In the SciFi book The God Emperor of Dune, near the end of the book Leto tells Moneo he knows what he fears.

“Lord, if I lie … then I do not know it.”

“That has the ring of truth. But I know what you dread and will not speak.”

Moneo began to tremble. The God Emperor was in the most terrible of moods, a deep threat in every word.

You dread the imperialism of consciousness,” Leto said, “and you are right to fear it. Send Hwi out here immediately!”

What does this mean and how does it relate to Moneo?

  • 1
    man this book was one of the worse books i ever read, frank herbert went mad when he wrote this, that quote probably means nothing because that entire book was essentially pointless and could have been summed up in flashbacks in the next book, said flash back where in the next book,probably at the request of his editor telling him to include them, since no one finished god emperor.
    – Himarm
    Mar 18, 2015 at 21:45
  • Lol. I know what you mean, but of all his books the character of the God Emperor and his 3,500 year rule still boogle's my mind. Mar 18, 2015 at 21:54
  • @Himarm, I did ;) (though I cannot remember much)
    – Ghanima
    Mar 18, 2015 at 22:04
  • @Himarm probably why SyFy didn't make the next novel into a mini series even though it received very high ratings :) Mar 19, 2015 at 15:34

2 Answers 2


The conversation leading up to this exchange begins with Moneo discussing security considerations for the next day's parade. Leto is not very concerned with security however, and this increasingly worries Moneo. Remember, the parade ends up fatal for Leto. Leto is preparing a very unsafe event and waving off Moneo's efforts to make it safer.

Moneo believes he is concerned for the Leto's safety, and for very logical reasons. However, Leto can tell that subconsciously Moneo is actually afraid of the end of Leto's Peace.

The crystal sound of Moneo's voice rang in Leto's memories, speaking things not cast in words. Moneo feared a universe where there was no God Emperor. He would rather die than see such a universe.

Moneo is not aware he subconsciously feels this way. The rest of the conversation is Leto trying to make Moneo realize and overcome his fear, without directly addressing it.

This only makes Moneo more terrified. He keeps trying to cut through Leto's metaphors and get a direct answer out of him. Since Leto can see the future (or so Moneo believes), he wants Leto to cut the crap and just tell him what's going to happen tomorrow.

Instead, Leto calls him a liar. His "lie" is saying he's worried about Leto's suicidal planning when he's really worried about the downfall of the empire.

The "imperialism of consciousness" is being in charge of your own life. Moneo dreads a life without an omnipotent ruler to tell him what to do.

You can consider this in personal terms: Moneo's life really does consist of doing whatever Leto tells him to - it's his job. But Leto is also speaking to his role in galactic history: he's trying to free humanity from its recurring cycle of dependence and subservience.


The use of this term (by Herbert) appears to be a reference to the works of the moral philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, originally published in 1978. The larger quote is:

...It is to be on the hither side of one's own nuclear unity, still identifiable and protected; it is to be emptied even of the quasi-formal identity of a being someone. But it is always to be coram, disturbed in oneself to the point of no longer having any intention, exposed over and beyond the act of exposing oneself, answering for this very exposedness, expressing oneself, speaking. It is to be an undeclinable One, speaking, that is, exposing one's very exposedness. The act of speaking is the passivity in passivity. The passivity to which the ego is reduced in proximity is the sincerity or veracity which the exchange of information, the interpretation and decoding of signs, already presupposes.

This passivity is the way opposed to the imperialism of consciousness open upon the world. This passivity, this undeclinability due to a responsibility that cannot be declined, this for-the-other, could not be treated in terms of finitude in the pejorative or tragic sense of the term, a congenital and lamentable powerlessness to detach oneself from oneself and reflect totally on oneself. Proximity or fraternity is neither a troubled tranquility in a subject that wants to be absolute and alone, nor the makeshift of an impossible confusion. Is it not. in its restlessness and emptying and diachrony. better than all the rest, all the plenitude of an instant arrested?

As best as I can tell (and I'll happily admit this level of philosophy goes well beyond my understanding), Leto is complaining that the masses are too damn passive. He longs for genuine dissent and novelty of the sort afforded by Siona and laments to Moneo, a now-supremely passive former anarchist that the worst thing that could happen to humanity is that they simply accept their fate as immature beings in the face of his (quite literally overwhelming) superiority.

  • Interesting as always. But if "imperialism of consciousness" is opposed to passivity, why is it right to fear it? (While I'd also would have to admit that this is above my understanding.)
    – Ghanima
    Mar 18, 2015 at 22:26
  • @Ghanima - Moneo used to be an anarchist. He stopped being one when he realised how pointless it was to rebel against a creature that can see the future. Moneo has since been inducted into Leto's grand plan but Leto is accusing him of fearing that humanity will suffer the same crashing defeat that he did.
    – Valorum
    Mar 18, 2015 at 22:41
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    Not sure if Herbert really got it from Levinas or they just coincidentally coined the same phrase, but I think your interpretation of what Leto meant is supported by the context. Prior to the quoted lines there was this: "You know our future! Why won't you share it?" Moneo was close to hysteria... refusing anything his immediate senses did not report. Leto responds: "Take charge of your own existence, Moneo!" Then he uses the sky as a metaphor for the idea that life is full of change which we must be open to, not a "reassuring ceiling".
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 18, 2015 at 23:13
  • Also, after Moneo leaves, Leto meets with Hwi who had heard he was in a "terrifying mood", and asks "Are you terrifying, Love?" and Leto responds "Only to those who refuse to live by their own strengths." Again this suggests he wants people like Moneo to respond creatively to life on their own rather than passively looking to Leto's knowledge of the future to avoid having to do this.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 18, 2015 at 23:17

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