Those Wacky Nazis
. Sure, they might be brutal and genocidal, but at least they can make trains run on time
and all that good stuff... only, the actual Nazis couldn't even do that. With military resources spread across four completely separate services that had to be actively bullied by Hitler into cooperating (Heer, Kriegsmarine, Luftwaffe, SS
, four economic institutions which competed for limited resourcesnote
, two General Headquarters note
, two intelligence services (SA, SD) that never shared information and occasionally offed each other's agents, two civil services and two courts (one regular/normal, one SS), and five
atomic bomb programs that shared no information or resources with each other Nazi Germany was actually one of the most inefficient states in history - and that's not even accounting for the gross corruption. In Real Life, the only thing efficient about dictatorships is their total control of the media, which they use to portray themselves as being extremely efficient (and benevolent) despite their crippling factional in-fighting and endemic corruption.
In fiction, the administrative incompetence of authoritarian regimes is often taken to comedic extremes. They'll enforce laws in a haphazard manner - extreme draconian punishment for jaywalkers, but anyone with enough sense to wear a Paper-Thin Disguise
slips right under the radar. It appears that in their respective universes, fascism is controlled by a series of obstructive bureaucrats
, who aren't really interested in things working so much as they are in seriously inconveniencing people.
This trope isn't just limited to fascism, but authoritarianism in general. Certain types of Communists, and even good ol' fashioned non-ideological tyrants, most notoriously military dictatorships, can fit under this trope. In fact, the trope runs a wide gamut of malice and effectiveness. This kind of government can actually be run by Lawful Good
characters whose haphazard enforcement of the law usually keeps the heroes from doing their job. La Résistance
may operate under the auspice of a mildly incompetent evil government, such that their activities go unnoticed. Other such governments are just willfully ignorant
of certain lawbreakers for whatever reason, be it prejudice, corruption or plain old laziness. A distinct possibility is that the boss really is Surrounded by Idiots
just as he's been saying all along.
Of course, the people living under such a regime will still talk
about how efficient the Fascist, But Inefficient government is... because if they don't, they stand a good chance of getting arrested and shot. This is Truth in Television
; turns out it's kinda hard to oppress people, try to Take Over the World
and run a functioning government at the same time. This is because dictators often care more about their own gain than the welfare of their citizens, and the country suffers as a result.
Compare Dystopia Is Hard
. Contrast Repressive But Efficient
. See The Other Wiki
for Real Life
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Anime & Manga
- Code Geass: Britania enforces ethnic inequality. You get 20 years for going on a drug binge, they have public mass executions, etc. Brittanian gangsters, by contrast, live in huge buildings visible to everyone and don't seem to fear any legal repercussions whatsoever. One gangster nearly kills a (Brittanian) student to protect his reputation as a chess player and is only stopped by a sudden attack from Zero's Black Knights. They also act more or less with impunity. But what do they expect when the Emperor openly approves murder and theft in his public speeches as strength overcoming weakness?
- The nation of Borduria. When Tintin and Captain Haddock sneak into the country to rescue the kidnapped Professor Calculus, they repeatedly manage to evade the Bordurian army, police force and secret service, to the point where they manage to get rid of the Bordurian agents sent to tail them by getting them drunk. Humorously, it was lampshaded by Herge himself, who named the agents Kronik and Klumsi.
- Same go for San Theodoros, where the two dictators, General Alcazar and General Tapioca, are both so ineffective they constantly overthrow each others in the blink of an eye.
Films — Animation
- The Lion King has Scar allude in his Villain Song to the tremendous injustice he suffered when Mufasa became king instead of him, and implies that he's been scheming to take the throne for years. Scar proves to be an expert Chessmaster in murdering Mufasa and manipulating Simba into running away, but when he finally obtains the power he craves he proves to be utterly incompetent at actually wielding it. Under his leadership, he indulges the hyenas' greed (forcing the prey to leave), his subjects starve, and the hyenas who form his power base are grumbling long before Simba ever comes back. For some reason he thinks the grumbling is because he hasn't secured the succession, rather than the fact that everyone's starving.
