Police state

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A police state describes a state where its government institutions exercise an extreme level of control over civil society and liberties. There is typically little or no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive, and the deployment of internal security and police forces play a heightened role in governance. A police state is a characteristic of authoritarian, totalitarianism or illiberal regimes (contrary to a liberal democratic regime).

Originally, a police state was a state regulated by a civil administration, but since the beginning of the 20th century it has "taken on an emotional and derogatory meaning" by describing an undesirable state of living characterized by the overbearing presence of civil authorities.[1] The inhabitants of a police state may experience restrictions on their mobility, or on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement. Political control may be exerted by means of a secret police force that operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state.[2] Robert von Mohl, who first introduced the rule of law to German jurisprudence, contrasted the Rechtsstaat ("legal" or "constitutional" state) with the anti-aristocratic Polizeistaat ("police state").[3]

History of usage[edit]

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase "police state" back to 1851, when it was used in reference to the use of a national police force to maintain order in the Austrian Empire.[4] The German term Polizeistaat came into English usage in the 1930s with reference to totalitarian governments that had begun to emerge in Europe.[5]

Because there are different political perspectives as to what an appropriate balance is between individual freedom and national security, there are no objective standards defining a police state.[citation needed] This concept can be viewed as a balance or scale. Along this spectrum, any law that has the effect of removing liberty is seen as moving towards a police state while any law that limits government oversight of the populace is seen as moving towards a free state.[6]

An electronic police state is one in which the government aggressively uses electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.[7][8]

Examples of states with related attributes[edit]

Some have characterised the rule of King Henry VIII during the Tudor period as a police state.[9][10] The Oprichnina established by Tsar Ivan IV within the Russian Tsardom in 1565 functioned as a predecessor to the modern police state, featuring persecutions and autocratic rule.[11][12]

Nazi Germany emerged from an originally democratic government, yet gradually exerted more and more repressive controls over its people in the lead-up to World War II. In addition to the SS and the Gestapo, the Nazi police state used the judiciary to assert control over the population from the 1930s until the end of the war in 1945.[13]

During the period of apartheid, South Africa maintained police-state attributes such as banning people and organizations, arresting political prisoners, maintaining segregated living communities and restricting movement and access.[14]

Augusto Pinochet's Chile operated as a police state,[15] exhibiting "repression of public liberties, the elimination of political exchange, limiting freedom of speech, abolishing the right to strike, freezing wages".[16]

The Republic of Cuba under President (and later right-wing dictator) Fulgencio Batista was an authoritarian police state during his rule. Police influence increased following his overthrow during the Cuban Revolution in 1959 with the rise to power of Fidel Castro and foundation of a Marxist-Leninist republic.[17][18][19][20]

The region of modern-day North Korea is claimed to have elements of a police state, from the Juche-style Silla kingdom,[21] to the imposition of a fascist police state by the Japanese,[21] to the totalitarian police state imposed and maintained by the Kim family.[22] Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has ranked North Korea last or second last in their test of press freedom since the Press Freedom Index's introduction,[when?] stating that the ruling Kim family control all of the media.[23][24]

In response to government proposals to enact new security measures to curb protests, the government of the Justice and Development Party has been accused of turning Turkey into a police state.[25]

Since the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état, the military government of Egypt is said to have taken several steps to crack down on freedom of religion and expression with the intention of decreasing religious extremism,[26] leading to accusations that it has effectively become a "Revolutionary Police State".[27][28]

The dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos from the 1970s to early 1980s in the Philippines has many characteristics of a police state.[29][30]

Fictional police states[edit]

Anarchists protesting against a police state and the European Union with George Orwell quote, "War is peace"

Fictional police states have featured in media ranging from novels to films to video games. George Orwell's novel 1984 was described by The Encyclopedia of Police Science as "the definitive fictional treatment of a police state, which has also influenced contemporary usage of the term".[31]

