Imperium of Man
|Imperium of Man|
Low Gothic and its many dialects, High Gothic, multiple minor languages
Galactic but stretched thin
|Head of State|
|Head of Government|
Unitary Atheistic Authoritarian Absolute Monarchy (Great Crusade)
"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"
— Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2
The Imperium of Man is a HUGE galactic civilization and empire (to give you an idea of how truly massive this empire is, the most conservative estimates place its population at four quadrillion. Estimates that take into account the huge number of what are essentially cramped apartment-building planets? Now we're talking upwards of FORTY quadrillion.) that contains the vast majority of humanity in the tabletop game Warhammer 40K. It is often stereotyped in popular media as a xenophobic, amoral, gargantuan, militaristic, merciless, stratified, theocratic, paranoid, dystopian, totalitarian, semi-police state and hellishly oligarchical bureaucracy. Think of a hideous amalgamation of the Roman Empire, pre-Reformation Catholic Church, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and George Orwell's 1984 spread out across the stars, under constant attack by aliens and subject to countless disasters everyday. Add in the fanatical worship of a dead dictator and it's basically North Korea IN SPEHSS.
However, this is what GW wants you to think; in all retrospective outside of the popular perspective, the Imperium of Man can actually be a pretty nice place to live depending on where you actually live... although GW description does apply to Death Worlds, some Hive Worlds and the Imperium as a whole. Sure, there are shit-holes like Catachan, but because of its size and extreme variety, you also have a higher chance of being born in places that shits all over any modern developed country and may even be led by people better than Gandhi. While it's plausible that atrocities happen all the time in the Imperium, given its size, that doesn't mean that everyone is always doomed. Unfortunately Games Workshop decided to ignore this aspect since it is not metal and grimderp enough...and thus does not help with sales.
Almost everything 40K related and homebrewed on this website is a sterling example of /tg/ taking creative liberties with what the Imperium stands for. These include, but are not limited to, the Angry Marines, Commissar Raege, Commissar Fuklaw, Pretty Marines, Reasonable Marines... Truly, anonymous delivers!
- 1 Synopsis
- 2 Forces Of The Imperium
- 3 Reasons it sucks to live in the Imperium
- 4 However, is the Imperium really that bad?
- 5 Anthems of the Imperium of Man
- 6 See Also
- 7 Summary
- 8 External Link
The Imperium consists of millions of habitable worlds and is of such size that the loss of a few dozen planets (along with billions of citizens) is not even worth the paperwork it would take to declare said worlds Perdatus. Under constant threat and attack by a myriad of powerful alien races and traitorous forces, the Imperium is engulfed in a constant galaxy-spanning war. The everyday rule of the Imperium is left to the High Lords of Terra, who basically don't give a fuck about anybody and have no clue what the hell they're doing half of the time.
The figurehead and subject of compulsory religious veneration, the immortal God-Emperor of Mankind is the founder of the Imperium. Being physically fucked for the past 10,000 years, he sits immobile and connected to the Golden Throne far from the sight of his subjects, witnessed his formerly glorious utopia of science and reason drop 99.9% of its IQ points against his will, and requires the sacrifice of many psykers a day to keep him alive, though this hasn't prevented his body from undergoing decomposition (it has slowed it quite a bit seeing as how he still has some fleshy bits left and isn't a skeleton, but not stopped it) and thus now looks like a mummy without the wrappings. Heresy is the greatest crime one can commit in the Imperium, the punishment for which is a painful death or torture followed by a painful death. Technology is barely understood and basically mythological, and even the Techpriests are afraid of their machines (this aspect of the Techpriests has been lessened over the years, now they're more like spiritualistic and very dogmatic scientists rather than technowizards.)
The Imperium is also one of the biggest entities in the 40k universe, like a fatguy that hogs half the couch for himself and forces the others to sit on the arm rests. Some fa/tg/uys theorize that if the Imperium falls it may take the rest of the galaxy with it, the fact being it holds so much territory that it staves off the Tyranids and the Orks before they can nom/loot everyone else's shit. (e.g. Dawn of War II, Spess Mahreens nuke the Tyranid fleet before they can nom an Eldar Craftworld.)
Basically, it's a complete shithole and is not even remotely close to the Emperor's vision for humanity. Reasons for this include the Imperium's leaders being heartless fuckwads and the necessity of such an uncaring organization for the survival of humanity in a galaxy that wants to kill them in a million painful ways.
