The Imperium of Man
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|Imperium of Man|
High Gothic (aka Latin), Low Gothic (aka English/French/German/Italian/Russian/Chinese/Literally Every Language) and its countless dialects, Binary, Cant Mechanicus (including major dialect Lingua-Technis and many minor dialects) and billions (at least) of minor and local languages
|Head of State|
|Head of Government|
Unitary Atheistic Authoritarian Absolute Monarchy (Great Crusade)
Imperial Guard, Space Marines, Militarum Tempestus, Sisters of Battle, Inquisition, Planetary Defense Forces, Imperial Navy, Adeptus Mechanicus Forces, Imperial Knights, Officio Assassinorum, Sisters of Silence, Adeptus Custodes, Adeptus Arbites, Planetary Enforcers (like Palanite Enforcers), Various Local Militia
"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 malfunctioning machine that runs on blood, sweat and tears."
- – The definition of the Imperium of Man in a single sentence.
"Great empires are not maintained by timidity."
- – Tacitus
"This bloated, rotten carcass of an empire is driven not by reason and hope, but by fear, hate and ignorance."
The Imperium of Man (Lat.: IMPERIVM HVMANVM or IMPERIVM HOMINIS) is a gigantic, galaxy-spanning Civilization (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. Oh, and this is not counting planets they have lost track of due to various heresies and other catastrophies, not to mention the general incompetence of those blasted pencil-push*BLAM*) 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, Fascist, police state and hellishly oligarchical bureaucracy. Why this is called 'stereotypical' to begin with is questionable though since it's absolutely fucking true*BLAM* Think of a hideous amalgamation of the Roman Empire including Byzantine Era with its sheer amount of scheming and administrative stupidity, pre-Reformation Catholic Church, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, 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 (but somehow fucking works).
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 chance of being born in places that shits all over any modern developed country and may even be led by people better than Gandhi if you're really lucky. 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 simply because the Imperium wouldn't exist if that was the case. Unfortunately Games Workshop decided to ignore this aspect since it is not metal and grimderp enough...and thus does not help with sales. Would any sane man from (almost) any other setting want to live here? No. Is it as memetically bad as it generally described as? Not always, else it would have long since collapsed.
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 A Limit to Grimdark: Is Life in the Imperium Always Awful?
- 5 Anthems of the Imperium of Man
- 6 See Also
- 7 Summary
- 8 External Link
The Imperium consists of over a million 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 forged the Imperium out of the Age of Strife. 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 decomposing (he still has some fleshy bits left) and 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, as 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.)
It's now 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*
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Well, honestly, Nurgle is at least a pretty nice gu-*BLAM*
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Well, at least we have Tzee-*BLAM*
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+ This article's approved author has been seized by the local authorities for heresy. Please again, report all known contacts and co-conspirators to your local Commissar. ++ You may resume reading this article with an even more approved author. ++ And for fucks sake please stop mentioning the cha-- *BLAM*
For details on the specific ages please visit the timeline pages. List here: []
Roboute Guilliman in M42
With the events of Gathering Storm and the Dark Imperium, the awakening of Big Blue Wonder ushered 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, centralization means a more authoritarian Imperium. Nevertheless, Guilliman is the best living person to be given the responsibility in fixing the bureaucratic nightmare of the Imperium, so there is little reason to panic. One of the biggest reasons the vast majority of the Imperial Guard spends entire careers fighting rebelling worlds instead of humanity’s enemies is because each planet is highly autonomous and their governments simply blame the Imperium for the hardships caused by the greed of those worlds’ nobles and governors. So, an Imperium with greater authority and control over its worlds would increase efficiency and effectiveness of planetary governments in the Imperium’s usual inefficient methods; then the eighty percent of Imperial Guard forces fighting rebels can go banhammer aliens and daemons instead. Some (including the High Lords themselves, to the surprise of nobody) consider Roboute's rule as a dictatorship (not like they can honestly stop him since he has a blood claim to the throne and effectively controls all Space Marines and Custodes), but the reality is that whilst the Imperium is centralizing 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. Resistance to Guilliman’s reforms would most likely be met by a visit from loyal Inquisitors and the Inquisitor’s who plot against his reforms would probably be vanished by Raven Guard sent by Guilliman. Anyone in the way of his plans would simply...disappear or end up mysteriously dead. Primarchs are not known for taking shit. Or for accepting “no” as an answer to their orders.
