I am looking for a word or phrase meaning a system of social policing, the operation of which is implicit, or is explicitly hidden. Examples include:

  • Salem Witch Trials.
  • The Gestapo.
  • Secret youth police groups in the Chinese Communist Revolution.
  • McCarthyism.

Preferably, I would like a word or phrase that is both precise and non-dramatic. Usage:

The social pressure toward political homogeneity in this company forms a _______ .

  • How were your examples implicit or explicitly hidden? Except perhaps in the case of the secret police groups (if their operation was unknown at the time), those things were all recognized and had known methods of operation. Nov 9, 2018 at 21:05
  • @JasonBassford I'm not a history buff, but my understanding is that the agents of policing in these cases were secret, as opposed to standard police who wear uniforms and are recognizeable. Also anyone might be a "police" agent in this context, so you can't assume friends/family/etc are exempt. Sorry if I articulated the idea poorly. Nov 9, 2018 at 21:56
  • @KanneE actually this is very close to what I wanted, I appreciate it's lack of moral undertone. If you put it in an answer I will accept it. Nov 9, 2018 at 21:58

1 Answer 1


Lots of people reference George Orwell's novel, 1984, for catchy terms to describe surveillance state activities. The term "surveillance state" itself works too, though it's a bit dry-sounding.

"Thought police" or "Big Brother" are the most commonly used terms from Orwell's book. Thought police in particular is very apt at revealing the paranoid lengths the surveillance state will go to in order to maintain control. Even if the real organizations you named can't actually monitor people's thoughts, one could easily believe they would not hesitate to do so if they were able.

  • I dislike Orwellian because it is over-used, and consequentially imprecise. Big brother implies hegemony, which is not always present in these systems (e.g., mutual enforcement of religious beliefs without direct oversight). "Thought police" seems the best, although I do not think it captures the idea of the policing being hidden (as in you don't know who might police you). "Opinion corridor" and "Overton window" both describe the consequence or what I am describing but also fail to capture the "hidden" aspect of the idea. Nov 9, 2018 at 23:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.