That's fucking grimdark, but at least there's Slaanesh to lighten everything u-*BLAM*
+ This article's author has been seized by the local authorities for heresy. Please report all known contacts and co-conspirators to your local Commissar. ++ You may resume reading this article with an approved author. +
Roboute Guilliman in M42
With the events of Gathering Storm and the Dark Imperium, the awakening of Big Blue Wonder have seen sweeping changes within the governmental ruling of the Imperium. Roboute's self coronation as Lord Commander (His old job) and political reforms that meant the firing of some High Lords of Terra meant that the IoM is becoming more centralized like it was during the Great Crusade.
Of course with the centralization of power means a more authoritarian Imperium. Nevertheless, knowing Guilliman, his expertise in running an empire should not be a clause to start panicking as he is so far the best person to be given the responsibility in fixing the bureaucratic nightmare of the Imperium. Some (including the High Lords themselves, to the surprise of nobody) might mistakenly consider Roboute's rule as a dictatorship, but the reality is that whilst the Imperium is now much more centralized in a manner akin to how it was in the Great Crusade, certain political entities such as the Ecclesiarchy and the Inquisition still holds significant clout and influence over the Imperium. With Guilliman currently updating his new Codex Imperialis for good governance and ruling, it is safe to say that the quality of life for the Imperium would be slowly improving. Of course, the vastness and sheer diversity of the IoM combined with the unwillingness of the above-mentioned political entities to accept reform means that the actual results are far more complicated than this. Nonetheless, the very fact that Guilliman's rule is actively trying to improve the Imperium with mixed results shows that the Imperium unlike traditional oppressive regimes, still have a chance for the better. It would still be the Imperium we know and love, but it would be far more efficient and competent, since efficiency and competency was the biggest crutch on why the Imperium is in such a dire situation.
Furthermore, it seems that the tough foreign policy that the Imperium had enacted towards xenos for 10,000 years has been relaxed slightly. This could be due to pragmatism on Robby's part as well as the current alliance of convenience between the Imperium and the Ynnari (It's hard to say exactly how sincere the relationship is, however. Guilliman himself noted that the Ynnari could be respected but not necessarily trusted, and the Visarch has voiced criticism of Yvraine acting as a "lapdog of the Imperium", so while they're not fighting each other they can hardly be called the best of friends). It could also be due to the giant Warp scar spawned from Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade and how Chaos is now a bigger threat to the Imperium than ever. So as of now, the warming up between the Imperium and Eldar seems to be the biggest example of Imperial pragmatism in works.
Forces Of The Imperium
- Adeptus Custodes - The Emperor's personal bodyguards who make Space Marines look like mere men, and their armour has some much bling it makes even the most pimptastic Space Marine's Artificer Armour look cheap. Their transformation robbed them of empathy and ability to form connections with other people (even each other) as the only being they trust is the Emperor himself and they could go to insane length and cross any moral line to ensure His safety. Grimdark.
- Space Marines - The enhanced, power armored supersoldiers who form the elite warriors of the Imperium. All they do is train, sleep, pray, fight, and die; and they love every second of it (being the loyal warrior monks they are). There are only a million of them, but since the Imperium only has about a million planets it kind of evens out. They are no longer human, and remember nothing but an endless service of bloodshed culminating in their own violent deaths. Grimdark.
- Imperial Guard - The countless quadrillions of regular humans who form the vast majority of the Imperium's armed forces. Very similar to a conventional modern military. The Imperial Guard are a bunch of manly farmers and factory workers fighting off unstoppable robots with guns that completely rip their skin off, huge monstrous aliens who want to OM NOM NOM everything, batshit insane super humans who want to kill everyone in painful ways and sacrifice their victims' souls while doing it, barbaric aliens who are made for FIGHTAN AND WINNIN', mysterious spehss pansies who don't give a shit about anyone else, spehss elves who wants to torture and rape them with the worst forms of BDSM, Orwellian weeaboo space communists, or obscure but brutal spider Cthulhu reptiles that like to rip your intestines out before stealing all your stuff, with little more than a flashlight, reinforced cardboard, standard-issue chest-hair and BALLS O' STEEL. Most of the Imperial Guardsman are conscripted every now and then from the best Planetary Defence Force troopers on a given world. Some planets supplement this supply with prisoners, while others give over their entire population to the Imperium as their tithe, the birth rate equaling the recruitment rate. Most die or muster out, they will never again see home, unless they're fighting on it. Grimdark.
- Adeptus Mechanicus - An organization of Tech-priests. They have a monopoly over all Imperial technology from giant mecha to cybernetics, and almost everyone else in the Imperium is afraid of their machines. As a result, the Admech has to loan their techpriests to other organizations in the form of Enginseers, though for Space Marines it's more like a work study program as they'll send one of their own troops to become a Techmarine. Independent scientists also exist, but only as long as they don't get killed for heresy or stay below the Mechanicus radar. Once these independents get powerful or competent enough to make a difference, they get wiped out or absorbed into Cult Mechanicus. Includes Adeptus Titanicus, Legio Cybernetica (Insidious Death Robotics, Inc), Centurio Ordinatus (look at name, figure it out), Skitarii (basically Imperial Guard of the Mechanicus), Auxilia Myrmidon (tech-priest war savants, stuff of nightmares), and the Ordo Reductor (siege specialists, infamous for ripping off the Space Marines by making the Thallax). Grimdark.
