attempted to open doorways for the priesthood by getting foreign governments to accept atomic technology, saw that the religion had reached the end of its usefulness and began to operate on the principle of trade alone, selling atomic technology without spreading the religion along with them. The Republic of Korell, ruled by Commodor Asper Argo, "The Well Beloved," refused entry to the Priesthood, but engaged Mallow in standard trade practices. When Korell, supplied with ships of war from the dying Galactic Empire, attempted to wage war upon the Foundation, they had already traded with the Foundation to the point that most of their infrastructure was based on Foundation-derived nuclear technology that they could not duplicate. Following an embargo, they quickly surrendered.
- External Crisis - The appearance of a power hostile to religious conquest, and with Atomics as well as imperial backing for those same weapons—the Republic of Korell. Willingness to attempt conquest of the Foundation, whose high technology has, however, now made the aggressive power dependent on its intended target. The result is a stalemate due to frozen economic relations during war-time.
- Internal Crisis - The conservative bureaucracy of the government attempting to control the Foundation and Terminus using religion when this is now a spent force, used by Jorane Sutt, with the result that the dominant force in Foundation politics now becomes plutocratic, with the beginning of the Era of the Merchant Princes, Hober Mallow being the first. Political control of the Foundation is now only possible by economic means.
- Resolution - At the end of an economic cold war, Korell submits without violence to Foundation rule. Mallow is a revered figure for this achievement, and is mentioned in the same breath as Seldon and Hardin in Foundation history and legend. However, with political forces becoming weaker in the face of economic forces, the stage is set politically for the next Crisis—contact has been re-established with the Empire by Mallow on a visit to Siwenna, and the effectiveness of political leadership is on the wane.
Foundation and Empire
The time came when the remnants of the Galactic Empire, mighty even in decay, attacked the Foundation directly in an all-out war. This came in the form of General Bel Riose, a loyal servant of the Galactic Empire, when Riose learned of the Foundation's eventual plan for its own Empire. Fearing the danger they presented to the state, and wishing to satisfy his own desire to embark on a war of conquest, Riose attempted to conquer the Foundation in the name of the Empire. His attempt very nearly succeeded, the combat destroyed half a thousand Foundation ships and killed half a million Foundation men, with Riose penetrating to the very heart of the original Four Kingdoms. Despite superior Foundation technology, Riose was able to routinely defeat the Foundation through brilliant strategic moves and superior resources. Ultimately, however, Riose was recalled by the Emperor Cleon II and executed on charges of treason and subversion, charges that ultimately proved to be false, due to the political makeup of the Empire during its decline. Because of the almost routine revolutions, rebellions, and assassinations within the Empire, a "strong" Emperor could only remain so if he had no subordinates capable of challenging him, and Riose's actions presented him as a credible threat to the Emperor.
- External Crisis - The dying lash of violence of the Galactic Empire, led by its last strong General, Bel Riose, backed up in turn by its last strong Emperor, Cleon II. The culture, though in decay, is still mighty in resource and military strength.
- Internal Crisis - Lack of any political leadership. At this time the Foundation has no political leadership to speak of, and thus no formative strategy for dealing with the menace of the Empire. Many figures represent growing power blocs—the increasingly independent Foundation Traders under Lathan Devers, a growing bourgeoisie such as Ducem Barr, and such plutocrats who move power behind the scenes as Sennett Forell.
- Resolution - The Empire is defeated due to its own inadequacies, and the Foundation wins only due to tenacity rather than inspired leadership or administration. This sets the stage for the next crisis—the seizure of the Foundation by an unscrupulous and tyrannical plutocratic family, and the rising numbers of Independent Traders growing more distant from their home-worlds, while advancing and spreading Foundation technology across the Galaxy.
