Why is it that shows like Stargate, Star Trek, and others use a government body called the "High Council"?

Within Stargate, the Asgard have a High Council. In Star Trek, Vulcans and Klingons have one. Humans have one early on called the "Command Council" (moreso for Star Fleet).

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    Because Many human societies had one? Including Catholic Church, Communist movement (up to and including The Supreme Council of USSR), UN, New York, LDS (Mormons) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 7 '15 at 15:58
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    Can you provide evidence that the massive umbrella that is SciFi is significantly more prone to use the term "High Council" than non-SciFi? – Gorchestopher H Apr 7 '15 at 16:12
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    @GorchestopherH - admittedly, it does seem that way. Look at "High Council" Wikipedia entry's fiction section. Pretty much entire Who's Who of main TV SciFi universes are there (Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate, Dr. Who all included) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 7 '15 at 16:46
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    If I had to guess, I'd say it's because the "utopian" societies often depicted in sci-fi are based on Marxist ideals here on Earth, and the ideal Marxist society is run by committee. – Omegacron Apr 7 '15 at 16:57
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    @Omegacron I am not a committee! – KSmarts Apr 7 '15 at 20:12

That term conveys a number of advantages for the writers:

  1. Councils are generally democratic (or at least republican), and thus generally viewed more favorably by modern audiences than kings, emperors, etc. A powerful group governed by a "council" gives the impression of at least a semi-enlightened society.

  2. At the same time, the term "High Council" retains a more formal, even ceremonial feel than many modern terms, and that adds gravitas to the story. He's not just a Congressman, he's a "Member of the High Council."

  3. It's also a suitably generic term that allows the writer to establish certain facts (e.g. it's made up of multiple people, decisions are made by vote, etc) without getting bogged down in minutiae (e.g. is it a congressional or parliamentary system?). It's just a Council.

  4. In many cases, it offers an opportunity for palace intrigue. A Council is made up of individuals, and those individuals can disagree, betray, persuade, or replace each other. A enemy monarch must be opposed directly, but an enemy on a Council allows for the possibility of allies with similar power. "If we can just convince Senator Whosawhatsit, we can stop Consul Evilface by finding and dismantling the Apocalyptathing! Only a member of the High Council has that kind of power!"

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  • Good answer, but as for #1 a council could only be democratic if the members are elected by the public. We've seen many examples where council seats are either inherited or directly tied to a person's job and/or role in society - something more akin to the Presidential Cabinet than Congress. – Omegacron Apr 7 '15 at 18:18
  • @Omegacron Agreed, that's why I hedged my statement. But the idea is that a Council is by its nature a vote-based system, so whether or not the society as a whole is democratic, it has at least recognized the value of majority rule in certain circumstances. This, in the minds of the audience, generally puts it above straight-monarchies or despots. Even the Romulan and Klingon High Councils have a sense of dignity and respectability in Star Trek, despite being from very oppressive societies. – Nerrolken Apr 7 '15 at 18:26
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    @Nerrolken: Not necessarily so -- in England, the Privy Council originated as a group of close advisors to the king. No voting was involved and they could be appointed or dismissed as the king chose. They were very loosely equivalent to the US Cabinet. (The Privy Council still exists, although today its functions are significantly different.) – Royal Canadian Bandit Apr 7 '15 at 20:29
  • @RoyalCanadianBandit That's interesting, but one possible exception doesn't change the general fact that Councils are overwhelmingly bodies of collective decision-making, usually by vote. For example, you mention the US Cabinet as a board of advisors, but the Cabinet does vote on some matters (such as Presidential incapacity according to the 25th amendment). – Nerrolken Apr 7 '15 at 21:14

Because "council" sounds like they're reaching wise decisions (as opposed to decisions that are "popular", which are common in systems like democracy). Essentially, a SciFi race with a "high council" appears to have a better system of government than humans have been able to come up with.

I don't think the "high" part needs explaining, but here goes. An order obviously sounds more authoritative if it is from a "high" council. This is assuming that "high" is interpreted in the sense of rank rather than recreational drug use.

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