11 Truly Terrible Fictional Governments
by Charlotte Ahlin

Unless you've just now woken up from a coma, you're probably aware that a lot of people are unhappy with the current state of the American government (and if you have just woken up from a coma... any chance they can put you under again until 2020?). It's tempting to curl up with a good book and try not to notice as all your fundamental human rights are stripped away. But even the fluffiest fantasy novels can tackle the evils of a corrupt political system. Here a few of the worst governments in fiction, because we can't afford to let our nonfictional government get any worse.

After all, fictional governments usually have some kind of basis in reality. Sure, the rulers might be pigs and wizards, but their policies feel awfully familiar. Authors draw from history and from their own lives, even when they're writing fantasy or dystopian sci-fi. And (spoiler alert) most of these books have a strikingly similar message: RESIST. Resist a corrupt system in every way you can. Or, at the very least, get someone decent on the Iron Throne until you can overhaul the whole political structure of your pseudo-medieval fantasy world.

So here are a few fictional governments so bad, they make America look kind of OK:


The Republic of Gilead from 'The Handmaid's Tale'

In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the United States has been overthrown by a totalitarian theocracy called the Republic of Gilead. The new, militarized government has stripped women of all their rights in the name of extremist Christianity. Women are owned by men, forbidden to read, and forced to bear children against their will. It's hard to read about Gilead without compulsively donating to Planned Parenthood.


The Government of Oceania from '1984'

There's a reason that 1984 has started flying off the shelves. The phrase "alternative facts" sounds like it came straight out of the Ministry of Truth. The government of the superstate Oceania goes beyond simple lies, though. They police their citizens' thoughts, constantly rewrite history, deny reality, spy on everyone, and demand unquestioning allegiance to Big Brother, even though Big Brother might not even exist.


The Ministry of Magic from the Harry Potter series

I mean, under Voldemort's control the Ministry of Magic is a straight up fascist dictatorship, with a focus on ethnic cleansing. But even before Voldy's rise to power, the Ministry was sending Umbridge out to censor public education, spewing propaganda and "fake news," and sending people to Azkaban based on very little evidence (is there no minimum security wizard prison?).


The Capitol of Panem from The Hunger Games series

I'll say this for the Capitol: they have the best (or possibly worst) fashion sense out of any of these governments. But they also run the Hunger Games, demanding that two children from each of the twelve Panem districts fight to the death in a televised event every year. They live in ostentatious excess while forcing children to die on reality TV. So maybe reality TV producers don't make for the best leaders?


The Handicapper General from 'Harrison Bergeron'

In Harrison Bergeron, Kurt Vonnegut's satirical short story, the U.S. has a "Handicapper General" to ensure that every American is absolutely equal. Equality is ensured through handicaps: beautiful people are forced to wear ugly masks, strong people are held down with weights, and smart people must constantly listen to distracting gibberish through their earpieces. It turns out, though, that equality that doesn't celebrate diversity isn't actual equality after all.


The Iron Throne from the A Song of Ice and Fire series

The monarchy in Westeros is just a hot mess. The state keeps spending more money on war and parties, while the citizens are starving (and winter is coming). The whole government is built on violence and nepotism. Women don't have any inheritance rights, except in Dorne. And everyone is ignoring the real threat of global warming — I mean, White Walkers.


The Committee of Affairs from 'The Trial'

On his 30th birthday, Joseph K. is arrested for an unspecified crime. He must defend himself against this charge, despite having no information on what he's done wrong, or lose his life. As the process of his trial grows increasingly byzantine, Joseph is more and more in the dark. Kafka's The Trial is a chilling vision of what happens when complex bureaucracy meets the cruelty of totalitarianism.


The Republic of Greater East Asia from 'Battle Royale'

Koushun Takami's Battle Royale takes place in the "future" of 1997, in a police state version of Japan. The Republic of Greater East Asia periodically kidnaps high school children and forces them to fight to the death on live TV (again, it's starting to feel like no one involved in reality TV should be allowed to run the government). Some children are given guns or knives, while others are only given boomerangs or forks to defend themselves. And if the kids refuse to kill each other, their metal collars will immediately explode.


The World State from 'Brave New World'

The scariest part of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World isn't even the all-powerful World State, it's that most people are totally cool with the all-powerful World State. They're content to be drugged up on government-sanctioned soma all the time, and let the government decide who fits into which social caste. As critic Neil Postman put it, "What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one."


The Firemen from 'Fahrenheit 451'

Speaking of book banning, there's the government in Fahrenheit 451. In Ray Bradbury's future America, "firemen" are employed to burn books. The government is violently anti-intellectual, and all reading is forbidden because books are the "root of all unhappiness" (and because an illiterate public is much easier to control).


Animal Farm from 'Animal Farm'

In general, maybe don't let pigs run your government. The animals from George Orwell's Animal Farm start out by rebelling in the name of freedom and equality for all animals. But, as often happens in allegories, the planned utopia doesn't work out quite so well. Napolean the pig takes over the farm, until the new rule of law is "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others."