So I'm the head honcho of a near-future dystopian totalitarian nation. I want to suppress intellectualism and rational thought, but at the same time I want to stay on top of scientific and technological development. Where and how am I going to find the talent?

Details about the setting:

  • Technology is at the level where looking for resources on nearby planets is starting to look plausible. Bio-tech is developing rapidly.
  • My nation is the biggest world power, other competing nations are at least as corrupt as mine.
  • Resources are running low worldwide, overpopulation is a problem.
  • I want mostly practical, useful technology and military tech, I will condone seriously unethical stuff for progress.
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    $\begingroup$ Make AIs do it. $\endgroup$
    – Mary ML
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 5:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MaryML Not if it was self-learning AI. $\endgroup$
    – tubedogg
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 6:57
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    $\begingroup$ The Soviets won the race to the orbit somehow, didn't they? $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ @SF using german rockets cough cough just as the american did cough wheeze $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ As an American, I fail to understand how this is different from the current public education system. $\endgroup$
    – user8827
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 20:06

6 Answers 6


The soviet model worked quite well, combining strong influence of propaganda and good technical development.

Keep the sciences of economy, philosophy, social sciences and so on under whatever rock you wish to keep them. Keep technical sciences shining, and keep the bright scientists to live in gilded cages - modern, bright, well-supplied towns where access is restricted. Let them keep their families, enjoy entertainment that is not politically-incorrect but genuinely enjoyable, without propaganda, reward for work well done - and keep isolated from the grim outside. And from time to time let them enjoy being the heroes of the nation in great parades, ceremonies, TV interviews.

Travel outside the cities would not be forbidden but frowned upon. A bright scientist would probably get a politbureau officer for escort, making sure the grass is painted green wherever the scientist visits; such trips would be discouraged by the superiors, probably limiting promotions or restricting access to government-subsidized luxuries.

Recruitment? Elite studies; school tests that pick brightest kids, government-sponsored scholarships, and specifically if the student succeeds and appears to be really bright and hard-working, he or she can bring the whole family to the "science town" - so the whole family would support such an attempt (they would also take care of all the "technical" jobs of the town; janitors, shopkeepers, gardeners, repairmen etc).

Of course the scientists aren't let loose to do as they will. Each institution has two directors, a technical one and a political one. One gives direction to research, production, manages the progress, the other assures the unit receives all the necessary equipment, resources, but above all, watches the crew and overrules any promotion decisions, raises and privileges, making any dissenters reconsider their stance.

Above all, keep the population isolated from the outside, and vice versa, to keep dissent levels low, and nevertheless, while acknowledging, promoting, rewarding the successes, never give the scientists any actual power. The politbureau would be the actual power, but leaving the leash loose enough so that the scientists never feel it.

And if one of the scientists really wants to make a difference? The way is open. Join the party. Climb the ladder of ranks, starting from the very bottom, right on par with workers and farmers. Prove loyalty, wisdom and charisma. If you are good enough - loyal enough - you can become the right hand of the Leader, and influence the country through wise advice. Still, there is no "shortcut/bridge" from "professor" to "Delegate of Party Association of [city]" or such. For political matters, Professor is equal to Plumber, and the political career path is completely orthogonal to scientific achievements!

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    $\begingroup$ Much of their "technical development" came from the KGB, not the scientists. $\endgroup$ Commented May 1, 2015 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel - not really. Most of what was stolen was engineering, not theoretical research. $\endgroup$
    – user4239
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ @user4239: Soviets' worst failing was a failure to separate scientific and political careers. Some hopelessly bad scientists, who happened to be loyal, charismatic and authoritative, got their failure of scientific works promoted and pushed as the standard to be implemented and taught country-wide. Good scientific integrity fell victim to political games and nepotism. After all, who dares criticize the scientific publication of the vice-Chancellor of the Regional Office of the Party? That's undermining his power! -- and so, many really terrible policies were implemented. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ And the whole "drag all the engineers to Siberia and kill them" thing was kind of a bummer. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ Google Lysenkoism to see how that works, when best world minds are killed because Politburo doesn't like genetics amazon.com/Murder-Nikolai-Vavilov-Stalins-Persecution/dp/… $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 12:59

You have two mutually incompatible goals, so it's going to be hard.

The only real option is to create an "elite". Pick the best and brightest and bring them into the elite, selective breed them to make them smarter. Educate them and indoctrinate them.

They need to think they are "better" than the masses so they deserve the special treatment. The others are beneath them. You can shape the social information and beliefs with suitable propaganda while leaving their scientific development alone.

