6
$\begingroup$

By “Police State” I mean a despotic sort of government in which the state is actively trying to spy on its citizens for political ends. Something like the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) or the People’s Republic of China.

By “Widespread and Reliable Communications Technology” I’m referring to everything from the Telegraph to radios to the internet.

For this world the printing press is what counts as information technology. The state in question is preindustrial but highly organized. It’s not like something you’d see in medieval Europe but more along the lines of an early modern state or Edo period Japan. The state in question is mostly concerned with using its police apparatus in its capital city, which has just over a million people.

The political ends of this police state are primarily to prevent rebellion, instill ideological conformity and prevent the emergence of organized labor

$\endgroup$
6
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ While it is worded differently, suggest this is effectively a duplicate of worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/125510/… $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 4:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055 Now I agree they are similar in spirit, but that question is about how early can a state adopted surveillance technology. My question is rather explicitly about the opposite. That is being a surveillance state while lacking the technology $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 4:41
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ (1) The Edo period in Japanese history is much more similar to the High Middle Ages of Europe than to the Early Modern period of Europe. (2) Your diligent research has of course found about Napoleon's chief of police Joseph Fouché, Eugène Vidocq, the Russian Okhrana, the Austrian Geheime Staatspolizei, the Prussian Geheimpolizei, ... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 16 at 16:55
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What do you count as "the Telegraph?" Napoleon Bonaparte is considered by some historians to be the worlds first "modern" dictator. He didn't have use of electrical telegraph equipment, but France did have an optical telegraph system in place during his reign. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 23:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ …It sounds like you're expecting some sort of… Spanish Inquisition. $\endgroup$
    – Will Chen
    Jan 17 at 3:29

6 Answers 6

2
$\begingroup$

Considering this statement 'The state in question is mostly concerned with using its police apparatus in its capital city, which has just over a million people.', there is no real need for modern communication technologies to manage a described police state effectively.

Preindustrial cities were rather small when it comes to land area. For example, the known area of the ancient city of Rome was only around 14 km2 (the area enclosed by the Walls of Aurelian1) in the early Empire period (around 1st century CE) when the population of Rome was estimated between 500 000 and 1 000 000. Chang'an is another example of a preindustrial city with around 1 000 000 residents. It is estimated that Chang'an had this population during the Tang dynasty (more specifically in 700-800s CE). The land area of the city was also small - about 86 km2 inside the city walls.

Chang'an has a much larger land area because it is a city planned and built in accordance with Chinese tradition of geomancy and ideals of an emperial capital. A significant part of the city is forbidden grounds where the emperial palace is located. Rome is much more chaotic and most parts do not involve a lot of urban planning. The streets are also much narrower.

For comparison, the land area of today's New York (city) is 778.2 km2.

If your capital city is similar to historical cities, the land area will be equally small. It also means that the time required for news and information to travel is relatively short. Even if the government does not use pigeons (or similar methods of 'fast' news delivery), regular messengers (no horses) can deliver packages/news/orders/whatever within a few hours. Secret police can have even faster messengers.

It is also easy to monitor the residents due to high population density. If citizens are encouraged to report all suspicious activity the effectiveness of monitoring and policing will only increase. It is worth noting that totalitarian states never rely on mass media and police alone. They also rely on 'concerned citizens' to get the job of controlling people done.

The small area of the city and high density of population also mean that it is much easier to control businesses and supervise various activities. For example, there are only so many places where an illegal printing press could potentially operate. And it will be very challenging to hide them from the police.

It is worth mentioning that the goals such as 'prevent rebellion, instill ideological conformity and prevent the emergence of organized labor' do not really need a police state. The US is a prime example of all these goals being more or less achieved. The methods used are very different from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) or the People’s Republic of China that are used as a model for the proposed police state. The specific methods of achieving these goals are outside the scope of this question.


1 According to this estimate, the population inside the walls was around 440 000. The population density is estimated to be around 30 000 persons per km2.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

The law of 'Divide and Rule'

Yes! The law of 'Divide and Rule' has been a very effective way of governing the police state.

  • Install local rulers who are power and wealth hungry, with no passion like mercy or humanity. Give then enough money to maintain a small army to snub their people.
  • Create rivalries among local rulers and groups.
  • In case of a fight, supply arms or support to both sides in such a way that each side thinks you are with them.
  • Encourage or even force your faithful rulers to fight with the rebellion groups.

So all you will need is to control those faithful paid off vulture like local rulers by exploiting their weak points and let them take care of the rebellion groups.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Rebellion is not always out in the open, the police state found a solution for that, spying on its citizens. You could launch an autocratic regime, with above tactics. But a police state is a special construct autocratic regimes use, to maintain that situation and keep the suppression in place. So I think your answer disregards some important aspects of a "police state". it will need to gather information about citizens, in secret. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 16 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Because the setup is prior to the Invention of Widespread and Reliable Communication Technology, so control of a central government is difficult. I was suggesting that country is divided in smaller manageable parts, where local ruler is powerful enough to snub the local people, but not strong enough to be dangerous to the central government. This has been done in many countries in the past. $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Jan 17 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think any police-state existed before ca 1960. The question here is not how the how your regime could launch a police-state, without the means for fast information transfer. I think the answer is "no", let's agree to disagree. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 17 at 13:15
3
$\begingroup$

You don't police the population, you let them police themselves.

Make them look up with jealousy, and down with disdain.

