Upholding an Authoritarian Regime for Beginners

So you’ve rigged an election or performed a few executions (why not both?) and established yourself as the new guardian of your nation. But how do you prevent yourself from being ousted? Much can be learned from popular culture – all of which you must then ban and destroy to prevent anyone else from finding out.


A constant stream of misinformation will help your proletariat to think and behave the way you want them to. Capture some advertising executives and get them to come up with catchy slogans like “Enhance your calm”, “England prevails” or “Big Brother is watching you” depending on if you want people to be docile, indignant or afraid.

Reinventing language is also a great help. Wouldn’t you rather step into a Carousel to be renewed, than into a death machine to be killed? Thanks ominous computer overlord of Logan’s Run!

Deliver your decrees to the populace using a figurehead, a kindly face that gives the heaving masses someone to look up to, depend on, or dread accordingly. And, if you don’t use your own face, you are free to cut and run at any time.

White men over 40 are particularly well-suited to this role

If you find your people too complacent to comply, consider finding or inventing an enemy to get them all fired up. Look at the enthusiastic bug hunters of Starship Troopers, their newscasts encourage a strong and violent loyalty.

Population Control

There are many ways to maintain stability in a large population. Fear may seem to be the obvious choice, but frightened people behave erratically, and generating enough fear 1984 style requires an enormous infrastructure. Folks can also get desensitised to fear and start fighting back, like in the Hunger Games.

Consider lying. There is a broad spectrum of lying available to you, from convincing people that San Angeles is fine the way it is to creating an entirely false reality. Perpetuate the myth that everything is OK (disappear anyone who contradicts you) and all will be well – unless Aeon Flux shows up.

No room for free thinkers here

While it may be practical for you to keep your underlings like battery hens in dense crowding and poor living conditions, too much distress can cause them to question your rule. Avoid mass uprising by offering free drugs for all – note that the joyfully hallucinogenic Soma of A Brave New World was more successful than the blandenising substance employed in Equilibrium. Being in charge also means you get to drug the food or water supply at will, as initially suspected by the Stepford Wives.


If you see anything like this you may have a problem:

Wearing black and disguising your expression are clear signs of dissent

It’s important to keep on top of this stuff. V – he of the vendetta – was a more iconic figurehead, with better slogans and a way cooler uniform than the authority he was trying to bring down; it was inevitable that he would win. However, with this much style he could have had a long career as a beloved dictator.

Get more people on your side by creating a class system. The privileged class will soon accept this as the natural order of things and help you to keep the underclass in their place, as seen in the marginalisation of the genetically inferior in Gattaca. They essentially do your work for you!

You can amplify this effect by encouraging vigilance and rewarding those who report their friends and neighbours when they break your rules. Get children involved with this too, as they will have fewer reservations about doing the right thing. The boy in Equilibrium may ask for his father’s advice before selling out a schoolmate, but he was already a filthy traitor. Aim to recreate the girl in 1984 who reports her own father for saying disloyal things in his sleep.

Genuine troublemakers should be dealt with quickly and effectively, and possibly publicly. This is also a propaganda opportunity; to show your loyal followers how safe you’re keeping them from terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells.

If in doubt, wipe ’em out

So remember folks, the key to maintaining a stable regime lies in the 3 Ps – and if anyone mentions Charmed throw them into the incinerator, it’s for their own good.

  • George Ramos

    Good points, but miss the best one. Get your supporters to believe they are bringing about a better tommorrow or returning to golden age, and that they are doing it for their children’s sake.
    People will move mountains for either individually, combine the two motivations and well…

    • http://twitter.com/parodyofvirtue Lindsey M Sheehan

      Of course! The “won’t somebody think of the children” defence, though it’s hard to protect them when you’ve trained them to be so goddamn creepy.

      • George Ramos

        Its all for a better tomorrow… for our childrens children. ;o)
        Even Hitler and many of his followers thought thought they were bring about a better world. Scary what you can get people to do if you can get them to drink that kind of kool aid.
        Even average Germans who weren’t Nazis tollerated it because Hitler was making their lives better for a time. He had to cannibalize an unpopular segment of the population to do it and use those resources to give to his supporters in the form of public works, jobs etc… In exchange they gave him a free hand to do what he and his chronies wanted.
        Thats the kicker, most dictators have broad based popular support in the beginning and for many years after thant. They only lose it when they can no longer hand out the goodies and appear weak.
        One man’s dystopia is another man’s utopia with the rest of us somewhere in the middle.
        Read True Beliver… by Eric Hoffer

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  • George Ramos

    Article link. Whats a good cyberpunk dystopia without the internet and social media. Article covers how authoritarian regimes use social media.

    • scifimethods

      Good article.