- Imperial Navy - Job is pretty self-explanatory, they split with the Guard after the Horus Heresy. They are a very large organization, as you would expect from a navy tasked with protecting a million worlds. Their ships range in size from meters-long fighters to kilometers-long battleships which are quite capable of blowing up planets, mostly Imperial ones, which they do at the command of the Inquisition on a regular basis in the fight against HERESY. Because Humanity was ass-raped by AI 15,000 years ago, the Imperial Navy has to have huge human crews, most of which are "recruited" (i.e. Shanghaied) to die in space as one of billions of expendable men. Grimderp, considering not even some hydraulic lifters are employed when reloading even though the rest of the ship is high tech..
- Adeptus Arbites - These guys police every world in the Imperium. They're like Judge Dredd but more Grimdark. Arbites are usually one of the first institutions to be set up on a world and are equipped to fight a small war, with equipment ranging from power mauls and suppression shields to lasguns and even the Leman Russ. On the ground the Arbites have four units: Patrol Groups, whose job it is to make sure no wrongdoing is going on in the settlement; Shock Troops who are sent in when there are riots, street wars and other generalized disturbances (they usually shoot on sight if you are anywhere near the problem center); Execution Teams who pursue specific guilty individuals or groups; and Snatch Squads who are charged with capturing a specific individual or group for questioning. The criminals caught by the Arbites usually wind up dead, since there is but one punishment in the Imperium. The Inquisition will often use the Arbites to apprehend certain individuals if they do not wish to be directly involved. Grimdark.
- Inquisition - The Secret Police whose job it is to keep the Imperium secure and loyal. With jurisdiction over anyone and anything, the Inquisitors and their agents have very few impediments on their endless quest to contain heresy. The Inquisition consists of three main branches: the Ordo Hereticus, who take care of internal threats such as HERESY, mutants, and traitors, the Ordo Xenos, who specialize in aliens, and the Ordo Malleus, who fight daemons. If they do their job poorly, entire worlds get destroyed based on the barest rumors. Alternatively, if they do their jobs well, those worlds still get destroyed because there are no other alternatives to stop the many genocidal threats the Imperium faces. Also, nobody expects them. Grimdark.
- Sisters of Battle - The Ecclesiarchy's army, the nuns-with-guns or bolter bitches. Originally, they were an isolated all-female cult on a backwater world, and subsequently became the personal army of Goge Vandire during his fab Age of Apostasy. After that blew over, they came into their current role through some top-notch rules lawyering- after the Age of Apostasy, the Ecclesiarchy was only barred from having men under arms, so the Sisters weren't disbanded. They are trained from early age (because they are picked up as orphans) and in the end they become one of the best fighting troops of the Imperium, second only to the Astartes themselves. Their faith is so great that even Grey Knights are jealous of it. /tg/ likes to see Sisters in different heretical fantasies, often involving Slaanesh, female Tau and Eldar Farseers. But what the poor bastards don't know is that the Sisters are all into celibacy and love only the Emperor (sometimes it's a damn shame). Armed with their trusty Bolters, Meltaguns and Flamers (The Holy Trinity of weaponry as far as they're concerned), they go around the galaxy and kick Chaos/Renegades/Xenos ass as much as they can. Grimdark.
- Deathwatch - If you're an especially skilled Space Marine, or if your chapter just wants to get rid of you, the Deathwatch is always looking for new recruits to train into xenos-killing machines. Acting on behalf of the Ordo Xenos, recruits get hypno-indoctrinated with endless videos of battle brothers getting slaughtered by all manner of xenos until they become frothing angry and need to be physically restrained. Instead of organizing into large task forces, the Deathwatch fights in small special-forces killteams to complete specific objectives and kick ass. Some of its members deliberately obscure or renounce their past ties and become Blackshields, permanently joining the Deathwatch until death claims them. Grimdark.
- Grey Knights - Once proud warriors, now Mary Sues. A bunch of super-Space Marines who are apparently invulnerable to the influence of Chaos, as opposed to regular Space Marines who apparently turn to the dark side more often than they fantasize about fist-fucking heretics. They are the military arm of the Ordo Malleus. They have special gear and magic guns and a book built into their special anti-psychic armor that stops psychic powers from affecting them even more. Whenever they fight, a psychic shroud inhibits the psychic powers of whoever they are fighting, and they have Nemesis Force Wea
OH CHRIST, I CAN'T GO ON, THIS SHIT IS BANANAS!Ignore Matt Ward's bullshit, stop making shitty references to Zero Punctuation, and finish the damn article! Psychic Psychic Bendy Spoons. And they have Nemesis Force Weapons, usually halberds and things like that. Grimdark.
