Psychology Wiki


34,203pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Other fields of psychology: AI · Computer · Consulting · Consumer · Engineering · Environmental · Forensic · Military · Sport · Transpersonal · Index

This article needs rewriting to enhance its relevance to psychologists..
Please help to improve this page yourself if you can..
File:Stalin Hitler photomontage.png

Template:Forms of government Totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is a concept used to describe political systems whereby a state regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life. Totalitarian regimes or movements maintain themselves in political power by means of an official all-embracing ideology and propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that controls the state, personality cults, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of freedom of speech, the use of mass surveillance, and widespread use of state terrorism.

Etymology Edit

The notion of Totalitarianism as "total" political power by state was formulated in 1923 by Giovanni Amendola who criticized Italian Fascism as a system fundamentally different from conventional dictatorships.[1] The term was later assigned a positive meaning in the writings of Giovanni Gentile, Italy’s most prominent philosopher and leading theorist of fascism. He used the term “totalitario” to refer to the structure and goals of the new state. The new state was to provide the “total representation of the nation and total guidance of national goals.”[2] He described totalitarianism as a society in which the ideology of the state had influence, if not power, over most of its citizens.[3] According to Benito Mussolini, this system politicizes everything spiritual and human:[1] The concept of totalitarianism emerged in the 1920's and 1930's, although it is frequently and mistakenly seen as developing only after 1945 as part of anti-Soviet propaganda during the food war.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

Difference between authoritarian and totalitarian states Edit

According to Karl Loewenstein, "the term 'Authoritarian' denotes a political organization in which the single power holder - an individual person or 'dictator', an assembly, a committee, a junta, or a party - monopolizes political power. The term 'Authoritarian' refers rather to the structure of government than to the structure of society. An Authoritarian regime confines itself to political control of the state.

"The governmental techniques of a totalitarian regime are necessarily Authoritarian. But a totalitarian regime does much more. It attempts to mold the private life, soul, and morals of citizens to a dominant ideology. The officially proclaimed ideology penetrates into every nook and cranny of society; its ambition is total.

"Totalitarian regimes seek to destroy civil society i.e. communities that operate independently of the State. Neither the Italian fascists nor the Nazis completely 'destroyed their respective social structures', and so these countries 'could rapidly return to normalcy' after defeat in World War II. In contrast, attempts to reform the regime in the USSR 'led to nowhere because every non-governmental institution, whether social or economic, had to be built from scratch. The result was neither reform of Communism nor establishment of democracy, but a progressive breakdown of organized life'".[1]

In a comment about the similarity of religion to totalitarianism Christopher Hitchens has said "the urge to ban and censor books, silence dissenters, condemn outsiders, invade the private sphere, and invoke an exclusive salvation is the very essence of the totalitarian".[4]

Examples of the term's use Edit

One of the first to use the term "totalitarianism" in the English language was the Austrian writer Franz Borkenau in his 1938 book The Communist International, in which he commented that more united the Soviet and German dictatorships than divided them.[5] Isabel Paterson, in The God of the Machine (1943), used the term in connection with the collectivist societies of the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany. During a 1945 lecture series entitled The Soviet Impact on the Western World (published as a book in 1946), the pro-Soviet British historian E. H. Carr claimed that "The trend away from individualism and towards totalitarianism is everywhere unmistakable", and that Marxism was much the most successful type of totalitarianism, as proved by Soviet industrial growth and the Red Army's role in defeating Germany. Only the "blind and incurable" could ignore the trend towards totalitarianism, said Carr.[6]

Sir Karl Popper, in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) and The Poverty of Historicism (1961), articulated an influential critique of totalitarianism: in both works, he contrasted the "open society" of liberal democracy with totalitarianism, and argued that the latter is grounded in the belief that history moves toward an immutable future, in accordance with knowable laws.

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt argued that Nazi and Communist regimes were new forms of government, and not merely updated versions of the old tyrannies. According to Arendt, the source of the mass appeal of totalitarian regimes is their ideology, which provides a comforting, single answer to the mysteries of the past, present, and future. For Nazism, all history is the history of racial struggle; and, for Marxism, all history is the history of class struggle. Once that premise is accepted, all actions of the regime could be justified by appeal to Nature or the Law of History.[7]

Scholars such as Lawrence Aronsen, Richard Pipes, Leopold Labedz, Franz Borkenau, Walter Laqueur, Sir Karl Popper, Eckhard Jesse, Leonard Schapiro, Adam Ulam, Richard Löwenthal, Hannah Arendt, Robert Conquest, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Carl Joachim Friedrich and Juan Linz describe totalitarianism in slightly different ways. They all agree, however, that totalitarianism seeks to mobilize entire populations in support of an official state ideology, and is intolerant of activities which are not directed towards the goals of the state, entailing repression or state control of business, labour unions, churches or political parties.