Films — Live-Action
- Terry Gilliam's Brazil is pretty much this. Starting with the fact that the plot is triggered when someone arrests Buttle [shoemaker] thinking he's Tuttle [renegade plumber] because of a typo... Buttle dies under torture because they look at the wrong medical chart as well.
- In Charlie Chan at the Olympics, much play is made of mocking the bewilderment of the "ruthlessly efficient" German police detective facing an international murder-and-espionage plot ("Such things do not happen in Berlin!"). The film was made in 1936.
- Possibly the most Nazi line of all time, in The Train: "I'm tired of your inefficiency, Dietrich!"
- This appears to be the main function of the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter. It didn't start out totally fascist (the incumbent Minister of Magic comes off as a very unflattering Expy of Tony Blair more than anything), but it surely didn't come off as very democratic. For example:
- The main wizarding prison is located at Azkaban, which is staffed by Dementors, evil creatures which suck the joy out of people. A place which by all accounts is A Fate Worse Than Death. There are apparently no other Wizarding prisons, so you get sent there whether you were convicted of murder or insurance fraud. It doesn't seem to bother any of the authorities that such an extreme punishment is guaranteed to turn anyone sentenced there either insane or evil (usually both) within a few weeks, not to mention driving criminals to extreme methods to avoid imprisonment; knowing this was in store for them, no wizard would ever surrender to the authorities. And this would be bad enough if everyone sentenced to Azkaban was actually guilty, but... Well, see below.
- According to the Pensieve, trials seem to be decided more on the personal opinions of the judiciary (by simple majority vote) than on any actual consideration of evidence. Hagrid and Sirius weren't even afforded the luxury of a trial in the first place!
- The practice of being an Animagus requires government registration. We see how well this works because over the course of the books we know of at least four characters (James Potter, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and Rita Skeeter) who are illegal practicing Animagi. The relative ease with which they acquired their powers seems to indicate that this isn't really a magic type that can be easily regulated.
- Once Voldemort is exposed, the Ministry of Magic spends most of their time trying to pretend he doesn't exist. At one point this goes so far as to accusing Harry of lying when they detect him using powerful magic in the presence of a Muggle. Harry does this because he's being attacked by Dementors, and the Ministry at no point bothers to offer an alternate explanation as to why Harry would cast a spell whose only use is repelling dementors, in violation of a wizarding law which he was well aware of - apparently he was just doing it to aggravate the ministry. (In fairness, the Patronus does have some uses outside of Dementor-stopping, being able to repel certain other Dark creatures and send messages, but he's got owls for the latter and the former wouldn't change anything.)
- When Voldemort does take over, his regime is incredibly inefficient: the Weasleys, Hagrid, the Lovegoods, anyone that has the faintest connection with Harry should have been captured within hours, and used as hostages to make Harry turn himself in. "Mudblood registration" was clearly supposed to be the Fantastic Racism equivalent of the yellow badge, instead of just the Death Eaters killing them as soon as they found them.
- The functioning of wizarding society is so utterly inefficient, even the sports consist largely of an implausible number of penalties, few if any of which are ever called except by snarky commentors since overzealous refs tend to get banished to the Sahara. On the other hand, the only Wizarding school in all of Britain still uses "throw the 12-year-olds in a forest with actual human-eating monsters for a night to straighten them out" as a routine form of punishment. Likewise, dueling is illegal, but taught as an extracurricular activity. The ministry might have the right to imprison lawbreakers indefinitely with no reason given, but the law is so incomprehensible, it's hard to imagine any part of society functioning even to the limited degree shown in the books. Drive home by how the sole sympathetic Ministry worker we see is so hopelessly corrupt, he'd "have to drag himself before the tribunal if he ever raided [his own] home". (Arthur Weasley— his job is enforcing the prohibition on enchanting technological artifacts, and his passionate hobby is collecting enchanted technological artifacts. This is one of the protagonist's beloved father figures.)
