How to create a control society

by frankbeswick

Politicians keen on repression like to sneak their plans onto an unknowing and terrified population

No one likes living in a repressive society, as most humans value their liberty, so politicians who want to create such a society need to sell their plans to an unwilling population. The best way to do this is to terrify people by presenting them with an external threat that justifies emergency measures "for the duration of the threat", but these emergency measures will never go away, as they are too attractive to people in power. I am selecting my examples from modern Western societies to highlight that the threat is real and ever-present, even in societies we think safe.

Picture courtesy of Pascal Dosset

The basic technique

The first step to creating a control society is to create an emergency, or better still grasp the opportunities provided by a real one. Let us take the example of the twin towers. This was a genuine emergency that was posed by a major international threat to the West, but certain leaders took their chance to try to introduce measures that looked like the beginnings of a control society. One such example was Britain, where Tony Blair, who seemed quite comfortable with authoritarians like Gaddafhi,  introduced a series of practices which posed a threat to civil liberties. Many Britons saw these as the thin end of the wedge by which a police state was being slowly introduced to Britain. Fortunately Blair is now gone and Britain's traditional liberties are now safe.

The first step is to tell the people that civil liberties/ human rights need to be suspended or curtailed.  Blair was regularly on television informing us that the rules had changed, but he never said who was making the rules. The victim group was Muslims, not all, only those deemed a threat. Well it was true that some were a threat, but the measures were illiberal. Potential terrorists could be arrested [good] but they did not have the right to know the charges against them or the evidence on which the charges were based. Furthermore, the arrested could be kept under control orders in house arrest without limits of time. Arrest without warrant and imprisonment without trial, without the ability to see the evidence against you or knowing when you will be released is a standard trick of tyrants across the world. Also a technique is the threat to due process. Blair's government did not want jury trial for the terrorists, and they tried to get round this by the use of control orders, which kept people under house arrest for many years, often without knowing the charges against them. Many Britons were appalled at what was happening, because while they knew the need to suppress terrorism, they could see that the door was being slowly opened to a police state. When it happens to one group, ultimately the repression slowly spreads to another, and ultimately we are all in danger.

Other illiberal measures contrary to British liberal democratic traditions were the proposed introduction of identity cards, which all British citizens would be obliged to carry. Identity cards become permission to walk on the streets and are prone to abuse by police forces. If a card is necessary for your exercise of civil rights such as voting or access to state services, police officers can cause serious problems to you by destroying your card. This was done under the notorious South African pass laws, when black people would have their cards destroyed and then be accused of entering a white area without a pass. In the hands of ill-intentioned politicians such identity cards are a real threat to democracy. Fortunately the pressure for identity cards was ended when the coalition government came to power. There are weaknesses in any coalition, and the Tory element of the government is not sympathetic to the poor or to workers, but the British people sat more securely with their liberties under the coalition government than under its predecessor.Sadly the coalition is no more, there having been an election which nearly eliminated its progressive element, the Liberal Democrats. 


Minor and major liberties

One of the techniques of authoritarians is to pose as friends of liberty. It is possible to promote relatively minor liberties, such as the ability to drink longer hours or to gamble without state supervision, but to minimise the major liberties on which human dignity depends. This is illustrated in fascist societies allow the rich to get rich by taking away worker's rights, and indeed in a fascist society anyone can become rich, if he is fortunate and ruthless enough. But the important liberty to express your views and live unpersecuted according to your own principles is  severely limited or denied. The various dictatorships in South America, such as the Argentine Junta, allowed a rich class to maximise their wealth while squashing opposition and suppressing workers' rights.Mrs Thatcher promoted the liberty to make money but undermined the rights of workers by weakening trades unions that defend them. 

Related to this false love of liberty is to redefine liberty to be what the would-be authoritarian or tyrant wants it to mean. I can recall a communist once declaring at a meeting that "liberty is obeying good laws." He did not take the trouble to say that the definition of good laws was those made by him and his cronies. So liberty for you is obeying me! But in this view there are those whose liberty consists in obeying laws and those whose liberty consists in making them, and so in these supposed egalitarians there is a profound inequality of power. In fact, many who argue for equalization of wealth do not wish to equalize power in society. The state which redistributes wealth might be run by an elite for whom power is a prerogative of theirs, and the rest take the goodies doled out by their benevolent masters.  

Another aspect of this redefinition of liberty is to focus on positive positive liberty and ensure that negative liberty [note the pejorative sound of the word] is excluded from the discussion. Negative liberty is the absence of external constraints on a person, who may make what decisions he/she wishes. Positive liberty is the presence of society of enabling conditions that allow liberty to be exercised. These conditions might be just laws and a well run police force, civil and economic rights, the presence of sufficient work for all the population. True, negative liberty cannot exist easily without the conditions supplied by positive liberty, but the authoritarian will  say that he believes positive liberty, then stops there. Somehow individual freedom is dropped from the discussion. Well, only the individual negative liberty of others is dropped, his is sacrosanct. No one objects to liberty, but only to the liberty of others. 


Hitler is the classic case. He selected a victim group, the Jews, and blamed them for all Germany's miseries. He tapped into long-standing resentments against the Jewish population. But the strategy was to involve as many people as possible in his misdemeanours. Thus on Crystal Night when the SA attacked the Jews, they lured fourteen year old boys into their mob, involving and corrupting the young. Furthermore, the population was induced to participate in the pogrom by taking jobs and property belonging to the Jews. Some fellows gained professorships after their Jewish owner was dismissed. A grateful class of clients, complicit in guilt, was created.