Orwell's novel describes Britain under the totalitarian Oceanian regime that continuously invokes (and helps to cause) a perpetual war. This perpetual war is used as a pretext for subjecting the people to mass surveillance and invasive police searches. The novel has been described as "the definitive fictional treatment of a police state, which has also influenced contemporary usage of the term".[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tipton, Elise K. (17 December 2013). The Japanese Police State: Tokko in Interwar Japan. A&C Black. pp. 14–. ISBN 9781780939742. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  2. ^ A Dictionary of World History, Market House Books, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  3. ^ The Police State, Chapman, B., Government and Opposition, Vol.3:4, 428–440, (2007). Accessible online at http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/119912141/abstract[permanent dead link], retrieved 15 August 2008.
  4. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Third edition, January 2009; online version November 2010. [1]; accessed 19 January 2011.[dead link]
  5. ^ The New Police Science: The Police Power in Domestic and International edited by Markus Dubber, Mariana Valverde
  6. ^ Police State (Key Concepts in Political Science), Brian Chapman, Macmillan, 1971.
  7. ^ "Police Checkpoints on the Information Highway", Computer underground Digest, Volume 6 : Issue 72 (14 August 1994), ISSN 1066-632X, "The so-called 'electronic frontier' is quickly turning into an electronic police state."
  8. ^ The Electronic Police State: 2008 National Rankings, by Jonathan Logan, Cryptohippie USA.
  9. ^ "Henry VIII: Henry the horrible". The Independent. 12 October 2003.
  10. ^ "Human truth in the Tudor police state". Financial Times. 28 September 2006.
  11. ^ Gella, Aleksander (1989). Development of Class Structure in Eastern Europe: Poland and Her Southern Neighbors. SUNY Press. p. 217. ISBN 9780887068331. Retrieved 20 August 2016. Oprichnina was originally a band of faithful servants organized by Ivan IV into a police force; they were used by the tsar to crush not only all boyars (Russian nobility) under suspicion, but also the Russian princes [...]. Oprichnina enabled the tsars to build the first police state in modem history.
  12. ^ Wilson, Colin (1964). Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs. New York, Farrar, Straus. p. 60. Retrieved 20 August 2016. [Ivan IV] established a political security force to run the Oprichina[sic], whose task was to spy on his enemies and destroy them; hence Ivan may be regarded as the inventor of the police state.
  13. ^ "SS Police State". U.S. Holocaust Museum. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  14. ^ Cooper, Frederick (10 October 2002). Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present. Cambridge University Press. pp. 149–. ISBN 9780521776004. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  15. ^ Zwier, Paul J. (22 April 2013). Principled Negotiation and Mediation in the International Arena: Talking with Evil. Cambridge University Press. pp. 235–. ISBN 9781107026872. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  16. ^ Casanova, Pablo González (1 January 1993). Latin America Today. United Nations University Press. pp. 233–. ISBN 9789280808193. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  17. ^ Candelaria, Cordelia; García, Peter J.; Aldama, Arturo J. (2004). Encyclopedia of Latino Popular Culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 120–. ISBN 9780313332104. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  18. ^ Bailey, Helen Miller; Cruz, Frank H. (1 January 1972). The Latin Americans: Past and Present. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780395133736. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  19. ^ Novas, Himilce (27 November 2007). Everything You Need to Know About Latino History: 2008 Edition. Penguin Group US. pp. 225–. ISBN 9781101213537. Retrieved 27 March 2014.
  20. ^ Paul H. Lewis. Authoritarian regimes in Latin America.
  21. ^ a b Becker, Jasper (1 May 2005). Rogue Regime : Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea. Oxford University Press. pp. 74–. ISBN 9780198038108. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  22. ^ Hixson, Walter L. (2008). The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy. Yale University Press. pp. 179–. ISBN 9780300150131. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  23. ^ "North Korea Rated World's Worst Violator of Press Freedom". U.S. Department of State. 25 October 2006. Retrieved 23 July 2008.
  24. ^ North Korea still one of the world's most repressive media environments
  25. ^ "Critics: Proposed Legislation Turns Turkey Into Police State". VOA. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  26. ^ https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/egypt-politics-reforming-al-azhar
  27. ^ "Egypt's New Police State". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  28. ^ "Egypt: The Revolutionary Police State". Politico. Retrieved 20 May 2016.
  29. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1978/04/09/marcos-orders-crackdown-on-critics-of-martial-law/15de84b2-1ebd-41bf-81d8-d9226e6b0764/
  30. ^ Karnow, Stanley (19 March 1989). "REAGAN AND THE PHILIPPINES: Setting Marcos Adrift". The New York Times.
  31. ^ The Encyclopedia of Police Science Volume 1 edited by Jack R. Greene
  32. ^ The Encyclopedia of Police Science. CRC Press. 2007. p. 1004. ISBN 9780415970006.

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