- Not to mention how hindered they are by their Fantastic Racism against the muggles. The Wizarding and magical governments are apparently aware of each other, but only if you count the Minister for Magic occasionally popping into the Prime Minister's office without warning to give him vague updates of the magical world. One has to imagine that if they'd maybe asked muggles for some help, things like security cameras or guns would have given them a real leg up against the Death Eaters.
- The government of "looters" in Atlas Shrugged started out with relatively minor regulations to the economy and ended up with Directive 10-289, which basically overrides the economic freedoms of everybody in the nation. Resource shortages, societal collapse, starvation, and trains not running on time ensue. The fact that John Galt is withdrawing as many productive people from society as he can also helped in the deterioration.
- The WW2 novels by Sven Hassel have the supposedly efficient war machine and civil administration of the Nazis actually be corrupt and massively wasteful of resources and human lives. Wholly Truth in Television.
- The Final Empire in Mistborn has elements of this; the Lord Ruler is concerned with the survival of humanity, but is largely detached from directly ruling it, leaving control of his government primarily to the Obligators and nobility. These groups are more interested in backstabbing each other than they are in running a productive empire. Of course, the whole system turns out to be good for two things- perpetuating itself and terrorizing the lower classes (having an immortal Physical God at its head helps) so it still takes a ridiculous amount of work to overthrow.
- The Lord of the Rings: The chapter The scouring of the Shire shows us that Otho, and then Sharkey, with their army of men had seized power from the Shire, destroying the government, changing the Hobbit’s institutions to spy on them, and arresting those who oppose them, looting under the excuse of "fair distribution", giving a lot of stupid rules, building ugly buildings and destroying all the forest and polluting the rivers. And the army of men is nothing but bandits that are defeated relatively easily. One hobbit comments "If they want to make the Shire into a desert, they're going the right way about it." This case is justified: humiliated wizard Saruman is The Man Behind the Man and only wants to get petty revenge on the hobbits by ruining their land.
- In Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, the Windrip administration is very efficient when it comes to suppressing and punishing dissent. It's grossly inefficient when it comes to educating the next generation or formulating sound economic policies. Several years after Windrip seizes power, the educational system is a bad joke and poverty abounds.
- In Primo Levi's memoir of Auschwitz, If This Is a Man, the author notes with some sardony that, for all that the camp was a highly efficient death machine, the Buna factory he was assigned to never produced a pound of synthetic rubber. That is to say, the process of creation as opposed to destruction was apparently beyond the capabilities of the camp administration.
- In Star Wars The Empire can build massive superweapons and send tons of Mooks into the proverbial meat-grinder, but the Star Wars Expanded Universe loves to show that the government was a cesspit of backstabbing, in-fighting, nepotism, bribery, and lost paperwork. As flawed as the Republic can be it managed to stand for 25,000 years, and the Empire lasting 38 years from Palpatine's coup to the peace treaty with the New Republic was a statistical eyeblink.
- In the Heralds of Valdemar series, King Ancar of Hardorn basically treated his entire country as a machine to build and supply armies that he could use to conquer his neighbors. Which might have been a workable economic model, if only he'd been able to conquer any of his neighbors. By the time he was assassinated (For trying to conquer Valdemar - for the third time), he had looted his own country of so many people and resources that some places didn't have enough able-bodied people left behind to keep enough farms running to feed themselves, much less supply the armies.
- Hogan's Heroes: Actually, the whole point of this series – Nazis who were hopelessly inept.
