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Repressive But Efficient
aka: The Trains Run On Time
"Whenever you have an efficient government, you have a dictatorship."
— Harry S Truman
Fascism: a model of brutal efficiency. Sure, the loss of freedom sucks, but the trains run on time
, poverty, corruption, and crime have been eliminated, and the armies march like clockwork. Just keep your head down, do your job, ignore the occasional sound of dissidents being dragged from their homes in the dead of night, and things will be pretty okay.
This trope is when fascism or some other authoritarian, draconian, and/or brutal system of government is shown to be more efficient and competent than other more representative or liberal systems and relatively unaffected by problems of logistics, corruption, crime, poverty, etc. for this reason. In extreme examples, such a regime can be portrayed as darn near a utopia
, if it weren't for that pesky lack of freedom
and/or death penalty for jaywalking
This is a common misconception, hence the saying that in Italy under Mussolini (occasionally attributed to Germany under Hitler) all the trains ran on time. In Real Life
, it's averted
at LEAST as often as played straight. Many of the most poorly-functioning regimes in history have been authoritarian, fascism is notoriously plagued by corruption, and even when dictatorships work relatively well, those that are based around a Cult of Personality
tend to crumble on their leader's death. It's noteworthy that in Nazi Germany
itself, the trains were in fact notoriously unreliable... not least because the Nazis promoted the use of automobiles and invested in the 'autobahns' at the expense of trains and the railways even though Germany produced neither rubber nor oil and was one of the world's leading producers of steel and coal (on the grounds that automobiles were 'more advanced' and 'more modern' than trains
). Consequently they actually had fewer
trains in 1939 than they had in 1914, and ran out of (unused) tires in mid-July 1941 after the second week of their campaign against the USSR.
A subtrope of No Delays for the Wicked
, which is when villains (individuals as well as groups) have an easier time dealing with logistics because of Rule of Drama
, whether there's an in-story explanation
or not. Compare and contrast The Extremist Was Right
, which deals with a single character as opposed to a system of government. In settings where fascism is not only more efficient than more liberal forms of government, but more liberal forms of government prove fundamentally unworkable, it's because Hobbes Was Right
and Democracy Is Bad
The reverse of this trope is Fascist, but Inefficient
. Contrast Dystopia Is Hard
. Needless to say, when played straight it nearly always comes with Unfortunate Implications
An in-depth discussion of the real-world effects of totalitarian governments is beyond the scope of this wiki.
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Anime & Manga
- It's mentioned a couple times in Death Note that Kira (a supernatural serial killer who kills criminals in order to try to create a better world) succeeds in dramatically reducing crime rates. An interesting example considering that it's only his method of killing that is supernatural; he relies on news reports to identify criminals, meaning that he kills mostly those that have already been apprehended by police. So it is ONLY the rampant use of the death penalty as a deterrent that achieves this effect, not any increase in efficiency of actually catching criminals. (Note that studies have shown that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent in Real Life; though, granted, what Kira does is not capital punishment but outright summary spree murder.) Its noted that when he dies, the crime rate slowly starts to return to normal; still, better than being murdered for laziness, which is where his disciple Teru Mikami ultimately wanted to take things.
- In Legend of Galactic Heroes, Yang (the go-to man for supporting democracy) says that while dictatorships are not inherently more efficient, they have the capability to do so if the leader decides to simply cut through the red tape with a razor.
- The small Balkan nation of Latveria may be ruled by the iron fist of Doctor Doom, but it IS prosperous. There is no crime, no poverty, no disease, and some stories imply nobody even needs to work (for anyone other than Doom, of course) as Doom has robot servants do everything. Latveria also tends to go to hell anytime Doom is removed from power, and the Fantastic Four have even helped him return to his throne- even if they helped remove him in the first place- because they agree that he is a better ruler than his replacements.
- Genosha in the XMen comics was originally a country where mutants were rounded up and enslaved, then the X-Men helped overthrow that government, and then much later Magneto took over. While mutants were slaves the country was prosperous; once they were liberated, the economy collapsed.
- The Justice Department in the Judge Dredd stories in 2000 AD is a fascist government and, although usually benign, during the Insane Judge Cal series it became an out-of-control efficient fascist dictatorship. This efficiency helped speed the dictator's downfall because mail, containing evidence of his illegal manipulation, was delivered much faster than usual.
- In Superman: Red Son the Man of Steel was raised in the Soviet Union rather than the Midwestern United States and thus grew up to be the ultimate enforcer and eventually supreme leader of the most successful People's Republic of Tyranny the world had never seen. At its height America and a handful of other nations were the only countries not enjoying a repressive but otherwise utopian socialist paradise, policed almost entirely by Superman himself, who has virtually eradicated crime, poverty and social injustice at the high price of freedom. When Lex Luthor finally defeats him and takes over the world for himself, he decides to model his- vastly even more successful- New World Order on the very one he just overthrew, save for a bit less equality and a bit more meritocratic elitism; his beef with Superman was never about capitalism or liberty or anything Luthor claimed to be fighting for- it was, as it always is, simply Luthor wanting to beat Superman at his own game for the sake of Luthor's own ego. It is also open to interpretation that Superman let Luthor win because he realized that Luthor would be a better ruler than he was, so long as he believed that he had finally defeated Superman.
- Randall Flagg's regime in Stephen King's The Stand is like this, to the point where the characters even say "the trains run on time" word-for-word. While the more-or-less democratic Boulder Free Zone is struggling to get the power turned on and handle basic sanitation, Las Vegas under Flagg has public education, an organized system for caring for the many underage orphans of the plague, and a modern military. Plus public executions and crucifixions! He does eventually fall victim to Evil Will Fail in the end, but much of that is due to his inhuman nature reasserting itself and the accompanying mental deterioration.
- Played with in 1984. Big Brother is not so good about things like ensuring a decent quality of life for all the little brothers and sisters in his care, but he's AMAZING when it comes to things like keeping the monitoring system up and running, identifying and rooting out possible dissidents, and just generally averting Evil Will Fail.
- In Discworld, the capital city of Ankh-Morpork is ruled by one Lord Vetinari, Tyrant. While there are MANY rival factions who would wish to take over, no one does because under Vetinari, everything works. Perfectly. When a rival ruler pops up, Vetinari usually just locks himself in the dungeon, until everyone realizes that it was so much better under him and he gets reinstated. Vetinari's authoritarian rule is explicitly contrasted against the fledgling democracy of neighboring city-state Pseudopolis (which has recently voted not to have to pay taxes).
- Civilization in Brave New World is a strictly regimented society where everything about a person is planned out before they're even a fertilized test tube. Everyone is conditioned to accept their place in life, and people are kept in line by a government-produced drug called Soma. Any free thought is severely frowned upon, and even the most dull and unimaginative person from our time would hate living there, but everyone has a high standard of living, the citizens are insanely happy, and there's no crime. Occasionally someone's conditioning will fail and they'll be a free thinker and unhappy with their lot, but those people aren't punished, imprisoned, or executed, just given the choice between joining the ruling class or going into voluntary exile in an island community of like-minded people, which is relatively humane by dystopian standards. The society is juxtaposed with that of the "savages," who are people who live in a tribal society, and standards of living that are terrible in comparison.
- In Animal Farm, the titular farm (an obvious allegory for oppressive communist regimes) is said to be the most efficient farm at exploiting, subduing and disciplining animals... by Mr. Pinkerton, whose sincerity is dubious.
- Zig-zagged in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. On the one hand, the Old Republic was a very long-lived, stable and prosperous democratic society, while various Sith Empires crumbled relatively quickly. On the other hand, post-Revenge of the Sith, everything becomes the other way round: various attempts to restore democracy result in a total mess again and again. The post-Palpatine Empire goes through a long period of decline and internal squabbling, but ultimately emerges, loses its villain status, and is shown as the more stable and responsible galactic state.
- In The Reckoners Trilogy Steelheart's city of Newcago is one of the most stable and safest places left in the world due to the efforts of its despotic ruler. It is still a place where you can be randomly murdered by an Epic for no reason and it's considered their right, where the sun never shines, and where much of the populace lives in a labyrinth of steel tunnels, but it has food, electricity, and some measure of law enforcement. Efficiency is relative. The Professor argues for assassinating Steelheart in spite of this specifically because by the standards of the world that came before Newcago is still a hellhole, and if it starts to be viewed as normal or even good, there's no hope for improvement.
- Nilfgaard from the Witcher cycle is a textbook example. It's an expansive empire built around the personality cult of the Emperor, where hanging is what the criminals can hope for if they cooperate, and any dissent is treason. Oh, and the military wear all black. It also outcompetes the Nordlings in trade, production, and currency, has a powerful army based on meritocratic principles and quite modern military theory, and generally has better race relations. The Northern Kingdoms generally are a feudal mess occasionally ruled by a skilled king, with the exception of Kovir and Poviss, which declare neutrality and distance themselves from the rest as much as they can.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek:
- In a Farscape episode where Crichton visits Earth in an alternate timeline, his father talks about how all disease and environmental problems on the planet had been eradicated under Scarran rule, albeit with a lot of personal freedoms being sacrificed.
- Played with in Warhammer 40,000. While the Imperium's ruling body is often quite inefficient, it's unclear whether an empire spanning half the galaxy could be any more efficient under a less brutal and oppressive regime. What is clear is that whenever anyone tries to revert to a more benign, fair, and all around humane form of government on even a single planet, the resulting lenience allows either Chaos or Genestealer cults to spread unchecked across entire solar systems. So while the Imperium may be somewhat inefficient when it comes to logistics—arguably more due to its sheer size than its system of government—it is brutally efficient when it comes to squashing the cults that threaten its existence.
- Urinetown: Resident Corrupt Corporate Executive Caldwell B. Cladwell rations the dwindling water supply so tightly that private toilets are banned, public toilets are taxed, and public urination is illegal, and punishable by death. However, his draconian policies do keep the water running, and at the end, when the angry masses depose him and his more benevolent daughter abolishes the taxes, the river quickly dries up and the city is left without water—as Officer Lockstock helpfully points out to the audience.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, Mr. House's rule of the Strip is the closest thing the Mojave has to utopia: clean and orderly streets overseen by an incorruptible robot police force, universal access to food, clean water, and electricity, and full employment. Only thing is, the entire city belongs to Mr. House outright, and he finds democracy to be a patently ridiculous form of government. (In the ending where the PC sides with him, House hangs a lampshade on this trope, noting that his first order of business after taking over the whole Mojave will be to make the Camp McCarren monorail run on time). However, he's slightly more benevolent than other examples in that he has no intention of actively oppressing his citizens unless they prove to be a threat to his power and is otherwise content to let them enjoy what Vegas has to offer... for the right price.