Furthermore, it seems that the jingoistic foreign policy of the Imperium towards xenos for 10,000 years has relaxed slightly in favor of pragmatism on Robby's part, most exemplified by the current alliance of convenience between the Imperium and the Ynnari (It's hard to say exactly how sincere the relationship is; 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). However, it has been suggested that Big Bobby G and Yvraine are totally hot for each other and want to have crazy butt-s...OH NOT AGAIN! *BLAM* HERESY! 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. G-man also appointed Dante as warden to administer the other half of the Imperium across the Great Rift.
Forces Of The Imperium
- Adeptus Custodes - The Emperor's personal bodyguards who make Space Marines look like ordinary men by comparison. Their armour has so much bling it makes even the most pimptastic Space Marine's Artificer Armour look cheap. Their modification and training, not to mention the loss of the Emperor, robbed most of them of empathy and the ability to form connections with other people (even each other), as the only being they trusted absolutely is now stuck between life and death. Others are quite reasonable guys, and after 10,000 years on the bench and a daemon invasion of Holy Terra, they're back in the game in a big way. Anyway, they go to insane lengths and cross any moral line to ensure His safety, and are now going forth on Crusade to help guard humanity as a whole from unending terror. 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, they 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. Or that's what you might be led to believe: a big part of the Imperium's wars are fought against fellow humans (or things that once were human) but decided they had enough of being crapped upon by greedy superiors and uncaring leaders or felt that the tithes were too harsh for them to pay. Most Imperial Guardsmen 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 and 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 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 uses 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 Battle Tank. On the ground the Arbites have four units: Patrol Groups, whose job it is to make sure no wrongdoing occurs 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 one way or another. The Inquisition often uses the Arbites to apprehend certain individuals if they do not wish to be directly involved. Grimdark.
- Inquisition - The KGB of the Imperium. Their job is to keep said Imperium secure and loyal. With jurisdiction over nearly 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's duty is to eliminate or contain threats such as HERESY, mutants, and traitors; the Ordo Xenos, who specialize in destruction of alien threats, and the Ordo Malleus who are called on to stop Daemonic incursions. 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 (though some lore says otherwise), love only the Emperor (sometimes it's a damn shame), and are so zealous and fanatical that they would turn off just about any human man anyway. 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 even more hyper-efficient 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 - You thought Space Marines were bad dudes? Well loyal citizen, Grey Knights are SUPER-Space Marines who are VERY interested in your heretical Google image searches. They function as the military arm of the Ordo Malleus. In a galaxy and time where literal demons from space hell can punch through reality and turbo-slaughter whole sectors, the Grey Knights are THE final word in supernatural defense. This was especially important since for over 10,000 years, there WERE no good Primarches around to fight the blasphemous ascended being of the week. Every bit of armor, weapon, training and gear they have is top of the line, and nigh irreplaceable. When they fight, a psychic shroud inhibits the psychic powers of whoever they are fighting, and they have psychic 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. Aside from their anti-anti-anti Chaos gear, Grey Knights aren't typically who you send to stop a cult. They're the guys you send to clean up a Chaos defiled planet with boiling oceans, poisonous air, psychedelic skies, and more bones than living people on them. Grimdark. And yet, no Grey Knight has EVER fallen to Chaos. Which is awesome.
- 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 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 (?). With the return of Guilliman to the Imperium we now know that the sisters did indeed survive, although they were officially disbanded as a fighting force. Nothing like getting fired the day after your dad dies. Understandably upset, many simply wandered off into the sunset, but a large number stayed to crew the Black Ships that go around collecting psykers to feed to the Emperor. With Rawbutt Girlyman's return, the Emo Sisters have started to fight on the frontlines again, serving as anti-psyker defense and notably fighting alongside their best bros the Custodes for the first time in 10,000 years (maybe). Considering how bad the state of the galaxy is due to the Great Rift, their job has become wayyyyy busier than ever before.
- Administratum - The pencil pushers of the Imperium, complete with bureaucrats so devoted to their trade that they treat it like a religion, and massive inefficiency due to the sheer difficulty of running a galaxy-spanning empire. 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 maintaining 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 maintaining the light of the Astronomican, the psychic beacon for traveling through the Warp. Sacrifices assloads of psykers every day to keep the Astronomican running and literally the only thing keeping the entire Imperium from winking out like a candle. 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.
- Squats - A dwarfish race of technologically advanced abhumans descended from mining colonists on high gravity planets, their worlds were the only other independent Imperial worlds besides Admech's forge worlds prior to integration into the Imperium from the Tyranids war. Their forces complemented that of the Adeptus Mechanicus' and the Imperial Guard, with a tendency towards giant-sized war machines. Their populations are now greatly diminished due to various reasons. 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.