Cold War-era research Edit

The political scientists Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski were primarily responsible for expanding the usage of the term in university social science and professional research, reformulating it as a paradigm for the communist Soviet Union as well as fascist regimes. For Friedrich and Brzezinski, the defining elements were intended to be taken as a mutually supportive organic entity composed of the following: an elaborating guiding ideology; a single mass party, typically led by a dictator; a system of terror; a monopoly of the means of communication and physical force; and central direction and control of the economy through state planning. Such regimes had initial origins in the chaos that followed in the wake of World War I, at which point the sophistication of modern weapons and communications enabled totalitarian movements to consolidate power.

The German historian Karl Dietrich Bracher, whose work is primarily concerned with National Socialist Germany, argues that the "totalitarian typology" as developed by Friedrich and Brzezinski is an excessively inflexible model, and failed to consider the “revolutionary dynamic” that Bracher asserts is at the heart of totalitarianism.[8] Bracher maintains that the essence of totalitarianism is the total claim to control and remake all aspects of society combined with an all-embracing ideology, the value on authoritarian leadership, and the pretence of the common identity of state and society, which distinguished the totalitarian "closed" understanding of politics from the "open" democratic understanding.[9] Unlike the Friedrich-Brzezinski definition Bracher argued that totalitarian regimes did not require a single leader and could function with a collective leadership, which led the American historian Walter Laqueur to argue that Bracher's definition seemed to fit reality better then the Friedrich-Brzezinski definition.[10]

File:NKPA soldiers DD-SD-00-01441.jpg

Eric Hoffer in his book The True Believer argues that mass movements like Communism, Fascism and Nazism had a common trait in picturing Western democracies and their values as decadent, with people "too soft, too pleasure-loving and too selfish" to sacrifice for a higher cause, which for them implies an inner moral and biological decay. He further claims that those movements offered the prospect of a glorious future to frustrated people, enabling them to find a refuge from the lack of personal accomplishments in their individual existence. Individual is then assimilated into a compact collective body and "fact-proof screens from reality" are established.[11]

Criticism and recent work with the concept Edit

In the social sciences, the approach of Friedrich and Brzezinski came under criticism from scholars who argued that the Soviet system, both as a political and as a social entity, was in fact better understood in terms of interest groups, competing elites, or even in class terms (using the concept of the nomenklatura as a vehicle for a new ruling class).[12] These critics pointed to evidence of popular support for the regime and widespread dispersion of power, at least in the implementation of policy, among sectoral and regional authorities. For some followers of this 'pluralist' approach, this was evidence of the ability of the regime to adapt to include new demands. However, proponents of the totalitarian model claimed that the failure of the system to survive showed not only its inability to adapt but the mere formality of supposed popular participation.

The notion of "post-totalitarianism" was first put forward by the German political scientist Richard Löwenthal, who argued that the Soviet Union in the years after Stalin’s death in 1953 saw the emergence of a system Löwenthal called variously "authoritarian bureaucratic oligarchy" or “post-totalitarian authoritarianism”.[13] Writing in 1960, Löwenthal contended the development of “post-totalitarianism” in the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe meant "Those countries have not gone from tyranny to freedom, but from massive terror to a rule of meanness, ensuring stability at the risk of stagnation".[13] Afterwards, the theory of "post-totalitarianism" was expanded upon by political scientist Juan Linz. For certain commentators, such as Linz and Alfred Stepan, the Soviet Union entered a new phase after the abandonment of mass terror upon Stalin's death. Discussion of "post-totalitarianism" featured prominently in debates about the reformability and durability of the Soviet system in comparative politics.

From a historical angle, the totalitarian concept has been criticized. Historians of the Nazi period inclined towards a functionalist interpretation of the Third Reich such as Martin Broszat, Hans Mommsen and Ian Kershaw have been very hostile or lukewarm towards the totalitarianism concept, arguing that the Nazi regime was far too disorganized to be considered as totalitarian.[14] In the field of Soviet history, the concept has disparaged by the "revisionist" school, a group of mostly American left-wing historians, some of whose more prominent members are Sheila Fitzpatrick, Jerry F. Hough, William McCagg, Robert W. Thurston, and J. Arch Getty.[15] Through their individual interpretations differ, the revisionists have argued that the Soviet state under Stalin was institutionally weak, that the level of terror was much exaggerated, and that to the extent it occurred, it reflected the weaknesses rather the strengths of the Soviet state.[15] Fitzpatrick argued that since to the extent that there was terror in the Soviet Union, since it provided for increased social mobility, and thus far from being a terrorized society, most people in the Soviet Union supported Stalin's purges as a chance for a better life.[16] Writing in 1987, Walter Laqueur commented that the revisionists in the field of Soviet history were guilty of confusing popularity with morality, and of making highly embarrassing and not very convincing arguments against the concept of the Soviet Union as totalitarian state.[17] Laqueur argued the revisionists' arguments with regards to Soviet history were highly similar to the arguments made by Ernst Nolte in regards to German history.[17] Laqueur asserted that concepts such as modernization were inadequate tools for explaining Soviet history while totalitarianism was not.[18]

Totalitarian Regimes Edit

François Furet used the term "totalitarian twins"[19] in an attempt to link Stalinism[20] and Fascism.[21] Ernst Nolte challenged the linkage that Furet proposed.

