What is the term for an organization or social/political system rigidly governed by rules without any exceptions?

  • 2
    Judging by the answers, I think it is not entirely clear whether you are thinking of "system" in the sense of 1.) an abstract method of analysis or logic, or 2.) a socio-political system or ideology. I think you mean the latter; perhaps you could explain it a bit more in your question, by giving an example. Feb 19, 2011 at 22:38

8 Answers 8


I think you're looking for the word "fascism" or "autocratic". Though for answering the question more details are required. So I give you some choices.

Autocratic: a system in which someone makes decisions and gives orders to people without asking them for their opinion.

fascism: a right-wing political system in which people’s lives are completely controlled by the state and no political opposition is allowed

dictatorial: a dictatorial government or ruler has complete power over a country

fundamentalism: a religious or political movement based on a literal interpretation of and strict adherence to doctrine, especially as a return to former principles

absolutism: a political system in which a ruler has complete power and authority

There are some other words that usually refer to special country or religion like tsarism, canonical, etc.

  • 1
    Where did you get your definitions? I would say that your definition of "fascism" actually describes "totalitarianism". Feb 18, 2011 at 20:57
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    @JSBangs: From Longman and MSN Dictionary which defines totalitarian: relating to or operating a centralized government system in which a single party without opposition rules over political, economic, social, and cultural life
    – Manoochehr
    Feb 18, 2011 at 21:21
  • I guess the difference is made by right-wing political system.
    – apaderno
    Feb 19, 2011 at 21:55
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    I have to agree with @JSBangs: in the context of comparing these terms, their definitions are too general or inaccurate to be of much use. For starters, an essential property of fascism is the worship of power and strength. There can be fascism without a state. Feb 19, 2011 at 22:30

I would go with orthodox, strict, or conformist.

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    +1: yeah, I like orthodox for this. idk about conformist, though.
    – Adam
    Feb 18, 2011 at 19:28

A formal system?

  • Not Kafkaesque system? Feb 18, 2011 at 19:41
  • 2
    No, Kafkaesque means a system that is bizarre, complex and hard to understand - there is no implication that there are no exceptions to the rules (indeed such exceptions may be part of the complexity!). A formal system is a system in mathematics/logic, and certainly the rules of a formal system admit no exceptions - it fits your definition exactly, but may not be what you want if you're referring to a regime or other organisation where people are involved...
    – psmears
    Feb 18, 2011 at 21:23
  • It is never ever perceived as complex by her adepts. Really its principles are quite simple and beuatiful for adepts. And it not system as such bizzare, its long-term consequences are bizzare and complex Feb 19, 2011 at 2:31

I can express what you want in a different way, but don't have a specific term for the system itself. I might say something like, "...that organization is governed by mandarins..."

The word "mandarin" is a synonym for bureaucrat that has a very unyielding and officious connotation. From Wikitionary,

mandarin /ˈmæn.dər.ɪn/ (n.)

  1. (historical) A high government bureaucrat of the Chinese Empire.

  2. A pedantic or elitist bureaucrat.

  3. A pedantic senior person of influence in academia or literary circles, often used pejoratively.

I'm not a historian of any sort, but I think the term alludes to the huge role that the very rigidly structured civil service examinations played in Imperial China, and the vast powers those who passed those tests and eventually became officials in the government exercised.



This is probably stretching the definition a little but it works in its more generic sense.

From dictionary.com,

1. pertaining to, established by, or conforming to a canon or canons.

4. a fundamental principle or general rule: the canons of good

To address your question, I suppose you could say "an overly-canonical government."


I like algorithmic http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algorithm


Whenever I run into systems of arbitrary rules that have absolutely no flexibility, I think of the innkeeper Procrustes and the associated adjective 'procrustean'. Procrustes had an inn with beds that were of a fixed size. If you were shorter than his bed, he would stretch you to fit and if you were too tall, he would cut off your feet. See more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrustes


I don't know if there is a single word that means exactly that. I would describe such a system as strictly rule-based.

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