- Imperial Navy can press-gang you off the streets to work you to death on a starship, manually doing tasks that were supposed to be performed by automated systems that were "lost", except Mechanicus still have them on their ships.
- 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. Seriously, many worlds hold your funeral the day before departure, people mourn your passing while you are standing next to them, and you are considered to be already dead.
- 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 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. And that assumes the Machine Spirit doesn't kill you first.
- Loyalist Space Marines never get laid, eve-*BLAM*
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- 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 might eventually (re)unite and destroy the Imperium.
- The Necrons will eventually awaken and might destroy the Imperium.
- Chaos cannot be defeated and will probably destroy the Imperium sooner or later.
- Tyranids are pouring in from nearly all sides of the galaxy and will probably destroy the Imperium through the power of OMNOM.
- 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, granted the second one they destroyed thanks to Chaos bullshit, whoops!
- The first was due to a mis-identification by over-eager Imperial Psychotic Killers, and given that the second was a civilization that had a race who created Chaos artifacts, including the big one that led to Horus' corruption, that's arguably a good thing since they might as well have been a ticking time bomb.
- Incompetence is also nonexistent, and if you show competence, you are imbued by the Chaos Gods and therefore executed for Heresy.
- Thinking ANY model is sexy is obvious heresy.
- And let's not even get started on what it's like if you're on the wrong side of the Great Rift.
- Either you work, or you die. It's that simple. SO BACK TO THE MANUFACTORUMS AND STOP READING NOW!!!
- If by some shred of luck you don't get executed for dereliction of duty, then the lasgun you didn't make while slacking off meant that a Guard Regiment got equipped too late to be deployed to save your world.
A Limit to Grimdark: Is Life in the Imperium Always Awful?
"A line must be drawn between what is good and what is evil, for if the Great Enemy comes with offers of power to a wretch, what reason does he have to refuse hell if he dwells in it already?"
- – Robu telling Luis the most obvious thing yet apparently missed for ten millennia of imperial history while channeling the FDR.
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 on a planet not actively engaged in war 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 about thirty-two thousand and something hundreds in ratio to the several hundreds of thousands of Civilized Worlds which are the planetary majority in the Imperium - the odds of being born in a desolated dump is actually quite low, and if you are born there, the only thing you need to be wary of are Gang fights and Mutants, and that's only if you are dumb enough to venture in the Underhive or unlucky enough to be born
poor there (the poor can still get labor jobs in manufactoria or wherever else or enlist in the PDF and such; worlds are never lacking for jobs needing filling or soldiers to hold the fort). Life as a Middle-Class Imperial (which are the majority in Hive Worlds) is often plain and simple (if boring, repetitive, and lacking in freedom- though the same can be said about its real world equivalent) 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). If you're in the Imperial Guard, the chances of being sent into an eternal meat grinder depends very much on the planet you come from and whether someone else got shipped there first, if the Imperium's size and speed is taken into perspective. Although some policies within the Imperium would be regarded as immoral or "Crimes Against Humanity" in today's world, take note that what the Imperium does is a necessary evil. They know what they're doing is morally questionable if not outright atrocious, 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. Unlike every single other being in the entire setting, the Imperium (or at least Guilliman) actually knows its necessary evils are evil and bemoans this fact but grits its teeth and does it anyway, determined to make sure what was done has meaning and was never in vain. 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" (which, ironically enough, can lead to you getting executed, so it's something most people try to avoid). There is even a small Ordo of the Inquisition whose job is to investigate exterminatus (planet boom) events and determine whether or not it was justified. About eighty percent of the Inquisitors who order exterminatus are executed by this Ordo for not having sufficient justification. Keep in mind that it is almost (almost) unheard of for exterminatus being declared unless really anyone even in the modern day could agree the planet totally needed to die.