- Officio Assassinorum - The coolest (and scariest) men and women in the Imperium. Whose job it is to kill people. While one would think this would overlap with the duties of every other Imperial organization, it is different because the Assassinorum trains spies and assassins to be more subtle, such as manipulating people to do your dirty work while totally not aware you are behind it. Except when they train batshit insane Eversor Assassins. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a paradox. Leaving no survivors to tell the tale is a subtlety all in itself. Grimdark.
- Sisters of Silence - The militant arm of the Astra Telepathica, they are all Blanks and refuse to speak but otherwise are deadly enough to take down any psyker threat and to travel with the likes of Leman Russ and the Custodes, as you can imagine they feature in some pretty badass artwork but sadly have very little work dedicated to them. It is unknown if they survived the end of the Great Crusade but there have been no indications to the contrary. Given that the Inquisition and Culexus Temple exist their role is partly redundant, but may be justified in that by being under the direct authority of the branch that deals with Psykers it allows a faster and more standardized way of handling Psykers, plus neither zealous assault forces or assassins would exactly fit the job description. Grimdark (?).
- Administratum - The pencil pushers of the Imperium. Bureaucrats who are so devoted to their trade that they treat it like a religion. Basically the government of the Imperium, they regulate the Imperial Guard and the Imperial Navy, dictate and assess the Tithes all worlds in the Imperium are required to pay to Holy Terra, and administer how those things get used. Their archives are so big and so full that if you search anything in them, you'll die wrapped in endless layers of red tape, if you're not accompanied by an Adept. Grimdark.
- Ecclesiarchy - The Imperial Church which works with the Inquisition to regulate the worship of the Emperor and define what counts as HERESY. Basically priests with flamethrowers and mega-chainsaws. It also oversees the Sisters of Battle and the Schola Progenium, and works closely with the Ordo Hereticus. Often has a complicated relationship with the other members branches of the Imperium (Space Marines insisting that the Emperor was a human, the Administratum for overall control of the Imperium, the Adeptus Mechanicus worshiping a deity that should be the Emprah or not, etc.). Grimdark.
- Adeptus Astra Telepathica - The organization charged with maintain the Imperium's vast network of psykers, who are necessary for faster than light travel and keeping the Emperor alive on the Golden Throne. Their members are oftentimes forcibly conscripted children who have just barely survived being lynched on their homeworld, and were lucky enough not to be mulched into Emperor Food or Astronomicon fuel. Even so, the process to become a sanctioned psyker is physically and emotionally scaring, and can still lead to a grizzly death via headsplosion, possession, or just losing complete control of your sanity. Grimdark.
- Adeptus Astronomican - The organization charged with maintain the light of the Astronomican, the psychic beacon for traveling through the Warp. Sacrifices assloads of psykers every day to keep the Astronomican running. Grimdark.
- Imperial Knights - The Imperial Knights are the lords of feudalistic worlds where the rulers and the military forces are one and the same, piloting massive combat mecha into battle to defend their worlds or to aid the Imperium. Usually have strong ties to the Adeptus Mechanicus. Grimdark.
Reasons it sucks to live in the Imperium
"Call no man happy until he is dead." — Thought for the day. Also Aeschylus
- The High Lords of Terra are brutal and manipulative.
- The Adeptus Arbites make Judge Dredd seem reasonable.
- Thinking about nothing is the only way to survive. Unless you think about the steely musculature and long, shimmering hair of the Emperor.
- The Hive World you almost certainly live on is an overcrowded shithole where being able to breathe non-recycled air is a luxury.
- Thinking about nothing implies you're thinking, and thinking is HERESY.
- You are constantly under attack by Orks, Eldar, Tyranids, Dark Eldar, the forces of Chaos, Space Communists, etc.
- If you mutate, you will be at best shunned, but most likely killed, and even death is not the worst case scenario.
- Voices in your sleep keep telling you that Chaos is great, at which point an Inquisitor kills you whether you resist the temptations or not.
- Priests keep telling you the Imperium is great and then report you for not attending the entirety of your third mass service of the designated planetary worship day, at which point you are executed by local law enforcement.
- If you aren't in the Navy you are in the Imperial Guard, which means you will either die painfully on the battlefield or be executed by a Commissar for not being loyal enough to die on the battlefield.