Gary M. Grobman wrote:

  • Totalitarian regimes, in contrast to a dictatorship, establish complete political, social, and cultural control over their subjects, and are usually headed by a charismatic leader. Fascism is a form of totalitarianism which emphasizes the subordination of the individual to advance the interests of the state. [22]

Michael Parenti both acknowledged and criticized the linkage:

  • Both the Italian fascists and the Nazis consciously tried to imitate the left: youth organizations, mass mobilizations, rallies, parades, banners, symbols, slogans, uniforms. And I think for this reason, too, many mainstream writers treat fascism and communism as totalitarian twins. But most workers and peasants could tell the difference. Industrialists and bankers could tell the difference. And certainly the communists and the fascists could tell the difference.[23]

Daniel Singer wrote:

Central to Furet's argument is the belief that in a Europe shaken by World War I, Communism and Fascism were propping each other up. While the totalitarian nature of Stalin's Russia is undeniable, I find the thesis of "totalitarian twins" both wrong and unproductive. To sustain it, Furet is bound to twist facts. Though he recognizes that Mussolini reached power through a compromise with traditional elites and that Hitler had the backing of big business, the author hotly denies that Fascism and Nazism could be rotten products of capitalism. The Nazi-Soviet pact is for him perfect proof of complicity between the two systems, but the Munich agreement--for which he has all sorts of justifications--is nothing of the sort.

See also Edit

This entry is related to, but not included in the Political ideologies series or one of its sub-series. Other related articles can be found at the Politics Portal.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Pipes 1995, p. 240-281
  2. Stanley G. Payne, Fascism: Comparison and Definition (UW Press, 1980), p. 73
  3. G. Gentile & B. Mussolini in "La dottrina del fascismo" 1932)
  4. Hitchens, Christopher God is not great:how religion poisons everything Hachette Book Group USA, 2007, Page 234
  5. Nemoianu, Virgil, Review of End and Beginnings pages 1235-1238 from MLN, Volume 97, Issue # 5, December 1982, p.1235.
  6. Laqueur, Walter, The Fate of the Revolution, New York: Scribner, 1987, p.131.
  7. Dana Richard Villa (2000), The Cambridge Companion to Hannah Arendt. Cambridge University Press, p.2-3. ISBN 0521645719
  8. Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold; New York page 25.
  9. Kershaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold; New York page 25.
  10. Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution: Interpretations of Soviet history from 1917 to the Present, New York: Scribner's, 1987 page 241
  11. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2002), ISBN 0060505915, p.61, 163
  12. Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution: Interpretations of Soviet history from 1917 to the Present, New York: Scribner's, 1987 pages 186-189 & 233-234
  13. 13.0 13.1 Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution: Interpretations of Soviet history from 1917 to the Present, New York: Scribner's, 1987 page 243
  14. Lorenz, Chris "Broszat, Martin" pages 143-144 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Volume 1, edited by Kelly Boyd, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999 page 143; Kerhsaw, Ian The Nazi Dictatorship Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, London: Arnold Press, 2000 pages 45-46; Menke, Martin "Mommsen, Hans" pages 826-827 from The Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing edited by Kelly Boyd, Volume 2, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishing, 1999
  15. 15.0 15.1 Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution: Interpretations of Soviet history from 1917 to the Present, New York: Scribner's, 1987 pages 225-227
  16. Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution: Interpretations of Soviet history from 1917 to the Present, New York: Scribner's, 1987 pages 225 & 228
  17. 17.0 17.1 Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution: Interpretations of Soviet history from 1917 to the Present, New York: Scribner's, 1987 page 228
  18. Laqueur, Walter The Fate of the Revolution: Interpretations of Soviet history from 1917 to the Present, New York: Scribner's, 1987 page 233
  19. "Furet, borrowing from Hannah Arendt, describes Bolsheviks and Nazis as totalitarian twins, conflicting yet united." (Daniel Singer, The Nation - April 17, 1995)
  20. "The totalitarian nature of Stalin's Russia is undeniable." (Daniel Singer)
  21. "The government of Nazi Germany was a fascist, totalitarian state." (Gary M. Grobman)


External linksEdit

Template:Authoritarian types of rule Template:Fascism

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki