secret police: The Evolution of Secret Police Forces
The Evolution of Secret Police Forces
Some argue that secret police forces have always been primarily concerned with the security of the state and that they are invariably created by governmental action, but this is not the case. Thus the formidable Vehmgericht of medieval Germany was a spontaneous creation of a segment of the people to protect its interests; it may be argued that the Vehme and similar institutions were secret societies rather than bodies of secret police, but the distinction is not always easy to make.
The institution of a secret police has existed in most societies where a minority has exercised an uneasy rule over a majority. In ancient Sparta, a well-organized secret police controlled the helots and ruthlessly suppressed any sign of rebellion. In Rome, particularly under the Julian emperors, a professional class of informers who received a share of their victims' confiscated fortunes, was employed by the state. Among the earliest secret police forces organized along modern lines were the Venetian Inquisition (see Ten, Council of) and the Oprichina of Czar Ivan IV of Russia. The institution has reached its most menacing aspect in the modern state—largely because of the improved technology at its disposal. Two 20th-century examples, that of Russia and later the Soviet Union and that of Nazi Germany, illustrate the workings of modern secret police forces.
Sections in this article:
- Other Modern Nations
- Nazi Germany
- Russia and the Soviet Union
- The Evolution of Secret Police Forces
- The Nature of a Secret Police
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