Hitler is an extreme case, but there is always the tendency among some politicians of authoritarian persuasion to treat opponents of their party as enemies of the state. Nationalists are often quite bad for this vice, but so are other authoritarians. Nationalists see the interests of the state as independence from a detested neighbour, so they tend to regard opponents of independence as enemies of the state. We are seeing this in the UK at the moment as business people in Scotland complain that there are hints from the nationalist dominated Scottish government that those businesses opposed to independence might not get government contracts. Small scale bullying maybe. There is a good article by Dominic Lawson in the Mail online, beginning "the Scottish nasty party and how..." which deals with intimidation of journalists by the nationalists, who regard journalistic criticism as lack of patriotism. 

 The aim of the authoritarian is to take take over the national press. A simple power grab is too obvious, but putting journalists into a state in which they are ground down by intimidation into a state when they self censor is the authoritarian's ideal condition. 

The only defence against the intimidation of journalists is a free press in which anyone can express their views. Websites such as Wizzley perform a vital role in allowing the expression of views that the state might not like. A powerful internet culture cannot be easily controlled.



I love liberty and will fight to defend it. But it is not only my own liberty that I love, but what I want for myself I want for others. I want to speak my mind free of impediment and threat, but I want the same for those who disagree with me. Sadly, over the years, I have met people who are not as benignly disposed as I am, people who want a society where their kind makes the rules and suppresses dissent. I have met them in politics, sad, but also in religion, even sadder. But once we take the legitimate liberty of a person away, we threaten the liberty of everyone and society degenerates into a prison. 

A common excuse for the suppression of liberty [of others] is that their views might lead to violence so they must be suppressed. But suppression is a clear form of violence and requires punishment and intimidation. And the supposed violence that this repression seeks to prevent is mere speculation. When you hear people arguing for suppression of views that they dislike because of possible consequences, beware. You are listening to a petty tyrant eager to be unleashed, first on someone else, but later on you.

The price of liberty is constant vigilance. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Updated: 07/10/2015, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 02/10/2024

I suppose that his ideas are influential in this country.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/10/2024

Thank you!

Urban forester Cecil Konijnendijk approves of a 3-30-300 rule for urban-canopy coverage. He counsels each living space within sight of at least 3 trees, within a neighborhood with at least 30-percent canopy cover and within at least 300 feet of a green space such as a park.

Might that 3-30-300 rule being affecting urban-forestry design and plantings in the British Isles?

frankbeswick on 02/10/2024

I think that our present government tries to focus on private initiative and expenditure.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/09/2024

Thank you!

The UBC researchers also find that tree-canopy projections through 2050 may focus more and more on private initiative -- because of densification requiring more business, public, road, sidewalk and structure space -- to achieve canopy goals.

Those goals may be summarized as 3-30-300 for the optimally nearest spacing that maximizes the ecosystem services of urban trees.

Might there be that same tendency eastern pond-wards?

frankbeswick on 02/07/2024

I think that a densifying trend can be detected.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/07/2024

University of British Columbia researchers are looking at social-justice and tree-canopy implications of Vancouver municipally densifying.

That aforementioned term assumes its noun form as densification, for arranging living and working spaces ever more concentratedly in ever larger cities.

Its proponents assure us that densifying avails its densified areas of lower energy bills and costs and outputs and of lower greenhouse and pollutant and stress levels than the North American tradition of small-house series in homeowner neighborhoods within big cities and of small-house series in homeowner neighborhoods within small towns and villages.

Is there such a trend in the British Isles?

frankbeswick on 09/18/2015

Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein says that he dislikes the British establishment, but does not dislike the British. When we think of America, it is fair to say that when we meet Americans they seem an amicable, pleasant bunch of people who don't seek trouble [all countries have their bad guys, we British do] but the American political and capitalist establishment is sometimes criticized.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/18/2015

frankbeswick, Thank you for the informative think-piece. I remember hearing of so many government leaders -- most recently Saddam Hussein -- saying that they differentiate between the government -- which they dislike -- and the people -- whom they like as generally good-intentioned and hard-working -- of the U.S.A. Have you heard that observation, and is the same ever said by British Islers about other countries or by other countries about the British Isles?

frankbeswick on 07/15/2015

We speak of the paradox of freedom, which means that without limits on behaviour there can be no freedom other than for the strong and well armed. I live by a strict moral law. and I want the freedom to promulgate and live by it, but I am committed to allowing others to live by their consciences as well according to the principle that we should not interfere in another adult's freedom except to prevent harm to others. I am aware that many authoritarian people like to invent harm so as to interfere in other's lives.

I always knew that Blair was being deceptive about the Iraq war. He knew that Saddam hated Bin Laden and had had nothing to do with the twin towers, but Blair wanted Saddam out of the way, and so took part in a war on a deception.The whole war was based on a false cause.

Yes, secularists are using the equality laws to persecute Christians. It is only a weak persecution, but real nonetheless.

happynutritionist on 07/15/2015

I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Freedom of thought is important in sorting out the matters of life, but when it comes to living them out, if there are not boundaries of some kind, a moral compass, things can so quickly get out of hand. I don't live in Europe, but after the events like the World Trade Center which was geographically VERY close to us, response came accordingly, and made sense for that time...I thought Tony Blair made sense at that time as well, but am not well informed as to overall British politics. Things change and what makes sense at one time may not at another.

Freedom, however, is affected, as you show in your samples, by who is "running the show" at the time, and who is being allowed to be heard. For example, I am a Christian, I live by the moral compass of God in the Bible, it is a simple black and white way to live, but not at all popular who are the ones being suppressed now? Who are the ones losing jobs because they won't do such and such and so and so in keeping with the new laws set forth? I could go on, but will stop and hope I've made some sense :-)

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