The Imperium is also remarkably egalitarian, if only out of necessity. For the most part, regardless of the circumstances of your birth, you can reach unimaginable heights if you have the right combination of smarts, strength, faith and luck. Space Marine chapter masters may once have been feral tribesmen or underhive scum, great heroes of the Imperial Guard have come from death worlds, prisons or dead end jobs in hives. Inquisitors come from almost any background imaginable, and are some of the most powerful individuals in the Imperium, and can even sit as one of the High Lords of Terra. The only thing that actually blocks social mobility is the difficulty of standing out against countless trillion (within the sector at least) other humans on a million worlds (that said, this depends on the planet you were born on a lot: an underhiver will have a bad life, a deathworlder is lucky to make it to like 15, and a noble is likely to have everything they might desire presented to them on a silver platter). This is implied to be partially intentional as a way to get the very best of humanity in positions of power, or at minimum a concession to the fact that humanity isn't in a position to be picky. By and large, it works. Incompetence appears to be very rare in the Imperium given the sheer amount of cracks left in human civilization not being able to bring it down (which is why it stands out so dramatically). Unfortunately, due to the scale of everything, an incompetent in the wrong place can cause a lot of disastrous effects: an average Administratum adept messing something up has a decent chance of nothing happening as his department is working on century old minor archives, but if a Departmento Munitorum official accidentally issues two mass mobilization orders or receives miscommunication and sends a wiped out regiment as reinforcements, that's where the problems start (not helped by Astropathic communication being what it is as said official might not even be aware that the unit ordered to another system is dead).
Foreign Policy on Xenos
For those that complain of the Imperium's genocidal stance against Aliens (especially prior to the Emperor getting stuck on the golden throne), remember that during Humanitiy's earlier years, virtually every xeno they encountered were either genocidal dickheads or sadistic assholes, so can you really blame them? Take for example, the Craftworld Eldar. On the surface, they may seem benign and offer their hand in friendship, just so you are the ones who walk into a Necron Tomb-World and lose millions where they could have done the same and possibly only lost a few hundred. Regardless, this is easier said than done and they prioritize hostile races over occasional allies. Add to that, Big.E wanted an atheistic empire starving the Chaos gods out with science (although given that the Chaos gods thrive on emotion itself just as much as worship, Big E was probably doomed from the start) all without falling into 'Men of Iron II: Revenge of the Machines', and those xenos that weren't deeply religious and/or psykers tended to go the A.I. way. So in order to avoid any unnecessary questions and unhealthy curiosity, he basically got a standing order to purge everything on sight in place. Said order was duly followed during the Great Crusade proper, but now that the expansion is over, it is applied much less zealously (except when it is, the Imperium is BIG and very decentralized and a lot of the time it's busy with its own problems).
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 and does not pose an obvious threat, then the Imperium (although still strictly supervised by the Inquisition) will trade to a certain extent, via Diplomacy and the Rogue Traders. 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. Granted, they probably would do so if they had the chance and the resources, but right now they have neither and so have learned to just begrudgingly put up with them for the most part.
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, with the xenophobia growing out of it as a by-product. The Imperium 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 and run the risk of learning the same lessons the Imperium did the hard way. That much has been pointed out by both Farsight and Ciaphas Cain. Even with all the above, the Imperium is focused on survival above all else, and if that means working with xenos they may very well do so. Roboute Guilliman can testify to that, given that said xenos played a major role in his revival.
Besides all of this, the Imperium isn't going around just blamming every species even when it can for a simple reason: the Imperium is cruel and callous, but it is not evil. The Imperium is not a murderer, it is not insane, and it tries to be honorable or at least pragmatic as much as is feasible. Killing a species when it is unnecessary is a waste of resources, if nothing else. The Imperium is a civilization, and is as “civilized” as it can be in the reality it finds itself in. They hate all aliens, even those whom they have accepted as protectorates, allies, neutral, or simply "we live on the same planet, don't mess with us and we won't kill you". However, the Imperium understands the difference between understandable hatred and actually acting on that hatred against beings whose extermination is not necessary. Heck, there are plenty of people whoever is reading this might hate, but you don't go around kill them, do you? Exactly. Not to say the blind fanatics and bloodthirsty zealots don't do that, but any competent sector government runs on cold hard realpolitik. Is it any wonder that the blindly fanatical kill them all groups are always the problem when looking at Imperial campaigns and politics?
Governmental & Ideological Structure of the Imperium
Additionally, while the Imperium, as referenced above, looks like a merciless and oppressive empire and certainly functions as one on paper, it is in fact a confederation of several powerful organizations and a million planets. It occupies a strange place in between a 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, send your psykers over when the Black Ships show up, and don't make me come over there." Each 'normal' planet in the Imperium (besides 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. Just like today's countries some have merciless dictators (North Korea) and some have democracy to an extent where citizens can choose their own head of government (UK) and a majority are in between absolute tyranny and (some) democracy (you can only have so much democracy when someone with near monopoly on space warfare assets is concerned with you filling up production and/or manpower quotas and doesn't want you to fall into daemonic corruption when the literal souls of billions to quadrillions are on the line). 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, when the aforementioned civil wars disrupt the military supply chain, harm Imperial officials on the planet or compromise the Imperial Cult, or when a Planetary Governor decided to declare himself independent of the Imperium), 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". They have to be- even at the height of the Great Crusade there was no way for any sort of centralized government to keep control over thousands of worlds at once. The stand out example is Ultramar, which is legally completely autonomous and can tell the government to get bent as long as the Gene Seed tithe is provided.
