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"We only have the resources to enforce the last law passed. It's not the best system. Really, it's pretty much the worst."—Chief Wiggum, The Simpsons
Well, in theory anyway. But in fiction (and in Real Life), surprisingly often, it turns out that the overreaching authoritarian government doesn't actually have any real idea what it's doing. 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 this universe, 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. Heck, the trope isn't just limited to fascism, but authoritarianism in general. Communists, and even good ol' fashioned non-ideological tyrants can fit under this trope.
This 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, one incompetent enough 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.
More often than not, a government portrayed as this will appear to be rather incompetent. Whether this is deliberate or an Alternate Character Interpretation is usually up to the fans. Of course, people 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. Dystopia Is Hard, after all. Just to be clear, this trope is about all authoritarian governments with this failing, not exclusively Fascist ones. From looking below, this is incredibly 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 care more about their own personal gain than the welfare of their citizens, and the country suffers as a result.
No Delays for the Wicked is often the opposite of this.
- Code Geass: Britania enforces ethnic inequality. You get 20 years for going on a drug binge, 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.
- What do they expect when the Emperor openly approves murder and theft in his public speeches as strength overcoming weakness?
- The nation of Borduria, from the Tintin comics, fits this trope. 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 even lampshaded by Herge himself, who named the agents Kronik and Klumsi.
- 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.
- THX 1138 had a lot of this: for all the harsh laws and harsh law enforcement, the dystopian society's control over its people (as emphasized by its Epiphanic Prison) mostly relied on the population's drug-benumbed minds, sloth, and relative docility. Had the rebellious main characters been a bit sharper at developing their intellect and quicker-thinking, they could have gotten away with all of their illegal activities a lot longer than they did.
- This appears to be the main function of the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter. There are several examples:
- 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. It doesn't seem to occur to anyone that such an extreme punishment is guaranteed to turn any innocent person accidentally sentenced there either insane or evil (usually both) within a few weeks. This is particularly bad considering how many innocent people end up being imprisoned there over the course of the books. 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.
- The practice of being an Animagus for some unknown reason 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.
- Moreover, when Sirius is imprisoned in Azkaban, as noted above, he evades most of the worst punishment by pretending to be a dog most of the time. A prison staffed by wizards, instead of evil, joy-sucking monsters, probably would have noticed the loophole he was using.
- More Fridge Logic here, as Sirius' escape from Azkaban was directly related to him knowing that he was innocent. Does that mean that most the people being put into Azkaban really are guilty to a degree?
- Maybe. Remember, Sirius said he still felt horrible- the only things which kept him going was a desire for revenge and the ability to escape into a dog's simple mind. Anyone else might succumb to any of the other reasons one feels bad about themselves.
- 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 violate a wizarding law which he was well aware of- apparently he was just doing it to aggravate the ministry.
- Even better; they were sent by a ministry official to attack him in the first place.
- Even better than that is that said official was kept on even after it was revealed how bad she was, and that was before Voldemort took over.
- Even the most moderate members of Harry's trial only seem interested in the fact that Harry was capable of casting a Patronus. Nobody thought to question why he would do so, considering that the spell is only useful for fighting off evil magical creatures such as Dementors.
- Harry's trial (and, according to the Pensieve, trials in general) seem to be decided more on the personal opinions of the judiciary (by simple majority vote) than on any actual consideration of evidence. There also doesn't seem to be any kind of due process (Harry is only allowed a rudimentary defense, is not even permitted to choose his own defense, is not cross-examined, has only the barest evidence given in his defense, and has the time of his trial randomly changed without ensuring that he is given prior notification), and the Minister can apparently call for a full criminal trial for misdemeanors on a whim. Dumbledore calls them on this and suggests that it's a recent change, probably due to the Death Eaters threat, which is treated similar to the War on Terror.
- Hell, 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. For that matter, there would have no such thing as "Mudblood registration", when the Death Eaters could've just killed them as soon as they found them. The heroes and the villains are pathetic.
- 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 England 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 insane, it's hard to imagine any part of society functioning even to the limited degree shown in the books.
- 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 WW 2 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.
- 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. Virtually any modern historian with an interest in the actual inner workings of Nazi Germany who watches that episode will "enjoy" said episode.
- The Alliance in Firefly tries to be totalitarian, but doesn't have the manpower 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.
- 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.
- Some traitors might suggest that due to Friend Computer's severe paranoia and zealousness in eliminating Commie Mutant Traitors (whether they're really traitors or not), Alpha Complex in Paranoia is run more or less this way. But that would be treason, wouldn't it, citizen?
- Sure, it may have taken a good ten thousand-years or so, but sooner or later a system as contradictory, hypocritical, technologically stagnant and mindlessly brutal as The Imperium Of Man is going to start collapsing on itself.
- 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, 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. 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.
- Tale Spin 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.
- In his Villain Song, Scar alluded to the tremendous injustice he suffered when Mufasa became The Lion 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, Pride Rock suffers from an extended drought, his subjects starve, and the hyenas who form his power base are grumbling long before Simba ever comes back.
- 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.