Politics in Minutes (2016)

Tyranny and police states

Although the term ‘tyrant’ originally had a neutral meaning in Ancient Greece, the behaviour of many absolute rulers rapidly gave it negative connotations. Tyrants were seen as ruling in their own interest, rather than that of their people, and often using oppressive force to maintain their authority and overcome opposition, so that today we describe such authoritarian methods as tyrannical. Totalitarian states are by definition authoritarian, and many are tyrannical in enforcing their rule, using police or military forces to the extent that they may be called ‘police states’. Although definitions of what constitutes a police state are somewhat subjective, examples include Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and its satellites, Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, and North Korea. State control of every aspect of society in such totalitarian states requires a strict enforcement of draconian laws, including restrictions on mobility and communications, and severe penalties for law-breaking. This is administered by the police, and may also involve the use of the secret police and intelligence services.