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Here is naught unproven —- here is naught to learn.
It is written what shall fall if the King return:

He shall mark our goings, question whence we came,
Set his guards about us, as in Freedom's name.

He shall take a tribute, toll of all our ware;
He shall change our gold for arms —- arms we may not bear.

He shall break his judges if they cross his word;
He shall rule above the Law calling on the Lord.

He shall peep and mutter; and the night shall bring
Watchers 'neath our window, lest we mock the King -—

(from) The Old Issue Rudyard Kipling

Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give,
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King
Or Holy People's Will;
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!
Saying: (after me):

"Once there was "The People" - Terror gave it birth;
Once there was "The People" and it made a Hell of Earth.
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, O ye slain!
Once there was "The People" - it shall never be again!"

Macdonough's Song (from: A Diversity of Creatures) Rudyard Kipling

Basic Information

Authoritarianism is a form of government which emphasizes the authority of the state in a republic or union, and is typically controlled by non-elected rulers who often allow some level of individual freedom.

In many ways Authoritarianism can be regarded as a sliding scale on which all forms of government can be placed to some degree (more properly the Authoritarian:Libertarian Axis) and any given state can have varying degrees of control in different fields.

An authoritarian state may be malevolent or benevolent in intention, but the results needn't necessary match the intention, and the means required to meet the end can be a key deciding factor.

In theory, an authoritarian state will create people with the habit of obedience, unused to questioning things that appear to be officially sanctioned or disobeying those who appear to be in charge. How far this works in practice can vary.

An interesting sub-trope - and something of a subversion of the idea that shepherding breeds sheep - is the state that is authoritarian by consensus: where the population have little government, but follow a strict code of pseudo-law by general agreement. Transgression or dissent can be far more dangerous in these communities as the defaulter is likely to face the active hostility of those around him. This sort of community is probably best found in pioneer settlements or isolated tribes - this may be closer to the political model known as Autarchy (which, ironically, derives from Libertarianism) but bears mentioning here.


Game and Story Use

  • Transitions between different forms of government can provide useful colour to an RPG campaign - and keep the characters on their toes. And of course life tends to occur most abundantly at boundaries… authoritarian powers tend to practice censorship, weapon restrictions, market intervention and import restrictions, all of which create endless job opportunities for less reputable PCs
    • They also tax more heavily to pay for their machinery of power, which tends to feed a black economy - also useful to the more adventurous types.
  • An authoritarian state might seem like a bad place for adventures, but quite apart from the role for a resistance movement, there is also the possibility that the state itself may require 'unattested agents' to circumvent restrictions that it placed on itself and/or create plausible deniability. The forgoing assumes a competent authoritarian state … many dystopian settings have an incompetent one, which demands power but doesn't have the ability to exercise it, thus leading to an exciting mix of anarchy and oppression, or which doesn't control its territory evenly, thus creating a large area 'beneath the grid' in which the normal rules aren't enforced.
    • There is also the very strong likelihood that an authoritarian state will be in conflict with itself - witness the continual infighting in the Nazi regime or the amount of energy the Stalinists put into conflict within the apparatus of government. In less extreme regimes conflict may be more polite and conducted in court rooms rather than alleys and torture chambers, but it still occurs.
  • When - or if - the PCs find themselves in power, they are likely to find themselves facing a dilemma as to how much liberty to remove from their subjects…
  • Two words: Lawful Stupid … authoritarian states are made of it. A culture of strict control breeds "box tickers", petty bureaucrats and jobsworths who are quite capable of working against the direct interests of the organisation they are employed by because they are following "the rules" too closely.
    • This is where PCs investigating a crime get harrassed and/or arrested by the police, either as suspected vigliantes, or simply for poaching on their preserves. This regardless of whether the police response is timely or even competent - and in an authoritarian state the police will have something they can charge you with.
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