Back in 1992-1993, Game Designers’ Workshop (GDW) decided to update both the mechanics and the canonical Third Imperium setting for their science-fiction roleplaying game Traveller. They based the game mechanics for this new edition (Traveller: The New Era [TNE]) on the second-edition rules for their near-future/alternate history RPG Twilight: 2000. Meanwhile, they decisively (and divisively) WMD-ed the canonical Third Imperium, already wracked by civil war in MegaTraveller’s Rebellion setting, out of existence by having one Rebellion faction accidentally deploy a sentient computer Virus that an opposing faction had developed.
Obviously, in order to maintain the game’s fan base, GDW found it desirable to publish a game supplement to bridge the gap between MegaTraveller and TNE. GDW therefore published Survival Margin: Gateway to the New Era. This 104-page book described how to convert MegaTraveller characters to their TNE equivalents in exactly 7 pages. Two more pages were spent on the table of contents, while three pages updated previously-canon Library Data. Eleven more pages discussed how to run an RPG campaign in the TNE setting (including legacy characters from previous editions).
The vast majority of Survival Margin deals with three topics:
1. Pages 3-66 describe the decline and fall of the Third Imperium, as chronicled by the Traveller News Service. In particular, pages 65-66 document the spread of the above-mentioned Virus through communications channels.
2. Pages 72-83 (“When Empires Fall, Part II”) describe the effects of Virus. As a bonus, this section includes character descriptions of two persons oft-mentioned in the first 66 pages.
3. A perceptive reader will note that this post has, until now, failed to account for pages 67-71 from Survival Margin. Crucially, these pages contain the supplement’s most important essay (“When Empires Fall, Part I”), as it answers this question: Why did the Third Imperium fall?
David Nilsen’s answer is that, at some time prior to the beginning of the Rebellion in Imperial Era Year 1116, the leaders of the Third Imperium had drifted away from the principle of Noblesse oblige. Instead, seeking to maximize their own power, at the expense of the common interest of the Third Imperium’s member worlds, they admitted that, as far as they were concerned, Noblesse n’oblige plus:
“My lord,” “my liege,” is not kowtowing; it is a social contract. But the Rebellion revealed the unpleasant reality that, by 1100 at least, the Imperium had entered the era of Noblesse n’oblige plus, “Nobility no longer obligates.”
As best I can tell, among the current creators of wealth, Noblesse oblige still exists. It is among the collectivists, both in politics and in academia, that Noblesse n’oblige plus seems to reign. Indeed, the collectivists seem eager to impose obligations on the creators of wealth, while claiming (as “compassion”) for themselves the credit for bestowing unearned benefits to those who are either unable or unwilling to create wealth.