- Specifically invoked in an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series; John Gill, a noted historian, is sent by The Federation to observe a primitive planet, only to break the Prime Directive and set up a Nazi-like government on the planet to tame it. He directly states that he wanted to use the efficiency of the Nazis to bring order to the world without bringing the malice associated with it in as well, and for a while it actually worked. However, it wasn't efficient enough to stop his second in command from drugging him and seizing power, leaving him as a comatose figurehead as his new government fell back into the atrocities of Nazi Germany.
- The Alliance in Firefly tries to be totalitarian, but doesn't have the resource to prevent the outer worlds from degenerating into societies ruled by the nastiest thug with the most guns and mooks. Although from what we see the inner worlds appear to be held on a much tighter leash; the entire setting is partly an allegory of America in the 19th century, where the east part of the country was 'civilized' (i.e. held together by the rule of law) but the west was wild and untamed, and remained so for a fairly long period. It's also the case that the Core Worlds are more corrupt than the nastiest of the frontier worlds, where are least you can see who's got their boot on your throat and why. This also matches a large swath of 19th century America, where sophisticated Eastern cities were often also corruptly ruled by wealthy criminals while western towns with corrupt rule by criminals were at least rather open about it.
- In the Doctor Who story The Happiness Patrol, the oppressive society of Terra Alpha (where everyone is forced to be happy) is clearly falling apart even before the Doctor arrives to take the oppressive society down, but he acts as the necessary impetus to finally push it over the edge into chaos and open rebellion. One particularly beautiful example, however; a militia is set up to 'disappear' a group of protesters deliberately acting sad in protest over the laws, only to find when they get there that the Doctor has persuaded them to act happy, meaning that they are now obeying the law and can't be arrested or killed. And to add insult to injury, the first wave is so confused, glum and indecisive about what to do that when a second wave turns up to help, they end up ignoring the protesters and arresting the first wave for breaking the same laws they'd been intending to arrest the protesters over.
- In Misfits time travel causes the Nazis to have won the war, and Shaun is the head of the Wertham precinct. He is still, however, Shaun.
- The Goa'uld in Stargate SG-1 are as fascist and inefficient as you can get, which is why the heroes lasted as long as they did; for all their technology and power the snake heads were more interested in using it to bolster their ego and fight amongst themselves, the sole exceptions being Anubis and Baal. In this case it's because the fascism and inefficiency were inseparable, as the Goa'uld are Always Chaotic Evil and sought power purely for power's sake, and did things like randomly killing some of their cowering slaves or throwing away valuable troops in pointless slaughters not because it might accomplish something, but because being needlessly evil was the goal in itself.
- Virtually any Lawful Evil style society in a given RPG will end up being one of these. Simply put, any truly effective state wouldn't be vulnerable to a tiny band of violent thugs so they have to have crippling weaknesses so the party can have a chance.
- Depending on the gamemaster, Alpha Complex, the setting of Paranoia, can range from a well-oiled totalitarian machine to a dysfunctional cesspit of inefficiency, incompetence, and intrigue. The game manual also recommends that when dealing with very high-ranking antagonists, the GM should play them as fascist and efficient, and play their efficiency for as much horror value as the rampant inefficiency of the lower levels.
- Warhammer 40,000 has His Divine Majesty's Imperium of Mankind, probably the most exaggerated in fiction. It's deliberately the most oppressive crapsack government imaginable, but all the different factions that run it (Administratum, Ecclesiarchy, Mechanicus, Imperial Guard, Imperial Navy, Astartes, Inquisition, and Arbites) distrust each other at best, regularly hoard information and resources, will often refuse to help another faction unless it can benefit them, and on occasion will outright go to war with each other; more than one Imperial endeavor has been dismantled solely because of infighting. And that's before considering all the sub-factions (and sub-sub-factions) and all the local departments that run individual planets/systems. Turns out that this is better than the alternative, as any time someone gains control of multiple departments at once they soon turn the Imperium's brutally up even further (Horus in the Horus Heresy and Goge Vandire in the Age of Apostasy).
