Police state

Theory of purposeful government.

In popular speech a police state is a despotic, arbitrary and tyrannical one. The technical use of the term is different.

A police state is one where the institutions and officials of the state act not in response to public pressures or demands but as the agents of some clear purpose of government.

Marc Raeff, ‘The Well-Ordered Police State’, American Historical Review (1975)

History of usage

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

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 AK 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 1970’s to early 1980’s in the Philippines has many characteristics of a police state.[29][30]

Fictional police states

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 create) a perpetual war. This perpetual war is used as a pretext for subjecting the people to mass surveillance and invasive police searches

One thought on “Police state

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