The Oxford English Dictionary defines "cryptarchy" as:

Secret government; an example of this.

What is the history of this notion? Did any famous political philosophers write about cryptarchies? If so, who? What did they say?

  • The link doesn't seem to work (paywalled?)
    – Philipp
    Aug 4 '16 at 11:23
  • 1
    Sounds an awful lot like the Protoc- [ the remainder of this post has been censored ]. However, that's all just conspiracy theory. Aug 4 '16 at 13:50
  • Are you thinking about the idea of State-level secret governments or something world-wide like the New World Order theory?
    – A. Darwin
    Aug 4 '16 at 15:12
  • @Philipp Yes, it is. I just put it for reference. The full entry isn't much more than what I quoted. It just contains two quotes, from 1798 (W. Taylor in Monthly Rev. 25 511) and 2006.
    – Geremia
    Aug 4 '16 at 18:37
  • @A.Darwin I'm looking for more of a theoretical discussion of them, not a discussion on particular instances of cryptarchies.
    – Geremia
    Aug 4 '16 at 18:39


I spent a lot of time in political theory courses, including some time spent with original Greek texts. However, never once did I hear of anything called a "cryptarchy" or any philosopher espousing a kind of secret government.

Personal observation is weak, so here are a few other things to consider:

  • Google NGram Viewer can search Google Books for words in Google's dictionary. 'Cryptarchy' is obscure enough that isn't in their NGrams dictionary.
  • Google Trends shows that each month, at most about 13 people searched for 'cryptarchy'. That is tiny. For comparison, I plotted it against 'technocracy' - an obscure term from some sci-fi movies (and an even more obscure American movement from about the 1920s-1930s ). At minimum it saw three times as many searches.
  • The citations in OED (which the question links to) are from cases where the source appear to coin the term in a fairly ad hoc manner. The cited examples aren't referencing some known idea of a cryptarchy, they are forming a new word to describe something they have observed.

However, some sources have described kinds of secret governments. For example, Thucydides in The History of the Peloponnesian War describes several revolts and secret governments. One example is Corcyra, where an oligarchy led a revolt against Athens. In modern language, we probably wouldn't call them a "government", but Greek politics at this time was far less institutional, and that label makes more sense. You can find an analysis of this section here (published by Tufts University)

  • What was the Greek work that Thucydides used for "secret government"?
    – Geremia
    Aug 4 '16 at 18:43
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    @Geremia - He doesn't give a name to this group. They are originally a group of prisoners of war returned to Corcyra to incite revolt. So he calls them "αἰχμάλωτος" - "prisoners". perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/… Aug 4 '16 at 19:51
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    @Geremia - There is also a revolt in Athens in the same book. To my recollection, the conspirators are just called "oligarchs". Aug 4 '16 at 20:01

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