- In Fable III, Logan ends up running his parents' kingdom to the ground in an attempt to prepare Albion against an Eldritch Abomination and generally kicking the dog in order to teach you, his younger sibling, to be equally prepared. However he keeps kicking the dog even when it does nothing but makes things worse, and when you usurp the throne it turns out that much like your parent before you, making obscene amounts of money without being a jerkass is just a case of investing and maintaining real estate.
- In 4X games, the tyrannical style governments often gain military and related bonuses, but have poor economy bonuses, or economy penalties, to compensate.
- In Civilization I and II, despotism has large losses to corruption and waste (Communism and Fundamentalism are aversions, though, having very low losses).
- In Civilization V, being a military focused civ means not only is your economy going to suffer (building and maintaining and army is VERY expensive) but you also will most likely miss out on building Wonders (which give great bonuses to your civ; admittedly, conquering somebody else's Wonder can be just as good as building it yourself), and get penalties to your culture. Being a warmonger pretty much paints a target on your back, as the other civilizations in the game will turn hostile against you (effectively shutting down any trade negotiations you may have had with them).
- In the Call To Power series, Tyranny is the starting government, and is extremely poor in almost all areas. Later in the game, Fascism and Communism supply good production and strong military support, but with weaker economies and can support fewer cities than Democracy, the other government at about the same position on the tech tree. (Technocracy is an aversion, however. This government is pretty much 1984, but is a highly efficient government, although with slightly different bonuses to other late game ones.)
- In Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri, the Police State government has a penalty to efficiency as a disadvantage. Combined with a planned economy for a full totalitarian government, and your faction will probably crash and burn from almost all income being lost to inefficiency.
- The Human Hive is the sole exception to this rule, being immune to inefficiency and thus being the only faction capable of running the Planned Economy/Police State combo. In-story, this is explained as the influence of Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang, but in reality this was added as a feature to make a totalitarian faction playable, rather than just an extremely creative form of suicide.
- Galactic Civilizations: the four main structures of government are an Imperial dictatorship and three different subsets of democracy. Imperial is massively less useful economically than the others, with the comparatively tiny benefit of not having to stage elections at semi-random intervals.
- The Combine Overwatch in Half-Life 2 don't seem to really care about the rebels are operating a secret lab just blocks away from a major train station, and getting spies into Civil Protection seems to be as easy as joining Civil Protection, but once Gordon returns they waste no time going from oppressive to offensive, mobilising a massive manhunt to hunt Gordon down, and launching a huge raid on the entire canal system to clear out the rebel activity. When it's clear that Gordon is headed out of town, they begin mobilising the overwatch military to begin attacking outland settlements as well. Somehow, they never do find that lab, even though it does take battle damage and is abandoned in favor of a safer forest base around 2 weeks after the revolution begins.
- The Templars of Assassin's Creed tend to function as such. Due to their belief in keeping the populace weak as part of their interpretation of Order, whenever they tend to control territories they tend to run it to the ground as seen in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. The Renaissance is considered a "Dark Age" of sorts for Templars as members were out solely for personal gain rather than forwarding their goals, but the modern-day or Altair-era Templars don't seem much better. Sure, they're not openly stabbing each other in the back in the name of personal power, but despite apparently having been in a position of control over just about everything except the minds of the populace itself hence the need for the Apple, the Assassins still exist and still manage to repeatedly yank the rug out from under the Templars.
- Borderlands 2 has the city of Opportunity, built by Handsome Jack as his vision of utopia. In reality, it's a fascist dictatorship that's more or less a glorified monument to himself. It has elements of Bread and Circuses (people are paid to live there and gain a sizeable tax refund for listening to Blatant Lies about how he unlocked the Vault of the first game) as well as having death penalties for crimes such as littering and "verbal littering" (criticizing any of Opportunity's laws). It also doesn't help the fact that since it's located in the middle of Pandora, no sane person would want to move their family there in the first place. When the latter is pointed out to him by an employee, Jack has said employee's kids killed.
