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Totalitarianism

Totalitarianism is a political system in which a citizen is totally subject to absolute state authority in all aspects of day-to-day life. Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler's Germany are widely considered to be the two best examples of totalitarian regimes. The Big Brother regime described in George Orwell's famous novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four is likewise considered to be a quintessential example of totalitarianism.

Totalitarian regimes have been generally far more rare than authoritarian ones. The term was originally coined by Hannah Arendt in order to illustrate the commonalities between Nazism and Stalinism. It has also been used to include all fascist and communist regimes, although some would characterize some fascist regimes, such as Franco's Spain, and some communist regimes, such as the People's Republic of China under Deng Xiaoping, as more authoritarian than totalitarian.

Some contemporary countries considered totalitarian are Cuba and North Korea. Certain religious Fundamentalist regimes, such as the one found in Iran are also sometimes described as totalitarian.

The terms totalitarian democracy and totalitarian republic have also been used to classify a different style of totalitarian rule. These terms are used in reference to totalitarian regimes in which the government is generally popular (at least at the beginning), and the ideological justification of the state comes on behalf of the people. Hitler's democratically-elected regime of Nazi totalitarianism is often used as an example of a "totalitarian democracy."

Most political scientists believe that totalitarian regimes were rare before the 20th century as the technological means and ideological justifications for controlling large numbers of people did not exist. The Qin Dynasty has been often cited as a rare example of a possible pre-modern totalitarian state.

Today however, television, radio, and other forms of mass media make it relatively easy for totalitarian regimes to make their presence felt, often through campaigns of propaganda or the creation of a vast personality cult.

Other reflections

The relationship between totalitarianism and authoritarianism is controversial, with some seeing totalitarianism as an extreme form of authoritarianism while others arguing that they are completely different.

Some political analysts, notably Jean Kirkpatrick, have studied the various distinctions between totalitarianism and authoritarianism. They argue that while both types of governments can be extremely brutal to political opponents, in an authoritarian government the government's efforts are directed mostly at those who are considered political opponents, and the government has neither the will or often the means to control every aspect of an individual's life. In a totalitarian system, the ruling ideology requires that every aspect of an individual's life be subordinate to the state, including occupation, income, and religion. Personal survival is tied to the regime's survival, and thus the concept of the state and the people are merged.

In some political philosophies such as libertarianism, totalitarianism is regarded as the most extreme form of statism. However, other political philosophers disagree with this analysis as it implies that totalitarianism can come into being through a slow and gradual increase from an operational government, while totalitarian regimes almost uniformly come into being as a result of a revolution which replaces what is generally regarded as an ineffective government.

It has been argued that totalitarianism requires a cult of personality around a charismatic "great leader" who is glorified as the legitimator of the regime. Many totalitarian societies fit this model - for example, those of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Pol Pot, and Kim il-Sung. This is one of the reasons some scholars were reluctant to consider the Breshnev-era Soviet Union and most of the Warsaw Pact nations totalitarian. When those governments fell, however, the majority of the populations and intellectuals of the countries argued that what they had experienced was indeed totalitarianism. This has made more popular the belief that a charismatic leader is a frequent but not a necessary characteristic of totalitarianism.

See also: Gleichschaltung, Stalinism, communism, fascism, single-party state



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