- Your planetary governor is incompetent, ruthless, heretical or just very greedy (if you're lucky). Any that aren't are rarer than an Ork that doesn't WAAAAGH!, and either dead or about to be killed by one or more of the Imperium's enemies (or someone else from the Imperium).
- Even if you DO win the war via sheer hard-work, chances are that you are are sterilized and shipped to a labor camp because you MIGHT have the taint of Chaos. And killed.
- Your whole life consists of working your ass off with no hope of social advancement. Unless you're a noble, in which case nothing in this list applies to you anyway.
- You can be executed for taking incorrect care of your gun and angering the Machine Spirit, assuming the Machine Spirit doesn't kill you.
- Space Marines never get laid...ever (maybe. To be fair, there was that Space Wolf he boned right before he was taken, but the chances are very rare). Unless they turn to Chaos, in which case they spend eternity having their souls tortured by Chaos.
- If you happen to be an Inquisitor, you are expected to watch whatever you order. Vomiting is HERESY.
- Technology scares you. Not much of a change, though is it?
- You are poor and uneducated. Isn't a change, either.
- If and when you die, the chances that anyone will ever give a shit about your death are nearly nonexistent. Again, nor much of a change there either.
- The Orks will eventually unite and destroy the Imperium.
- The Tyranids will eventually arrive and destroy the Imperium.
- The Necrons will eventually awaken and destroy the Imperium.
- Chaos cannot be defeated and will eventually destroy the Imperium.
- The Eldar will eventually get a new god/glue together all Khaine's pieces/free Isha (somehow, don't ask) and shoot you out of the galaxy. With the rise of Ynnead, this will be soon foolish monk.. *BLAM*
- Each of the six above, combined. Also, the Dark Eldar will survive and still prey on all of the above.
- If you're not dead in the Guard, dead in the Navy, very dead in the PDF, or dead as a civilian, you're a heretic and alien-sympathizer. Therefore executed, and therefore dead.
- The Imperium routinely cleanses Xeno species. So if you're a wandering Eldar Craftworld or even a minor xenos race on a conquered planet expect no sympathy or even a quick death.
- Independence is nonexistent, and the Imperium has even destroyed two perfectly healthy, anti-chaos empires called Adrantis Five and Interex which, had incredible technological riches and a way to resist Chaos. Woops
- But the Star Child coul-*BLAM*
+ We apologize for the heresy in the replacement author. Another author will be found to finish this article +
However, is the Imperium really that bad?
However, as said before, if you excuse GW's initial promotion that life in the Imperium must be "Tough and Dark", then average life in the Imperium for the common Joe is for all intents and purposes, uncomfortable and highly unpleasant, but ultimately tolerable for its people (as opposed to those of us in M3 who would likely lack the temperament or the constitution to do well in such a life). This can be further explained below....
The Reality of the Imperium
Throughout WH40K, nearly every-single grimdark example in the fluff, is shown through the narrative perspective of either Space Marines and Inquisitors whose primary job is to fight against WTF-Horror Eldritch Abominations and genocidal aliens for every single day of their lives; or of criminals, crooks and scum such as those living within the darkest pits in Hive Worlds like Necromunda. Of which, there are only like thirty-two thousand and something hundreds in ratio to the several hundred's of thousands of Civilized Worlds which are actually the planetary majority in the Imperium. Due to this, the odds of being born in a desolated dump is actually quite low. Well, unless you're in the Imperial Guard, and even then, the chances of you being sent in a eternal meat grinder is actually quite slim, if the Imperium's size and speed is taken into literal perspective. And even if you are born in places such as a Hive World, the only thing you need to be weary of, are Gang fights and Mutants, but then again, that's only if you are dumb enough to venture in the Underhive or unlucky enough to be born poor. Other than that however, life as a Middle-Class Imperium Local (which are like the majority in Hive Worlds) is often plain and simple (if rather boring and repetitive) with your average wage, average working job and with your average necessities in life such as TV (level of propaganda vary) or food (might be artificially processed), and since there is always a demand for workers at some level, unemployment ratios would actually be quite small (unlike real-life, you don't have to fear automation and new technologies taking your job and the Imperium always needs more menial laborers). Although some policies within the Imperium would be regarded as immoral or "Crimes Against Humanity" in today's world, do take note that what the Imperium is doing is a necessary evil. They know what they're doing is morally questionable, but they have to do it since they have no other choice and in the grim setting of WH40K, this is the only solution to be dealt with for the betterment of Humanity as a whole. This is why, outside of mainstream Sci-Fi where we see Aliens or some entities destroying a planet full of people for no other reason but for the evulz, in the Imperium, you see none of that, as in their point of view, to destroy a planet without a justified cause is seen as incredibly wasteful and sinful as you are technically "Wasting the Emperor's resources".