Independent Traders vs. Central Aristocracy
As the Foundation expanded with no further opposition, from the Empire or anyone else, its central authority began to suffer the same faults as the decaying government of the original Galactic Empire. The Mayoralty, which had been a democratically elected position, became an inherited title after Indbur, a man described as both brutal and capable, seized the office in a military coup. By the time of Indbur III, the grandson of the original Indbur and a man described as a bookkeeper in the wrong profession, the government had become an aristocracy reminiscent of the barbarian kingdoms the Foundation so often came in conflict with. In an effort to "spread the wealth more," over two dozen outer planets of the Foundation's trade hegemony/empire planned to lead a revolt against the central aristocracy. Though ultimately a military failure, the rebellion of the Independent Traders would have insured the spread of social reforms throughout the Foundation and the return to the democratically elected government of the past.
However, the Fifth Crisis did not occur as predicted. The Independent Traders were going to revolt as predicted, but stopped when the galactic conqueror known only as "The Mule" began his invasion of all Foundation territories. This resulted in the rapid defeat of the Foundation fleets, the fall of Terminus to the Mule, the quick fall of the trader-world Haven, and eventually all Independent Traders. The Mule operated completely outside the Seldon Plan because Psychohistory operated only with probabilities and known human statistics, but the Mule was a mutant, and thus his birth was not predicted by Seldon, nor were his startling mental abilities. The Mule possessed the ability to understand and control the emotions of humans, capable of instilling feelings of love in his enemies and "Converting" them into loyal followers. One of the central tenets of psychohistory was the belief in standard human reaction to outside stimuli, which the Mule negated, and the practice of dealing with masses of people, not individuals; an individual capable of altering the Seldon Plan could not be calculated. With the arrival of the Mule, it was theorized that the Seldon Plan had been ruined and, if a Second Empire were to still arise, it would not be as predicted.
Fortunately for the plan, the Second Foundation, which had been formed to correct any damage the plan sustained, managed to defeat the Mule and was able to reconstruct the Seldon Plan.
Seldon's Projection (deviated by the Mule):
- External Crisis: Spread of technology and market forces gives enough wealth to the Independent Trading Worlds such as Haven, Mnemon, and Iss to group together in order to form armadas with enough strength to challenge the increasingly weak political tyranny of Terminus. The forces of the Traders are allied with democratic forces inside the Foundation itself.
- Internal Crisis: Growing bureaucracy attendant on an hereditary succession of mayors has reduced both the mayor's full authority, and flexibility of government. The Foundation remains mighty economically, but has weakened dramatically. The Foundation Navy contains numerous Democratic cells intent on aiding a democratic rebellion from without.
- Resolution: Seldon predicted that the civil war would force a stalemate so that democratic reform would be forced upon the Foundation through combined victories of the Independent Traders and a revolt in the Foundation Navy. The growing bourgeousie would thus turn on the growing Aristocracy, and force reform by force of arms, and by a demand for recognisation of expatriate citizenry. The Fall of the Foundation prevented any of these events from following according to the plan's provisions.
Moving the capital
Almost 500 years after the founding of the Foundation, after the Foundation Federation had expanded to include one third of the galaxy, there were arguments that the capital should be moved closer to its center than the current capital at Terminus, at the very edge of the galaxy. However, in the end the capital on Terminus was retained.
- External Crisis: Expanding sphere of influence of the Foundation Federation through the galaxy produces a drive towards moving the capital towards a more central part of the system, as a means of centralisation. There is a desire on the part of Federation members to see that the capital not be vulnerable in times of military conflict, as in previous crises.
- Internal Crisis: Mirroring the movement crisis externally, a quasi-Imperial drive within the Foundation gives rise to proto-Imperial clothing, styles of speech, and a desire to unite with external members of the Federation in moving the capital. Disunion arises as political and social inertia within Terminus is joined with similar inertia from the most distant (and most recently joined) parts of the Federation, against movement. Disunion within the Council ends Councillor Hannis political career for an early suggestion of moving the capital from Terminus.
- Resolution : A developing stalemate is broken by the actions of Mayor Harla Branno, by control of the council, and refusing to allow movement of the capital due to the dangers inherent in the growing political and social inertia being identified correctly, and acting in accordance with this. The appearance of Hari Seldon in the Time Vault, counselling against moving the capital in near identical language, also prevents the capital from moving.
Moving the capital was explicitly stated to be the eighth Seldon Crisis: the intervening sixth and seventh crises were not described.