Totalitarianism  

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"To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so .... --Pierre-Joseph Proudhon


Andre: "OK. Yes, we are bored. We're all bored now. But has it ever occurred to you Wally that the process that creates this boredom that we see in the world now may very well be a self-perpetuating, unconscious form of brainwashing, created by a world totalitarian government based on money, and that all of this is much more dangerous than one thinks? and it's not just a question of individual survival Wally, but that somebody who's bored is asleep, and somebody who's asleep will not say no?" --My Dinner with Andre


"What totalitarian ideologies therefore aim at is not the transformation of the outside world or the revolutionizing transmutation of society, but the transformation of human nature itself. The concentration camps are the laboratories where changes in human nature are tested, and their shamefulness therefore is not just the business of their inmates and those who run them according to strictly "scientific" standards; it is the concern of all men. Suffering, of which there has been always too much on earth, is not the issue, nor is the number of victims. Human nature as such is at stake, and even though it seems that these experiments succeed not in changing man but only in destroying him, by creating a society in which the nihilistic banality of homo homini lupus is consistently realized, one should bear in mind the necessary limitations to an experiment which requires global control in order to show conclusive results." --The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), Hannah Arendt

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is a political system where the state, usually under the control of a single political person, faction, or class, recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. Totalitarianism is generally characterized by the coincidence of authoritarianism (where ordinary citizens have no significant share in state decision-making) and ideology (a pervasive scheme of values promulgated by institutional means to direct most if not all aspects of public and private life).

Totalitarian regimes or movements maintain political power through an all-encompassing propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of state terrorism.

Early concepts and use

The notion of totalitarianism as a "total" political power by the state was formulated in 1923 by Giovanni Amendola, who described Italian Fascism as a system fundamentally different from conventional dictatorships. 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, which were to provide the “total representation of the nation and total guidance of national goals.” He described totalitarianism as a society in which the ideology of the state had influence, if not power, over most of its citizens. According to Benito Mussolini, this system politicizes everything spiritual and human: "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state." He stated that "We must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. We must condemn once and for all the formula 'chess for the sake of chess', like the formula 'art for art's sake'. We must organize shockbrigades of chess-players, and begin immediate realization of a Five-Year Plan for chess."

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 it united the Soviet and German dictatorships more than it divided them. The label "totalitarian" was twice affixed to the Hitler regime during Winston Churchill's speech of October 5, 1938 before the House of Commons in opposition to the Munich Agreement, by which France and Great Britain consented to Nazi Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland. Churchill was then a backbencher MP representing the Epping constituency. In a radio address two weeks later Churchill again employed the term, this time applying the concept to "a Communist or a Nazi tyranny."

The leader of the historic Spanish reactionary conservative party called the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right declared his intention to "give Spain a true unity, a new spirit, a totalitarian polity..." and went on to say "Democracy is not an end but a means to the conquest of the new state. When the time comes, either parliament submits or we will eliminate it."

George Orwell made frequent use of word totalitarian and its cognates in multiple essays published in 1940, 1941 and 1942. In his essay Why I Write he wrote: "The Spanish war and other events in 1936-37 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it."

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–Leninism was by far 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.

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 state 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 race struggle; and, for Marxism, all history is the history of class struggle. Once that premise is accepted, all actions of the state can be justified by appeal to Nature or the Law of History, justifying their establishment of authoritarian state apparatus.

In addition to Arendt, many scholars from a variety of academic backgrounds and ideological positions have closely examined totalitarianism. Among the most noted commentators on totalitarianism are Raymond Aron, Lawrence Aronsen, Franz Borkenau, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Conquest, Carl Joachim Friedrich, Eckhard Jesse, Leopold Labedz, Walter Laqueur, Claude Lefort, Juan Linz, Richard Löwenthal, Karl Popper, Richard Pipes, Leonard Schapiro, and Adam Ulam. Each one of these describes 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, non-profit organizations, churches or political parties.

See also

Further reading




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Totalitarianism" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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