Foreign Policy on Xenos
For those that complain on the Imperium's hard stance against Aliens, do remember that during Humanitiy's earlier years, pretty much every xeno they encountered were either genocidal dickheads or sadistic assholes, so can you really blame them? Then again, the Emperor planned for a human-dominated galaxy back in the days before he got stuck on the Golden Throne, and several bits of fluff have indicated some in the Imperium have policies to wipe out all non-human civilizations; easier said than done and they prioritize hostile races over occasional allies. Overall, the tolerance of xenos vary on their threat to Humanity in the first place, mostly since the Imperium does have not enough resources to even deal with those that possess an actual threat (hence why Ork Charadon and Sautekh Necron empires flourish, and no new crusades are sent to bring down the Tau, despite all three being almost next door to Ultramar). If the Imperium encounters another alien civilization that's only interested in trade, then the Imperium (although still strictly supervised by the Inquisition) will trade to a certain extent, via Diplomacy. Put in the fact of the Imperium's "I don't disturb you and you don't disturb me" policy to outsiders, with the fact that there are actually A LOT of Xenos living within multiple Imperium Worlds contrary of popular opinion, and the fact that the majority of the wars that Humanity has fought was on the defense then the offense (of course this depends wholeheartedly on the Imperium's mood in the first place); you would then realize that on a whole, the Imperium is actually tolerant insofar as it doesn't destroy xenos races right away if they aren't an immediate threat. An excellent way to understand the Imperium's policies toward aliens is seen in the The War of The Beast novel series, as it portrays some xenos-sympathizers and populations subjected to them. Ultimately, with threats like Chaos, genestealers, and countless other malevolent forces at large in the galaxy, the Imperium's intolerance is born of crucial necessity rather than petty xenophobia. The Imperium literally cannot afford to be accepting of alien influence and ideas, because you just never know what might be sneaking in with it, and they learned that through painful experience. What might be dismissed as innocent and inconsequential can (and often does) lead to the downfall of entire worlds. The only reason the Tau can act like they can openly befriend the whole galaxy is because they are naively unaware of all of what's out there and what they're potentially inviting in. That much has been pointed out by both Farsight and Ciaphas Cain.
Governmental & Ideological Structure of the Imperium
Additionally, the Imperium, as referenced above, although looking like a merciless and oppressive empire, is in fact a confederation of several powerful organizations and a million planets. It occupies a strange place in between libertarian paradise (as planets have a fair bit of autonomy, more than GW would like to admit) and oppressive theocracy, (as shown all over this page) as the Imperium's main policy for what a world does under their control is "Pay the tithe, and don't make me come over there." Each 'normal' planet in the Imperium (of course beside specially classified planets like Forge Worlds, Fortress Worlds, Death Worlds...) has its own laws, Government, culture and social order that can differ from one another by A LOT. Now just like today's countries some have merciless dictators (North Korea) and some have democracy to an extent where citizens can choose their own planetary governor (UK). Furthermore, each planet itself is actually quite independent to the extent where they can have their own armed forces and even wage their own civil wars. Due to this, the Imperium only cares when some serious shit happens (like xenos invasion, corruption by Oh-God-What-The-Fuck eldritch horrors from beyond space and time, or when a Planetary Governor decided to declare himself an Emperor), and given that this is the Imperium, these kinds of things vary from "happening by on a regular basis" to "Not seeing an actual war for multiple millennia".
Of course, in a few cases where a Planetary Governor or planet does declare independence, it is usually listed as HERESY, however due to the nature of WH40K, most Governors don't do this kind of thing because they know what's out there and that the Imperium is the only thing that can protect them, and also because the God-Emperor of Mankind and the system of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica provide a cheap system of FTL and communication through the horrors of the Warp. So basically, if a Planet declares independence, he loses the right to FTL and that's bad for Hive Worlds that need Agri-Worlds in order to survive, this means that the Imperium doesn't even need to send in their military since they know that the young usurper would most likely peacefully surrender in that prospect. The reason why the loyalty of some planets differ in question, can be seen through the timeline of the Imperium's history. During the Great Crusade for example, most worlds were extremely loyal to both the Imperium and the Emperor because it rescued them from all sorts of indescribable horrors that had plagued them for the thousands of years of the Long Night (Age of Strife). After the Great Crusade, the Imperium remained (mostly) cohesive as a whole due to both a remaining sense of loyalty to their savior and for mutual survival in the face of a severely fucked up galaxy. After a few thousand years of that, the Imperial Cult had gained sufficient strength that the reasons for remaining loyal to the Imperium and the Emperor shifted from just mutual survival to a shared religion where loyalty between each planet must be routinely checked to prevent separatism or another civil war that essentially kicked the Imperium in the galactic nuts. However, even then, some religious asshat decides to do it all over again for the lulz, the aftermath of which persuaded some Planetary Rulers to question the legitimacy and thus loyalty to the Imperium. This is why you see that although most planets would never dare to even break away from the Imperium, a certain few that do break away is either due to the above questioning, or your typical Chaos hijinks because GW was feeling lazy today.
