Subversion – the process of overthrowing, destroying, or corrupting the government, often through infiltration to undermine domestic policy

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1. The process of overthrowing, destroying, or corrupting <subversion of legal principles> <subversion of the government>. [1]

1. Subversive activities.  See subversive. [2]

     Excerpt from T. Wyckoff’s War by Subversion (1960):

     “Subversion can succeed where diplomacy has failed. Subversion exceeds the bounds of diplomacy in that it employs methods which diplomacy abhors; it does not wince at assassination, riot, pillage, and arson, if it believes these to be useful in the attainment of its ends.  Subversion is a form of war.  It may include the use of propaganda . . . to sway the thinking and action of influential social groups, especially attempting to discredit the leadership of the target area, labeling it as the ‘tool’ of . . . any convenient target for emotional hatred.  By inflaming passion, the purveyors of violent propaganda can stir up peaceful citizens so that in minutes they are transformed into a terrifying mob.  The art of subversion has developed the technique of the manipulation of mobs to a high degree.[4]

     Excerpts from Ann Van Wynen Thomas & A.J. Thomas Jr.’s The Concept of Aggression in International Law (1972):

     “Prior to World War II, subversive activities were thought to cover cases where states attempted to achieve certain political ends of fomenting civil strife in another state or by supporting rebellion against the legally established government of another state by giving to the rebels supplies of personnel, training facilities, war materials, or munitions and by engaging in hostile propaganda against the victim state and its government. . . . By the beginning of World War II, the concept of subversion had been expanded to include the attempt of one state to weaken or overthrow the government of another by means of infiltration of its governmental apparatus with conspirators who strongly opposed the domestic policy of their own government and willingly served as clandestine instruments in the conduct of an alien state’s foreign policy.  But with increased militancy of modern ideologies, . . . subversive activities are no longer seen in many quarters as advancing the foreign policy of a nation or nations, but rather are thought to advance universal human values, i.e., the specific ideological theory adhered to.

     “Today, the term subversion designates all illegal activities, whether direct or indirect, overt or covert, conducted under the auspices of a state and designed to overthrow the established government or vitally disrupt the public order of another state.  Subversion combines psychological, political, social, and economic actions, as well as active military or paramilitary operations, and it is generally a sustained, long-run, intermeshed, and coordinated process.  Consequently, it is usually impossible to place acts of subversion into neat little categorical definitions.  Subversion, being a technique of opportunity, is successful mainly in areas where social and political revolution is at least incipient. [5]


1. One who seeks to undermine and overthrow established authority of the government.  An organization that teaches and advocates the overthrow of government by force or violence. Adler v Board of Education, 342 US 485, 96 L Ed 517, 72 S Ct 380, 27 ALR2d 472.

Adjective: Undermining the foundation of government. Mere personal abstention from violence, or even from violent language, does not secure immunity from deportation as a subversive alien, if the result of the gentlest and most guarded speech is to advocate or teach that subversion which is condemned by statute.  The “philosophic” anarchist is an anarchist nevertheless. United States ex rel. Georgian v Uhl (CA2 NY) 271 F 676, cert den 256 US 701, 65 L Ed 1178, 41 S Ct 623.
See sedition; treason.

subversive alien See subversive. [2]

subversive activity (1939) A pattern of acts designed to overthrow a government by force or other illegal means. [1]

McCarran Act – A 1950 federal statute requiring, among other things, members of the Communist party to register with the Attorney General and requiring Communist organizations to provide the government with a list of its members.  *  The Act was passed during the Cold War.  over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court declared various portions of the Act unconstitutional, but it was not fully repealed until 1993.  See, e.g., U.S. v Spector, 343 U.S. 169, 72 S.Ct. 591 (1952); Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500, 84 S.Ct. 1659 (1964); U.S. v. Robel, 389 U.S. 258, 88 S.Ct. 419 (1967). — aka McCarran Internal Security Act; Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950. [1]



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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: T. Wyckoff, War by Subversion, 59 South Atlantic Q. 36 (1960).

[5]: Ann Van Wynen Thomas & A.J. Thomas Jr.’s The Concept of Aggression in International Law 7243, 80-81 (1972):


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