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Seldon Crisis

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 successfully 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.

Balance of Power

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. Thusly, the three other Kingdoms united against the Kingdom of Anacreon, jointly insuring that no nation assume control of the Foundation and forcing Anacreaon to recall its soldiers. In this and the next crisis, the foundation was guided by Salvor Hardin.


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.

Trade alone

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 (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 Commdor 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.

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.

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, previously 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.

Crisis six and seven

Crises six and seven are not mentioned in the original Asimov series, but were written about in the Second Foundation Trilogy (see below).

Moving the capital

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.

The Sixth and Seventh Crises

At the climax of Second Foundation, the governmental form the First Foundation was that of a Democratic Republic, wherein the Mayor and his cabinet of Councillors were democratically elected officials. The excesses of the Indburs were not permitted to occur, partly as a demand for democracy, but also mainly in the eternal fear and hatred engendered by the conquest of the Mule.

By the time of Golan Trevize, in Foundation's Edge, the Foundation was a Federation, with a powerful Mayoral Council, and so therefore the following Seldon Crises would have needed to occur :

  • The Sixth Crisis - Provinces vs. the Mayoral Government - Here, the monolithic government of the Foundation would have had to cede right of governance to a greater degree for annexed and loyal territories. The external pressure would have been the spread of Foundation technology - after the Mule, atomic techniques would have spread through the Galaxy, though there is no guarantee that the rate of spread would not have been faster had not the Independent Traders succeeded in toppling and/or changing the form of government of Terminus. Seldon had clearly pre-calculated the rate of technological percolation throughout the Galaxy quite well. Therefore, the Crisis would have arisen from excessive taxation (for three centuries set at 50%) being considered too great with the increasing morbidity of the Foundation's economy in the face of external competition, as well as an external demand for greater autonomy from the government of Terminus. Economic ties with Terminus would ensure cohesiveness within the Foundation, and increased economic markets would prevent a civil war between Terminus and the greater Federation.
  • The Seventh Crisis - Constitutional Reform - Here, the current form of Government would become the focus of the Crisis. Mayors, since the time of Salvor Hardin, and particularly in the time of the dynasty of the Indburs, hold tremendous power over the Foundation. A Mayor, even if democratically elected, still has a right to over-rule the Cabinet (and later Council), and act as supreme head of Federation as well the Armed Forces. No mayor had ever been impeached, though Salvor Hardin had come close to prosecution (though not, it should be noted, impeachment) at the time of the Second Crisis. A Mayor could be guilty of treachery, but he could not easily be removed from office. With fears within the Federation bringing external pressure to bear on the Terminus, and internal disunion at the behaviours of increasingly autocratic Mayoralties brought about by increasing wealth, a moderation of Mayor's powers, as well as a stronger more democratically elected body of legislation is demanded. The solution to the crisis is the devolution of these powers, with Federation members establishing themselves as Constituencies, and the Mayor accepting terms whereby he may be vetoed on actions by the Council, and even impeached for breaches of a more stringent administrative code for the Federation.

The intervals of the Crises should be approximately 20 years after the 5th Crisis for the 6th Crisis, as evidenced by the increasing expense of governmental research as outlined by Dr. Darrell's production of MS device requiring unlimited funds during his tenure as Science Minister. Financial crisis would have hit the Foundation by then, and further, the Mayor was already losing popular support by the time of the 5th Crisis - in fact, already by then he was an anonymous figure.

The 7th Crisis would have taken place no later than 70 years after the 6th Crisis - as by this time an increase in the overall prosperity of the newly liberated Federation members would have allowed a growth of wealthy but disenfranchised voters for the Mayoralty on Terminus, as well as a growing number of well to do citizenry in Federation capitals demanding constitutional recognition.


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