Of course, in a few cases where a Planetary Governor or planet does declare independence, it is usually listed as HERESY, however 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, because the God-Emperor of Mankind and the system of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica provides a cheap system of FTL and communication through the horrors of the Warp that cannot be replicated, and because the Merchant Fleet enables intergalatic commerce. There is also the reason that they have so much autonomy already that there isn't really a reason to leave the Imperium that can justify the risks in most cases. If a planet declares independence, it loses the right to FTL and trade with the Imperium, and that's bad for Hive Worlds that need Agri-Worlds in order to survive, meaning 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 varies over the Imperium's history. During the Great Crusade, 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, not the least of which include the multiple doom counters running such as the Rangdan conquering too much or the Orks hitting critical mass without the Eldar Empire and old human federation + allies purging infestations. 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 expanded 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, your typical Chaos hijinks, xenos manipulation (as is frequently the case when the Tau or Genestealer Cults are involved), or just a Planetary Governor who's either arrogant enough to think he can get away with it or desperate enough to believe his world has nothing to lose from rebellion.
Therefore, the loyalty of most to the Imperium is not just out of an ideological obsession to stamp out HERESY, but of 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: the Inquisition stamps out anyone caught separating from or perverting the Emperor's rule of conduct as Heresy, the Adeptus Mechanicus worships the Emperor as an aspect of another pagan Machine-god called the Omnissiah and benefits from an ancient pact of alliance dating to the Great Crusade, and the Adeptus Astartes are altered transhumans who merely view the Emperor 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 via their genetic descent from the Primarchs. They all 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 despite what it tries to portray itself as, and more akin to a Coalition of Confederated Mini-Empires that's disguised as a Galactic Superpower (though the Imperium has its independent military and technological might with which to enforce its laws); 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). Essentially, its a demented combination of feudal Europe, Mandate of Heaven China deifying its ruler, Shogunate Japan where the Emperor isn't actually in direct control but the Shogun (High Lords of Terra) is, NATO/Warsaw Pact and the United Nations, with all flavors of cultures dotted around from Vikings in Fenris, Romans in Ultramar, Mongolians in Mundus Planus/Chogoris, repeats and variations on basically every human culture, any primitive tribe in Feral Worlds, Australia in Death Worlds, North Korea in Penal Worlds and so forth.
Additionally, while chastity and prudence are technically heralded as virtues by some organizations and planets within the Imperium, the Imperium as a whole is decidedly pro-sex. The reason is more utilitarian than hedonistic; more babies means more soldiers. Even in the smallest sectors, there are always more planets to colonize (even if it's on the ruins of some other civilization) so space is seldom a concern. Imperial citizens are encouraged, by most local customs, to be fruitful so that the tithes may be paid. If you'd ask "why not just clone more soldiers?", the reason the Imperium doesn't do that (at least excluding their black projects like the Afriel Strain soldiers and the Death Korps of Krieg which is an extreme exception) is because it's considered a perversion of the holy human form (hence it's labeled as heresy). Plus, attempting to clone regiments of soldiers on a rapid basis is likely to come with a variety of genetic problems that would hinder the Imperium rather than help it. Then there's the problem that the technology to clone a full human with a functioning mind (as opposed to a brain-dead clone fit for making into a servitor) is extremely difficult, to say nothing of how the clones' souls seem to be inherently abnormal for reasons nobody can explain.
And if anyone still complains that the Imperium is still 'dark and miserable,' (at least to the memetic extents, it is still not a good place to live but is understandable considering the state of the Milky Way in the 41st Millenium) 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. Were the Imperium truly as bad as GW tries to hype it up as being, it wouldn't have been able to survive 10,000 years in the first place without disintegrating.