That will stop most of them from getting pesky thoughts about helping out all the people you are repressing. You might have to kill off a few outliers but there's always more bright people coming along from the rest of the elites.

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    $\begingroup$ either this or you may also consider slaughtering everyone after you graduated with master in engineering, physics and biology thereafter create multiple clones of yourselves to do your chores. My advise is you have to spare me there will come a times when you'll feet sick at looking into the mirror wanna bet? $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ To add to this, enabling "competition" to get into the ranks of the elite will help prevent unrest by the masses. They'll be less educated and at a disadvantage against your "bred" geniuses, but it's still possible, and it will add much needed variability to your otherwise stagnant gene pool... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 13:14

Acquire it from other states. You can steal it by espionage or threats, but in general people would be glad to sell it to you. If you are the biggest nation, then you can guarantee the safety of your tributary states from your competitors, and provide ample trade and resources. As long as you are better than the threat of chaos a war would bring, why wouldn't they cooperate?


For this to work, it's best if your totalitarian government is preceded by a significant period of "soft totalitarianism" in social and economic pressure.

Think of contemporary worries about the "PC Police." (You don't have to think these worries are well-founded in our society today! Just make them well-founded in your fictional world.) Society is mostly run by a nominally well-educated elite, and part of this education (at all levels, and in college, even for STEM majors) includes indoctrination in the trendy ideologies. (An important part of this, I think, is that social studies, history, etc should all take Trendy Ideology for granted/incorporate it into the hidden assumptions/premises of the way they talk about things.) People who don't at least mouth these trendy ideologies are social pariahs. It's hard to keep a job if you don't participate in the Trendy Ideology discussion club, panel talk, workplace seminar, or voluntary training. People who don't fall in line are decried as retrograde bigots. The others won't sit with them in the cafeteria.

It's important that education in the Trendy Ideology doesn't include a critical examination of it, and in fact opposes critical thought as mean, regressive, and prejudiced. It doesn't, at least in the beginning, have to be illegal to oppose the Trendy Ideology, but nice people just don't say things like that. Later on you can enforce it legally in the name of Tolerance, Patriotism, Justice, etc--whatever fits best with your particular totalitarian state. The fact that the people with high levels of education buy into the state's Trendy Ideology only makes it more embarrassing to admit that you oppose it. I mean, my goodness, it's taken for granted by all the smart, right-thinking people. Toeing the line gets you not just a nice job, but also the satisfaction of being one of the smart, virtuous people. You could probably even convince them that Trendy Ideology is the critical-thinking-est thing around.

That way the government can "suppress intellectualism and rational thought" while (a) avoiding a naked show of power that might stiffen resistance, and (b) maintaining high levels of education.

  • $\begingroup$ Isn't that what's going on in the western society right now? $\endgroup$
    – Nick Dzink
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 22:16

Have closed science cities, like Soviets did. That way you can have islands of free thought and creativity with little risk of it poisoning the ignorant masses that need to be kept under the heel.

The problem is that the authoritarian government needs to remain interested in the research and continue to contribute enormous funds/resources towards it, instead of spending them on palaces, statues, parades etc. Without private funding and universities it's all up you (the government) to recruit, and supply the scientists.

However, the Soviets were very advanced in some areas but backward in others simply because the government payed more attention to some fields of study then others, and because it is very difficult to predict what is going to be next life changing breakthrough until it's actually happened this authoritarian science-by-committee will always have gaps in it that a truly free one might not. If you are careful, and have good enough spy networks you should be mostly OK, but you won't invent a next iPhone.


Many totalitarian dictatorships utilise corruption and greed to maintain stability. Divide an elite from an underclass, and it remains in the interest of the powerful to protect their privileges.

The problem with this is that hereditary classes are prone to becoming indolent, lazy and entitled. This does not make for a great work ethic in the R&D department. On the other hand, class mobility is dangerous because then someone from the underclass can rise to power. You need to keep the Übermensch free of foolish ideas like equality, freedom and fraternity.

One possible answer is to create a competitive environment where the upper class is self-policing: honour killings, suicides and duels are the name of the day. This also reinforces the superiority complex: it is the natural order of things that the strong shall dominate the weak.

Finally, you need to control this class of psychopathic super-scientists. Lois McMaster Bujold did this in Cetaganda with the reward of genetic breeding rights into the royal class (as a reward for exceptional service). In the real world, it is not uncommon to promote the national leader to demigod father-of-us-all status. Or if you have been doing genetic experiments, perhaps your royal family releases "loyalty pheromones" - depends how science fiction you want to go.


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