Is there a word for "rule by criminals"? Not kleptocracy, which is rule by thieves, but more broadly by criminals.

  • You'll have to elaborate on this concept of yours. Do you mean a situation where the members of government covertly engage in illegal dealings, such as bribery, embezzlement and so forth? Or in a more fictional sort of "City rules by the Thieves' Guild" sort of government? Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 8:25
  • Given the number of countries around the world that are, to all intents, ruled by criminals, there should be a word. I think 'mobocracy' normally refers to 'mob' in its traditional meaning. But perhaps it is not an inappropriate word to use for many places.
    – WS2
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 8:34
  • The first of the two. Where government members engage in illegal dealings and potentially use their status to blackmail others.
    – EdL
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 8:34
  • 5
    'governed' should do the trick. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 2:39
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    If the criminals are in control they would be able to, and generally would, manipulate the laws so that their acts are not criminal. Are you implying a moral judgement such as implied by the term "banksters"? Commented Mar 15, 2014 at 16:42

5 Answers 5


Kleptocracy (or kleptarchy) does derive from the Greek word for “thief,” but the English word does not literally refer to thieves. Instead it describes a common form of government corruption which features various abuses of power including, but not limited to, embezzlement of public funds.

Mafia state is a related term for governments which have close ties to organized crime. Again, it does not literally refer to the Sicilian Mafia – a mafia state can be tied to any sort of crime syndicate.


You may be interested in kakistocracy, definition from Wiktionary:

Government under the control of a nation's worst or least-qualified citizens.


This is an interesting question because it depends upon your meaning:

If you mean the government is filled with people who are not adhering to the laws of that they enforce: this would just be a corrupt government, riddled with corruption, etc. etc.

If you mean the government is filled with people who've committed crimes, but are now functioning as a standard government that is a different story. The government would be whatever form it took. (e.g. A republic of thieves doesn't cease to be a republic.)

Carribean Pirate crews were well known for their democratic governance.

But, several terms have been used to describe "legitimate" governments whose members' morality was questionable. I've seen criminocracy used in the manner you're describing. (Also, thugocracy, and others.) For the most part, if you use the suffix -ocracy with a criminal sounding prefix, people will get your meaning.


A crimocracy (pronounced "crime-ocracy") or criminocracy.

I’ve wondered about your question myself as I was interested in writing a book about this very subject, but I couldn't find an answer I liked either. These two answers are the best I could come up with. Sorry if it still doesn't help.


Through-out history this is most often referred to as an oligarchy. Brad's definition is good too but I think this is the second time I have seen it. Oligarchy carries the connotation of criminal/military rule.

ol·i·gar·chy: a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.

"the ruling oligarchy of military men around the president"

  • Oligarchy carries a connotation that is less criminal, and more wealthy (and maybe) corrupt). The most common use of the term today, for example, is to refer to various Russian 'Oligarchs' as the class of extraordinarily wealthy natural resource and manufacturing tycoons that control Russia's wealth and have a large influence on the government. Many of them have been linked to criminal enterprises, but it is not a prerequisite to membership in the class. Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 5:25

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