As a side note, the Imperium doesn't give a flying fuck about your sexual preferences and gender (excepting the Sororitas, legally only women as a specifically crafted loophole to let the loyalists continue to exist and to give the Ecclesiarchy some military force, Astartes, who are genetically required to be men and the Emperor may have intentionally failed to make sure they didn't replace humanity, and the Callidus assassins because the polymorphine drug works better with women, oh and individual planets may have different cultural values, though any random shmuck attempting to tell off an Imperial official for gender etc. is getting a power maul to the face courtesy of the nearest Arbitrator), so that automatically places it above a good chunk of real countries on this count.
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 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 outside of specific circumstances; 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. Imperial law focuses on best practices, security against subtle enemy attack methods, and anti-Chaos related manners of thinking (like a distinct lack of questioning the unknown because it could enter you and play havoc with your world). Basically, as long as you have laws that don't leave you wide open for the horrors in space and don't get uppity when it comes to paying the tithe, the Imperium is fine with you. 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 they are actually true totalitarian governments with extremely nihilistic attitudes. These are totalitarian regimes done horrifyingly right. These are governments which pride themselves on their malevolence and power; in which an ordinary person has little to no chance of leaving the hell hole they are born into. Their governmental and ideological structure is done in such a way that the mere act of pragmatism will be condemned 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. These governments make the raging incompetence of the Imperium look like Fantasia. Furthermore, the Imperium has one thing these governments do not have: a sense of humanity and heroism. Throughout all the GW works on the Imperium, we have characters who show remarkable amounts of selfless heroism, courage, and intense humanity. The protagonists (and general "good guys") in these stories consistently try to move heaven and earth to protect the weak against all odds. We almost never see that kind of optimistic effort in the aforementioned dystopian works. This is why 1984 and the Xeelee Sequence are so horrifying: there is no hope, no epic struggle, no grandeur... just a collapsing social reality where the very concept of humanity is treated like a nonexistent joke.
Essentially, what we are trying to say here is that the worst thing the Imperium can do is not out of outright malice (barring some rare exceptions like the Age of Apostasy), 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."
The bottom line: the IoM embodies not perpetual evil and suffering for its own sake, but desperate measures taken in desperate times, exacerbated further by inefficiency and human error that has built up for millennia in end. It may be shit by our standards, but considering 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.
In a way, this makes it worse than the full dystopias as those guys have no one but themselves to blame. The Imperium simply cannot afford anything better.
Character development at meta level
From a meta point of view the evolution of the Imperium reflects that of the franchise and the company's interest and capabilities, back in the 80s during the Rogue Trader GW writers didn't bother too much about the possible ramifications of their character profiles, they were after all doing things for kids which wanted something cool and funny; morality, rationale and introspection didn't really have that much of a priority, at best there was a lot of parody with a pinch of political commentary inherent in british pop culture.
As editions moved the Imperium went from a glam-coloured 80s feudal cyberpunk place for adventures, fun and profit to the stage were the "Grimdark" entered in full effect, think of it a bit like a child turning into a teenager who wants to sound cool a deep, edginess was the order of the day for the Third Edition, this is from where a lot of the dystopian stuff we all know and love came from, Battlefleet Gothic with their slave-powered ships is a great example, the original portrayal of the necrons as eldritch horrors directed by the C'tan are born from this edition too, it was the lowest point of characterization for the Imperium in terms of dark induced apathy.
Gradually, thanks in great part to the efforts of Black Library writers and the simple fact many fans were already adults who wanted something more "elaborate" the Imperium started to gain their humane elements, the Gaunt Ghosts and Ciaphas Cain put in evidence that no, not everyone in the Imperial Guard were zealots and jerkasses, Uriel Ventris and other SM portrayals allowed the Adeptus Astartes to win back their heroic aspect and while Matt Ward broke a lot of the old fluff he allowed for factions such as the Necrons to become something more than a horde of metallic zombies.
The case of commissar Cain is special, some people didn't like to consider him canon as he broke with the overall idea of grimdarkness, he starts as an anomaly, a secretly epicurean, self-loathing character capable of decent and even heroic acts as well as abject fear who visits worlds which suddenly are not hells on earth, through his eyes we see both military and civilians who are, despite the obvious and obligatory cultural dissonances, humans with their loves, hatreds, good intentions and limitations, enjoying life whenever they can and showing commodities and services which shouldn't exist in the grim darkness of the far future, this sudden injection of humanity shakes a great deal of the fanbase perception of the Imperium, they suddenly discover this galactic warring monster is quite more than a stage for endless dystopian war, suddenly imperials have a great deal more to fight for than debased ideology, they are fighting for survival, and that survival can allow for something more than slave-work at factories alternated with unending sermons, behind the facade of the fanatic and the mad you find reality ensues, ruthlessness with your own is a ticket for friendly fire incidents, even the staunchest sororitas has a pension to think of and the administratum is not totally filled of incompetent people.