It's a tried and tested method of controlling behaviour and preventing dissenting thought from ever effectively blooming, and is at the root of most religious organisations, and even things like the Indian caste system and the British class system.

It works so effectively because if somebody does try to step out of their place in the system, not only do all the ones above them automatically close ranks to prevent it, but those at their level and below will quite often be just as against it, if not more so.

To take an example close to what you are looking for, just take a little boat trip over from Edo-era Japan to Korea. Their strict caste system effectively created a society that went fundamentally unchanged for over seven hundred years. The only major upheavals were the upper echelons fighting amongst themselves, and occasional outside wars with China, Japan and the like. There was very little in the way of violent unrest by the common man, because the common man knew damn well he wasn't worthy of any better, and his life meant nothing.

The best thing is, the longer that this type of system goes on, the more the idea becomes entrenched, not just in the social psyche, but in the individual psyche. People begin to believe in their place in the system, and actively defend it, especially it the system is stable. People love stability.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Joseon Korea is definitely a good example of a bureaucratic and rigid society. Caste as a means of control is a rather interesting solution $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 21:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium I know it doesn't quite fit the brief of a police state as such, more a self-policing state, but I though it worth finding a real-world solution, as the classic 'police state' is unstable almost by definition. In the right conditions, this type of state can remain stable for centuries. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 23:28
2
$\begingroup$

The important point is to control what gets printed. Make printing into a "Crown Service" where anyone else printing something gets executed. If you can control the information flow, then nobody else can organize resistance. Yes, you can have unorganized resistance, but organized force can almost always beat unorganized. (The few times it can't are when the mob totally overwhelms by number.)

The earliest example of what you describe that I know about is the Mycenaean Greeks who had a centralized control over most industries. The clay tablets record who had what. Essentially, those who could read and write were in the service to the palace. Those who couldn't read and write did other stuff.

Another way to spy on the population is through religious "confession". When the priesthood is "conservative" and in the service to the state, then what people say in confession can be passed up the line. This is one reason why having a state religion is so important to rulers. Think also of the level of control that the church had in the Papal States. (Also, "sermons" are a great way to communicate to those who can't or won't read.)

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

There is historical precedence for this. For example, the Hasburg Monarchy in Austria established a secret police force (Geheime Staatspolizei) in the late 1780's. They monitored internal and international mail, hired/bribed domestic servants to spy on their employers, and secretly detained and tried people suspected of 'political crimes'. They also vetted all newspapers before publication and controlled/banned most foreign literature.

It may be argued that the Holy Roman Empire was not a police state, but during that time in Austria, it was a ruled by a 'despot' (the Archduke), the secret police force was long-lasting (at least from late 1790s to 1850s), and the secret police were specifically established to monitor and suppress political viewpoints that were not favourable to the Archduke - so it is a pretty good fit to the question.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Using servants as spies makes a lot of sense. $\endgroup$ Jan 17 at 6:01
0
$\begingroup$

Sure, money, wealth, brutality and effective slavery can accomplish anything. How do you think the early kings managed to rule?

Those romantic Knights were paid off thugs, the armor was to protect them in battle as they slaughtered any that defied the King, refused to pay taxes, or plotted against the King.

If you don't want workers to organize, publicly burn alive any workers that even try to organize. Have them publicly drawn and quartered. Or skinned alive, screaming. When they act on your orders, make your Knights Judge, Jury and Executioner without appeal.

Same thing if you want to prevent rebellion. If anybody foments rebellion, your Knights come after them.

Offer rewards for turning in Rebels, with extreme punishments for lying.

In the meantime, do what the Romans did: Provide public rewards for being good little boys and girls. Not just for tattling on your neighbors, but (for the Romans) free entertainment, bread and beer, public baths, plenty of clean water. The (free) "Bread and Circuses" strategy works great.

A benevolent brutal king can rule for life.

People need a reason to risk their lives to rebel, organize labor, or preach a disruptive ideology. They won't rebel or organize until they just cannot stand continuing their current deprivations, poverty, and misery, and cannot stand their children suffering the same. They'd rather take the risk.

So the strategy is, offer enough on the good side so very few get to that point of deprivation, poverty and misery. They are not going hungry, or being worked every waking hour. Simultaneously, make the punishments for dissent fast, brutal and public. Strip the traitors naked and feed them to a hungry pack of wild wolves in the Colosseum.

$\endgroup$
7
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The Legalist school of thought tried the draconian punishment technique. It doesn't work. First, it means that escalating your crimes does not escalate your punishment. Second, it means people will not report crimes because the punishment is draconian, and then the first point comes into play when they are found out. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jan 16 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Mary It seemed to work pretty well for the Romans, and Genghis, and the Chinese Emperors for thousands of years. The point is about all "crimes", the point of this question is about Rebellion, preventing organized labor, and ideological conformity. The Romans had a great deal of freedoms, but they brutally repressed rebels, and tax cheats. Nor am I suggesting people need to "report" crimes. How can you "organize labor" without letting anybody know? As for others, if most people enjoy the carrots we hand out, they can be bribed to be spies against rebels or ideological deviants. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Jan 16 at 17:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ None of them had what we would call a police state. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Jan 16 at 18:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Feudal kingdoms were not police states $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 18:39
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If the Confederate States of America wasn't a police state ... what was it? I mean, unless you were in the ruling class, but I think they get an exception in most police states. $\endgroup$ Jan 16 at 23:46

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .