Given that the Guild controls all interstellar travel, why don't they entirely control CHOAM?

It's pretty clear that CHOAM is the basis of the wealth of the galactic nobility (beyond what is available to them on their respective planets). CHOAM can only conduct trading activities with the co-operation of the Guild. It would follow that CHOAM (and the nobility generally) should have no leverage against the Guild, given the very limited needs of the Guild (only spice, and the materials and fuel for their craft, and foodstuffs).

Consider also that because the Guild controls all interstellar transportation, any "naval" or military action against them would pit sub-luminal transport, and forces collected from individual star systems against the forces the Guild could amass.

This would leave them free to seize Arrakis if they so wished; it's not clear whether they could, or would even need to fight any other conflicts, given that they move faster than anyone, so would not require any garrisons for defence, only to maintain control of their planets.

Certainly in Earth history, the pattern is clear: the various European Indies Companies would assume complete control of the transportation of cargoes within their spheres, and in so doing, achieve a trading monopoly*. Why would the Guild not do the same thing?

Note: * Granted, this one sentence covers about 50% of the history of European aggression against the rest of the world, but I think it is sound enough for the purposes of this question.

4 Answers 4


You're overlooking the effect of prescience on the actions of the Guild.

The Guild is dependent upon the melange spice is because it gives their navigators the prescience required to safely navigate from one system to another. [While some don't reguard the books as canon, the prequels written by Brian Herbert et al make it clear that FTL through foldspace was a risky business, with substantial losses until spice made it possible to "foresee" the safe path to take.]

Within the limits of this prescience, Guild navigators always choose the safe, predictable path. It's hard to fault them, given the events of Dune start in the year 10,189: always choosing the safe, predictable path has worked for a very long time.

However, near the end of the original Dune novel, Paul makes it clear to the Guild navigators present on Arrakis that they had fallen into the "safe" role of parasite, utterly dependent upon the Empire but unable to seize control of it.

I've always understood that the Guild had the capability to sieze control of Arrakis, CHOAM, or even the Empire itself, but they did not because they forsaw that such control would be only for a limited time (even if it did last for several hundred years), and that afterwards they would be in a worse position, perhaps without any access to spice at all.

  • This makes a lot of sense.
    – Marcin
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 22:48

I think you are underestimating the leverage that those limited needs provide against the Guild.

Without their own industry, they rely upon others to provide materials and fuel. Most importantly, though, is the Spice.

As Leto II amply demonstrated, whoever controlled the Spice production could easily cripple the Guild by simply withholding Spice deliveries. Spice is addictive to those who use it regularly, and Guild Navigators require truly massive amounts of Spice not only to function, but simply to survive.

The Guild already held a long-established and crucial monopoly on all transportation. The Guild is already a silent partner in CHOAM. Any attempt to take active control of CHOAM would have certainly been viewed as an unacceptable threat by both the Landsraad and the Emperor.

Knowing full-well the Guild's dependence upon Spice production, the Emperor would have held the control of Arrakis as a last-resort weapon to ensure that the Guild did not attempt to overstep their authority.

While it is true that the Guild could have stopped allowing anyone else to travel to or from Arrakis, and established their own Spice harvesting operations, in order to do so they would not only have to deal with the military forces already in place on Arrakis, but also with those of nearly every other civilized world within striking distance of a Guild facility, as there is little doubt that an attempt to seize Arrakis would have polarized the Houses and the Emperor to attempt to forcibly subdue the Guild. The alternative would have been a complete dissolution of their entire power bases.

Using your example of the European trading companies, a reasonable analogy would be if the East India Trading Company relied exclusively upon opium addicts to be able to operate their ships. However, the Spacing Guild would not have the benefit of the full blessing of the leader of a powerful military force, as the East India Trading Company did in the matronage of the Queen of England. If the East India Trading Company did not have military control of India, the source of their opium, and were utterly dependent upon that opium, it is likely that India's history would have turned out very differently.