Therefore, their loyalty of most to the Imperium is not out of an ideological obsession to stamp out HERESY, but simply of mere pragmatism and necessity in order to survive in the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium, as Protectorates. This real-life perspective again, is then supported in WH40K where the Imperium, being a decentralized but powerful semi-autonomous group of Corporate entities, have different ways of pledging allegiance to the Emperor himself rather than the State. Such is the case of the Inquisition (which stamps out anyone caught separating from or perverting the Emperor's rule of conduct as Heresy), the Adeptus Mechanicus (which worships the Emperor as another pagan Machine-god called the Omnissiah), and the Adeptus Astartes (altered super mutants which perverted the 'Holy Human Form' and do not worship the Emperor as a God but as an exemplar of humanity, but were created by the Emperor himself and so can claim a closer connection to him than the other above-mentioned organizations) might just as well declare each other's ideologies as HERESY but each of them are personal Protectorate vassals to the Emperor himself, and both know that they need to work together lest Humanity as a whole goes extinct. Thus, as said multiple times before, the Imperium is not a centralized superstate, and more akin to a Coalition of Confederated Mini-Empires that's disguised as a Galactic Superpower; or in real-life examples, the Imperium is more of a mixture between the "Protectorate" system like the Roman Empire, which allowed local governments to exist as Protectorates as long as they pay taxes and say that the Emperor is all "Good and Dandy", and today's UN which allows member nations to join while still keeping their national/cultural dignity, along with the Veto Powers between the founding members of China, US, Russia, France and Britain so they can keep each others powers in balance (Similar to the equal powers between the High-Lords of Terra).
And if anyone still complains that the Imperium is still 'dark and miserable,' just shove Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence down their throats, portraying a human empire that is so downright evil and malicious that you will actually applaud their cosmic butt-whipping by the nigh god-like Xeelee. Seriously, the Interim Coalition of Governance is what happens when the Marines Malevolent becomes a pan-galactic empire that has no qualms in sending over 200 trillion child soldiers to die in a rather hopeless and pointless war; they make the policies of the Imperium look like the United Federation of Planets in comparison.
IoM in contrast to True Totalitarian Regimes
Whilst it is true that the IoM combines many elements from all of the dictatorships on Earth. The key word you are looking for is elements. All of the dystopian tropes in the IoM are mere nitpicks from great dystopian classics. They aren't a true mixture of various authoritarian tropes, but are mere themes to set up the atmosphere of the Imperium. The presence of authoritarianism is there all right. However, it is not outright enforced; the Imperium doesn't care how your planet is run as long as the tithes come in on time and there's no outright heresy to be found. And as mentioned before, the dystopian elements varies between planets to planets with the fact that you could actually leave the planet if given money and time. The reason why places like Oceania from 1984, North Korea and the aforementioned Interim Coalition of Governance are terrifying is because it is actually a true totalitarian government with an extremely nihilistic attitude. These are totalitarian regimes done horrifyingly right. They are governments which lavish and prides itself in its malevolence and power; in which you have little to no chance in leaving the hell hole you are born in. Their governmental and ideological structure is done in such a way that the mere act of pragmatism will be outed for HERESY. Places like these are concentrated and true dystopias in which control is so absolute that you live in a personal prison for all eternity. So it is of no surprise that these governments makes the raging incompetence of the Imperium look like Fantasia. Furthermore, the Imperium has one thing these governments do not have nor will ever show: a sense of humanity and heroism. Throughout all the works made by GW on the Imperium, we have characters who show remarkable amount of selfless heroism, courage and intense humanity to protect the weak against all odds. You do not or barely see any of this selflessness and manly tears in the aforementioned works. This is why 1984 and the Xeelee Sequence is so horrifying. There is no hope, no epics, no grandeur. Just a collapsing reality where such ideas like humanity is considered a nonexistent joke.
Essentially, what we are trying to say here is that the worst thing the Imperium can do is not out of malice, but out of desperation, incompetence and necessity. For example:
In contrast this with Oceania which go along the lines of:
"We torture you not because of some politically motivated means or a necessary evil. We do so because we want to exercise our power. We do so because we can."
Or the Interim Coalition of Governance:
"We are ready to send over a untold number of kids to die against the Xeelee. Why you ask? Because it is more economically viable to protect our sweet, sweet moolah and we need something to cover up our deep insecurities and spite."