- Both Terran Governments we get to see are portrayed as facist, dictatorial, and extremely ineffective; at the beginning of the game, the Confederation is clearly hated by almost everybody due to their politic of nuking rebel planets, and it's quite clear the regime was already dying before Arcturus even turned their plan against themselves. After Arcturus took over, his Dominion seems slightly more effective, but ends up rather easily destroyed by the UED, and while he manages to rebuild it between the end of Brood War and StarCraft II, it's implied the only reason he lasted so long was because Kerrigan didn't consider him worth killing. The very moment she decides to go on the warpath against him again, his Dominion is crushed, and the drastic measures he attempts to save it only end up making things worse.
- The Protoss Conclave is shown to be utterly incompetent in defending Aiur against the Zerg invasion due to their insistance to rely on traditional protoss tactics (which aren't at all adapted against a Zerg Rush and end up costing many protoss lifes) and constant refusal to accept help from the Dark Templar for ideological reason, even though the Dark Templars possess exactly what is needed to defeat the Zerg. Unsurprisingly, they are the first to get exterminated by the time of Brood War.
- Defied by Kerrigan, of all people, in Heart of the Swarm, where she decides, despite Abathur's recommendations, to grant her Broodmothers more free will and individuality, as she feels the Swarm would be more effective if they are capable of thinking by themselves and take initiative rather mindless slaves.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: Even at the finest eras of the Sith Empire, the infrastructure is crumbling or nonexistent, and everyone from two bit officials to the Sith theocracy is too busy backstabbing each other or fearing their underling's constant attempts at invoking Klingon Promotion to accomplish anything. Add an untenable reliance on slave labor and a boatload of Fantastic Racism against every non-human (or non-Sith) species, in a galaxy with over twenty million sentient species.
- The Boondocks: The court system seems to spend most of its time interrogating innocent people then failing to protect them on the rare occasion they admit to knowing something, and then losing the case due to jury nullification. This is the justification Huey offers for why the Black community seems to have an irrational aversion to snitching, though he doesn't seem to endorse the practice himself.
- The Dai Li, the de facto government of Ba Sing Se in Avatar: The Last Airbender, was a group that was more interested in keeping the city peaceful by forbidding all discussion of the war and isolating the continuous flow of refugees than actually organizing much in the way of actual coordinated strategy or doing anything to improve the lot of the refugees. The conspiracy was so inefficient that their actions guaranteed the eventual defeat of the Earth Kingdom, leaving Ba Sing Se nearly defenseless against Fire Nation siege engines (at a time when the Fire Nation proves it is not in Medieval Stasis) and the entire rest of the Kingdom is falling around them. Taken to something of its logical conclusion when Azula (the princess of an actually efficient Fascist government) manages to bring the Dai Li under her control, seizing power over the city and effectively conquering the Earth Kingdom.
- TaleSpin has the country of Thembria, where everything is accompanied by mountains of forms and paperwork, so a simple request of decision can take months to put into practice. The sole exception seems to be execution orders, which are rushed through in a few hours.
- The Donald Duck War Time Cartoon Der Fuehrers Face took Nazism to an absurd extreme, including its inefficiency. This means Donald has only a single coffee bean (that he had hidden) a block of wood (Or possibly a loaf of bread so hard it needed to be cut with a saw), and a spray bottle of bacon flavoring to eat. Donald's work flow is constantly interrupted by photos of Hitler (which must all be heiled to individually or a dozen guards would threaten to shoot Donald) also placed on the assembly line. Many shells went past Donald unscrewed as he just couldn't keep up with the constantly changing size of the shells, the speed of the conveyor belt, or the random photographs he has to heil instead of doing his actual job.
- Invader Zim has this Played for Laughs with the Irkens and the humans. Both societies are cruel, totalitarian, and run by incompetent egotists who react to any objections with brainwashing or death, despite having absolutely no idea what they're doing themselves.