  • I think this assumes too much: first of all, you assume that the emperor has independent control of Arrakis. If the guild tried to take arrakis, the relevant factors would be the mercenaries the guild could obtain vs the military forces on arrakis. Given that the guild can hire from everywhere, I think that is pretty much a foregone conclusion.
    – Marcin
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 14:54
  • Secondly, what reason is there to think that the Guild had any important facilities within range of subluminal transport?
    – Marcin
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 14:55
  • Thirdly, the various Indies Companies (including the East India Company) had their own military forces. They had already conquered India (in all but name) by the time of Victoria.
    – Marcin
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 14:56
  • 1
    First point: No, I don't. It doesn't matter if it is the Emperor or one of the Houses of the Landsraad. Clearly the Harkonnens and Atriedes both had military forces deployed during their stewardships. It's likely the Guild would have won, but there clearly would have been a fight, and therefore a cost. Second: it is possible that they did not, but it seems unlikely. Requiring superluminal transport to every center of Guild activity would be prohibitively costly, and particularly inefficient when transporting bulk materials key to their shipbuilding industry (assuming they built their own).
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 15:03
  • 1
    Third: At the time of the Opium wars, India was a British colony, and the East India Company had the support of British military, largely because they were well-established as a fundamental component of the British empire's global influence. I believe the fact that the Guild did not already have that pre-existing relationship with the Emperor is sufficient difference to support my analogy (not to mention that the Queen relied on EITC to counter the trading companies of competing nations).
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 15:08

There's a few possible reasons the Guild didn't seize or strong-arm CHOAM, none of them definite but one much more likely than the others. Also, these could all be 'true', to a lesser or greater degree, in combination.

The first is that the Guild served as one leg of the sociopolitical tripod that galactic civilization rested on. Some will argue it was effectively a parasite (and they might be right) but to that I would ask 'Is a stable existence as a parasite a bad one?' CHOAM was an organization of noble Houses and business concerns brought into existence to facilitate trade and economic cooperation. People consume, and history has told us they often like to consume things grown or produced or procured elsewhere. This motive-behavior coupling is the ultimate impetus behind all human trade. Conveniently enough, this near-universal yen for imports creates a need for a trader-merchant class that the Guild is ideally suited for. Maybe the Guild could seize control of the shipping realities, and maybe they could bend the Houses to their will by threatening their commercial wealth, but there was a risk their attempt would fail, or be only fleetingly and marginally successful. The Guild got fat and happy at through the largely peaceful trade of CHOAM members, which was very regular and with almost no bother line. Compare it to a family of rats that eat the nightly refuse of a high volume restaurant after the workers toss it; sure they could try to conquer the kitchen and assume mastery, but if they're sailing smooth daily, why would they attempt it?

We must also consider the imperfectly understood spice cycle on Dune. Most of those concerned are aware of some conceptual connection between the ecology of Dune, the sandworms and melange production. Doubtless some whitecoats squirrelled away in various labs throughout the galaxy are better informed but generally seizing the planet through force, and having its control shift unstably from house to house, invites the possibility that the delicate (?) environment of spice production could be impacted or even destroyed.

Lastly, remember that the Guild didn't produce much. They offered services: their Navigators provided safety for interstellar travel, their outrageous prices for moving men and materiél of a military nature minimized open conflict between Houses, their maintaining of sanctuary systems provided a peaceful and stable future for defeated Houses (who may be tempted to use nuclear weapons in the face of what would otherwise be annihilation) and their banking infrastructure allowed economic growth through credit dispersal backed by a universally trusted organization, viz. the Guild itself.

And of course, the already mentioned fact that the Guild has an almost psychopathic compulsion to avoid risk and uncertainty.


Didn't they say that somewhere around 10% of the FTL ships disappeared or were destroyed on every trip, before the Guild navigators discovered their abilities with spice? If so you can bet that an automatic 10% casualty rate would not stop a government from retaking Arrakis from the Guild, if they did take the planet. After that, you once again have control of the spice and a truce with the Guild happens again. I'm sure that this is what keeps them from taking over Dune.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. This is a decent summary of a good answer, but given that there are already 3 answers here you should support this with some quotes (like the source of your 10% figure and evidence that space travel is possible without the Guild).
    – DavidW
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 0:13

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