Gaunt's Ghost work in tandem with Ciaphas Cain to add more humanity to the Imperium, the Tanith First and Only are people, they remember their world of forest and stone cities destroyed, they clearly see their memory as something worth fighting for, and while they are loyal to the Imperium they will notice when there is something unfair and, if possible, deal with it, even at terminal strength, while Colonel-Commissar may be in the minority of competent commanders he and other characters in HQ put in evidence you can't run a military force purely with lash and bolt-pistol, at least not totally, like many real-life regimes you still need a sandwich as well as a shotgun to deal with people, remove the sandwich, use the shotgun too much and you will eventually find the dog bitting back.
The Horus Heresy series helped too, as the origins of the Imperium were vastly expanded and explained, allowing for a better understanding of the choices taken by both loyalists and traitors, the Emperor in particular lost their portrayal of a perfect being and finally was revealed to be a more human character, with great inentions but ultimately flawed and capable of failure. This also allowed for a better understanding of how the Imperium became so religious, repressive and authoritian despite, or perhaps, because Big E original plans to fight the Chaos Gods by starving them, the primarchs background was further explored and the tragedy behind their fall became now a known narrative, all these aspects adding a "depth of field".
With the return of Guilliman in the last editions we finally come to a point where the Imperium as an entity recovers, or more exactly gains, its capability for self-criticism, and with it a gut-punching self-awareness, we see through Guilliman's eyes the vast gears of traditionalist government, the monumental historic inertia pushing things to the brink, the continuous and terrible technological, economic and social degradation mankind has been subjected for centuries fueled by terrible wars of extinction.
From such capability to see these flaws is that the desire to break with this unending cycle of darkness is born, for the first time we see the chance of reform not born from Tzeentchian influence or Xenos infiltration, stable (so far) technological advancement finally happens, the character of Belisarius Cawl comes to mind, he is certainly a maverick, his relation with Guilliman and his subordinates is interesting, he knows his own value and dares others on the Imperium's side in a way which reminds a bit of the oldest editions where Rogue Traders went to strange and extravagant adventures, but we also see his backstory, what eventually shaped in his current self, his manias and hopes, no longer just "the tech support guy who knows how to fix the server", but a person, someone who can go talk face to face with Guilliman.
Speaking of both, of late some major game changers have been introduced or gone from hinted to explicitly stated, along the new technologies developed by Cawl in order to reverse the damage done by the Tyranids and Chaos we have finally have the first explicit manifestation of the Emperor through Guilliman, with the Emperor outright stating he is fighting the Chaos Gods in their own terms and actually wounding Nurgle (Despair) in the process and warning the material universe too can have a handle in the balance between it and the Warp, in other words, we can actually talk a real war between the Imperium and the other factions instead of just a galactic sized carcass ready for the picking.
And hence in the Imperium of this modern age ancient traditional powers both imperial and from the outside and beyond find themselves checked or at least confronted, not to say our brave new messiah in blue is not without his limits and contradictions, more than once Guilliman has to recognize his own mistakes, and he is still blind to other mistakes, and some things he attempts don't end well, and while the situation has become more critical than ever since, perhaps, the Horus Heresy, the Imperium and characters such as his "Uncrowned King" as narrative entities finally recover their potential for the humane. The Imperium is still a place of unending war and misery, an epic saga with many elements of cosmic horror history, but with a glimpse of a path to, in words of Black Library "Salvation".
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 (somehow their ancestors thought settling in said swamp and rocks was a brilliant idea). 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).
Space feudalism is even implied in the way the people in the lore speak of the Imperium. For instance, a politician might tell his fellow "watch what you say or the Imperium will come" or something. The Imperium is an outsider to most of the worlds it is made of, not an immediate presence. This is, like real life, out of necessity. Real life feudalism was due to social breakdown following Rome's collapse, and technology limited just how much one group could control. The Imperium is much the same, this time due to sheer scale involved and the collapse of order following the Iron War and the Age of Strife.
