The Totalitarianism reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Totalitarianism is any political system in which a citizen is totally subject to a governing authority in all aspects of day-to-day life. It goes well beyond dictatorship or typical police state measures, and even beyond those measures required to sustain total war between states. It involves constant indoctrination achieved by propaganda to erase any potential for dissent, by anyone, including most especially the agents of government.

Political scientists generally see totalitarianism as the extreme form of dictatorship.

Benito Mussolini originally applied the term to his own regime (1922 - 1943) in Italy; Italian fascism became fully totalitarian by 1940. Hannah Arendt (1906 - 1975) popularized the use of the term totalitarianism (notably in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism) in order to illustrate the commonalities between Nazism and Stalinism as theories of civics. Some people also dub all fascist and communist regimes as totalitarian — though some fascist regimes, such as Franco's Spain, and Mussolini's Italy before World War II, and some communist regimes, such as Yugoslavia under Tito, the People's Republic of China under Deng Xiaoping and Cuba under Fidel Castro, have authoritarian rather than totalitarian characteristics. Many commentators consider the post-Stalin Soviet Union as a post-totalitarian society.

Totalitarian regimes

Historically, totalitarian regimes have generally surpassed authoritarian ones in size and in power. State control of television, radio, and other 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.

Problems of Identification and Distinction: Stalinism, Nazism and Totalitarianism

Both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany built huge "empires" which came into conflict with the "free world", and Allied forces led by the Soviet Union and the United States (amongst others) liberated Germany on V-E Day. Arendt in particular draws parallels between fascism and Stalinism. Since the fall of the Nazi regime in Germany, many other theorists too have argued that similarities exist between the government of Nazi Germany and that of Stalin's Soviet Union. In most cases, this has not taken the form of emphasising the perceived "socialism" of the National Socialists (Nazis) – mainly because this "socialism" appeared chiefly in Nazi propaganda and did not make any significant appearance in mature Nazi theory or practice – but of arguing that both Nazism and Stalinism represent forms of totalitarianism.

The concept of totalitarianism itself remains highly controversial. Marxist historiography rejects the concept entirely, and most non-Marxist historians who study Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union accept it only with reservations. But some (usually neo-conservative) scholars argue that Nazism resembled Stalinism not only in its methods of rule, as suggested by Arendt and other theorists of totalitarianism, but also in that both systems ran "socialist" states. Those who hold this view point to the occasional statements of Nazi leaders that they were "socialists", as well as the more anti-capitalist planks of the Nazi party program. They tend to ignore the anti-communist planks of that same program. Furthermore, the background of Benito Mussolini, founder of the Italian fascist movement, as a socialist before the First World War, has served to further the claim that the roots of fascism (of which Nazism allegedly represents a special form) lie in socialist thought. Such scholars also note the collectivist, statist nature of some parts of the Nazi enterprise, which they see as essentially socialist. Socialists disagree with this view, pointing out that collectivist and statist practices have existed in a wide variety of governments throughout human history – including some as old as Ancient Egypt. They further point to the fact that Nazi Germany allowed (and even encouraged) private enterprise.

Historians such as Ian Kershaw, Hans Mommsen, and Joachim Fest argue that the origins of the Nazi Party lie in the far-right nationalist and racist movements that existed in Germany in the post-World War I period as well as in older movements such as the Thule Society. Hitler, Goebbels and the Nazi ideologues consistently rejected any and all of the traditions of nineteenth and early twentieth century German socialism as articulated by Karl Marx, Ferdinand Lassalle, Karl Kautsky, August Bebel and others. Rather, such historians agree that the intellectuals to whom the Nazis looked from the beginning (whether Nietzsche or Houston Stewart Chamberlain) stood consistently to the right of centre, implying that the intellectual origins of Nazism lie in right-wing nationalist and racist thought, not in the socialist tradition.

Further, the cultural and political traditions the Nazis celebrated did not belong to the socialist tradition. Hitler and the Nazis revered the nationalist operas of Wagner, particularly The Ring Cycle, and found heroes in history such as Frederick the Great or the Teutonic Knights. Conversely, the Nazis rejected and even reviled socialist cultural and historical traditions such as the celebration of the French Revolution and the 1848 Revolutions or the lore of workers' struggles in momentous strikes and protests. The Nazis condemned and rejected the eighteenth and nineteenth century revolutionary movements and blamed these events for destroying traditional values and social relations. They also saw these revolutions as part of a Jewish conspiracy, since those revolutions resulted (inter alia) in the emancipation of the Jews.

The hierarchical nature of the anti-modern corporatism espoused by Nazism and other forms of fascism contrasts directly with the egalitarianism espoused by most forms of socialism. Kershaw argues that, in practice, the Nazis opposed egalitarianism, had an elitist view of society and asserted that in competition amongst citizens the superior individual would emerge on top.

Much of this debate ultimately revolves around the question of the meaning of the term socialism, making argument on the subject frequently as much about semantics as about actual substantive differences.

Theories of totalitarianism

The relationship between totalitarianism and authoritarianism also remains controversial: some see totalitarianism as an extreme form of authoritarianism, while others argue that they differ completely.

Some political analysts, notably neo-conservatives such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, have studied the various distinctions between totalitarianism and authoritarianism. They argue that while both types of governments can behave extremely brutally to political opponents, in an authoritarian government the government's efforts focus mostly on those classified as 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 become subordinated to the state, including occupation, income, and religion. Personal survival links to the regime's survival, and thus the concepts of "the state" and "the people" become merged. This is also called the carceral state – like a prison.

Political theories such as libertarianism regard totalitarianism as the most extreme form of statism. However, other political philosophers disagree with this analysis as it implies that totalitarianism can develop through a slow and gradual increase from an operational government, while totalitarian regimes almost uniformly come about as a result of a revolution which replaces a government generally regarded as ineffective.

Some analysts have argued that totalitarianism requires a cult of personality around a charismatic "great leader" glorified as the legitimator of the regime. Many totalitarian societies fit this model – for example, those of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Il-Sung. Partially for this reason, some scholars showed reluctance to consider the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union and most of the Warsaw Pact nations as totalitarian. When those governments fell, however, the majority of the populations and intellectuals of the countries argued that they had indeed experienced totalitarianism. This has made more popular the belief that totalitarianism frequently features a charismatic leader but does not require one.

Still, one can reasonably argue that all totalitarian systems do seem to necessarily require the presence of a living human leader at all times and do expect a certain type of guidance for nearly every aspect of life from that leader. Regardless of whether or not a newly installed leader of a totalitarian regime may happen to possess a certain natural charisma or not, the totalitarian system seems to tend to attempt to systematically impose this charisma onto a newly-ensconced totalitarian leader.

See also