Reading this and you will realize how much the IoM embody not perpetual evil and suffering for its own sake, but one of desperate measures taken in desperate times, exacerbated further by inefficiency and human error. It may be shit by our standards, but when you consider all the other alternatives that would actually stand a chance in the grim darkness of the far future it's pretty clear the Imperium is the least horrible alternative for humanity by far.
To put it simply, the Imperium is more or less a Feudal society rather than an "Empire" in the modern sense like is seen in Star Wars or a thousand other Science Fiction/Space Fantasy stories. You have a central authority in the Adeptus Terra and a unifying religion in the Imperial Creed, but the assorted fiefdoms of the Imperium generally are left to rule themselves without that much oversight from the central authority as long as the taxes come in on time and no open rebellion is occurring. Given that the Imperium is 40k's counterpart to the Empire in Warhammer Fantasy which is more or less the medieval/renaissance era Holy Roman Empire but bigger and more technologically advanced, this isn't all that surprising. And much like those feudal era societies you have some parts which are much better off than others, in agriculturally rich land with ample access to trade and developed cities feudal societies could rival anything that the earlier societies of antiquity could make in terms of sophistication. But poor provinces mostly made out of useless swampland and rocks are of course going to be poor hicktowns. Furthering the parallels to feudal Europe is that the Imperium is built atop of the corpse of an older and more urbane society; Rome for Medieval Europe and Dark Age humanity for the Imperium, and emerged out of a prolonged dark age following the collapse of that old empire. And the most important thing to note is that Feudal governments did not exercise absolute control, for a feudal peasant your local Baron had far more influence over your life than the King or Emperor would, and how harsh or kind your life was depended largely on the nature of your local overlord. Similarly, some places would have elected heads of local government like mayors in many cities, some would be ruled directly by the church, and even the laws and customs could vary dramatically between the domains of the various nobles. In essence, the Imperium is a space medieval society that due to the original generation of games workshop writers being history nerds with degrees and shit, actually resembles a medieval society much better than stories supposedly set in faux-medieval times. The Imperium has much more in common with the Empire of Charlemagne (during the Great Crusade) or the Holy Roman Empire than it does with any of the expansionist and/or authoritarian regimes that arose from the 1700s and onwards.
You could also hand the whiners the Ciaphas Cain books, which repeatedly showcases Imperial worlds that are actually fairly decent places to live, with planetary governments that actually give a shit about their people, and are perfectly capable of surviving an invasion or two (or several, in the case of ork threats) and still returning to a state of normalcy after the organizations whose purpose is to deal with these threats does their jobs (who, by the way, eight times out of ten are usually able to do so without leaving the planet in question a smoking ruin).
Tl;dr the Imperium of Man has more in common with the United Federation of Planets in terms of government structure than it does with the Galactic Empire. They're allowed to rule with relative independence, as long as they pay their tithes and obey the Imperial Cult. This does, of course, lead to many worlds being shitholes ruled by greedy homicidal tyrants, but there are plenty of examples of peaceful and even prosperous worlds. It really depends on galactic location and just chance. As long as you're not a xenos race or attempt to cut ties with the Imperium, you have a chance of living a comfortable life. And with millions of worlds with trillions of people inhabiting them, those chances might actually be descent.
Anthems of the Imperium of Man
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duYoKxb0IeI - The anthem of the Imperium of the 41st Millennium.
- The Empire (Warhammer Fantasy), for their slightly less grimdark and much smaller scale alleged Warhammer Fantasy counterpart.
- The Underempire for their actual Warhammer Fantasy counterpart.
In the grim dark future of the 41st Millennium, there is only bleak, grim, black, hopeless, dismal, barren, gloomy, gray, joyless, dour, dreary, dark, cheerless, glum, oppressive, somber, grim darkness. And the sugar beet/cane is extinct.
An (arguably) more optimistic but no less brutal take on the eternal Imperium and its history. Times of majesty, times of destruction, times of glory, times of despair, they all alternate and repeat with the one endless constant of war.
|Governments, Empires, Nations and Astropolitical Powers of the Galaxy|
|Imperial Powers:||Imperium of Man (Adeptus Mechanicus - Ultramar)|
|Chaos Powers:||Prospero/Sortiarius Systems - Scourge Stars|
|Eldar Powers:||Commorragh - Craftworlds (Alaitoc - Iyanden - Saim-Hann - Ulthwé)|
|Necron Powers:|| Sautekh Dynasty - Maynarkh Dynasty - Nihilakh Dynasty |
Mephrit Dynasty - Thokt Dynasty
|Ork Powers:||Ork Empire of Charadon - Ork Empire of Octarius|
|Other Powers:||Tau Empire - Farsight Enclaves - Q'Orl Swarmhood|