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 life that at worst is difficult rather than outright hellish. And with millions of worlds with trillions of people inhabiting them, those chances might actually be decent. The vast majority of worlds are Civilized Worlds (also known as "Imperial Worlds", but that is a stupid and confusing name so fuck that) and the vast majority of Civilized Worlds are quite pleasant places to be and are still pretty much what the Great Crusade created barring the addition of the Imperial Creed over the Imperial Truth. Most of the grimdark happens on a handful of worlds in the Imperium and even then only specific spots (like the Underhive of a particularly harsh Hive World or worlds that end up stuck in the front lines of the newest war). For all but a minuscule number of humans, life in the Imperium isn't necessarily the hell on Earth it's made out to be in the fluff. You have a guaranteed job (that is not going to hurt you, unlike working on a Forge World), a higher standard of living than a modern first world country (civilian technology is quite advanced still since nearly every world produces it so it can't really be lost, unlike advanced military tech), easy access to extremely cheap transportation, etc. Oh, and a military network that helps with the literal swarms of actual monsters running around, let alone psychic infohazards that want to eat your soul for eternity. So, as long as you can dodge the draft into the Guard, you'll be totally good (until the Commissar or local priest comes looking for you for dodging). Although, there aren't drafts for the Guard (depending on world, but it's rare). Conscription is performed on rare occasions to provide manpower to nearby warzones temporarily and once that battle is over the survivors are usually returned home, and if said battle didn't have conscripts deployed on it your home would likely be the next on the menu. This might seem oddly generous, but remember: the Imperium isn't oppressive simply because it can be. That isn't to say it's the "good guy" by a long shot, but it's far from being outright villainous, at least by the standards of it's contemporaries. The fact this nightmarish slice of the worst periods of human history is still the best, or at least the only viable, option shows exactly how horrible and awesome 40k is in comparison to other settings, not a tale of good vs evil as idealized by so many writers but a magnum opus on the matter of a war for collective survival, a more sincere narrative of our own species seeing through a false mirror, mixing up sheer ridiculousness with satire and still being able to produce compelling stories within. Don't take this shit as real life gospel and remember it is fictional. Yes, That Guy, we mean you. Please be more like This Guy.
In short: Big tank cool. Real life politics outside of polling booth not cool. Got that? Then you're good.
Anthems of the Imperium of Man
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duYoKxb0IeI - The anthem of the Imperium of the 41st Millennium.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MM_c_avPlx4 - Battle anthem of the Adeptus Astartes
- The Empire (Warhammer Fantasy), for their less grimdark and much smaller scale alleged Warhammer Fantasy counterpart.
- The Underempire for their actual Warhammer Fantasy counterpart.
- Azyr for their noblebright (relatively, you don't have to be QUITE so oppressive when Chaos is simply a desperation alternative rather than also being an infohazard, and Sigmar learned his lessons well from the original Empire) Warhammer: Age of Sigmar counterpart.
- Interim Coalition of Governance for their unbelievably shitty, even more grimdark 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.
- The history of the Imperium in about a minute and a half.
- The Story of the Imperium in a musical piece - Slow start that soon erupts into allout badassery and is quenched in a desperate last stand against the mighiest threats, before it flickers and dies...
- [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHSvSZ-UEFc 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.
- A new song to herald the trying time of the Imperium - A slow, malevolent start to capture the spread of evil over the closest thing to good in the universe followed by faint whispers of hope that erupts in an enormous cresendo, before fading with a quiet whine.
- the Imperium of man's theme song, less serious, more accurate perhaps.
|Governments, Empires, Nations and Astropolitical Powers of the Galaxy|
|Imperial Human Powers:||Imperium of Man (Adeptus Mechanicus - Ultramar)|
|Other Human Powers:||Severan Dominate - Leagues of Votann|
|Chaos Powers:||New Kingdom (Sortiarian Occupation - Prospero/Sortiarius) |
Blood Pact - Scourge Stars
|Eldar Powers:||Commorragh - Craftworlds (Alaitoc - Altansar - Biel-tan - Iyanden |
Saim-Hann - Ulthwé)
|Necron Powers:||Atun Dynasty - Charnovokh Dynasty - Maynarkh Dynasty - Mephrit Dynasty |
Nekthyst Dynasty - Nephrekh Dynasty - Nihilakh Dynasty - Novokh Dynasty
Ogdobekh Dynasty - Oruscar Dynasty - Sautekh Dynasty - Szarekhan Dynasty
|Ork Powers:||Ork Empire of Charadon - Ork Empire of Octarius - Ork Empire of Bork |
Ork Empire of Dregruk - Ork Empire of Calverna - Ork Empire of Jagga
|Tau Powers:||Tau Empire - Farsight Enclaves|
|Other Xenos Powers:||Q'Orl Swarmhood - Fra'al Satrapies|