Totalitarianism

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Individuality is left out of their scheme of government. The State is all in all. Everything is referred to the production of force; afterwards, everything is trusted to the use of it. It is military in its principle, in its maxims, in its spirit, and in all its movements. The State has dominion and conquest for its sole objects — dominion over minds by proselytism, over bodies by arms.
Edmund Burke, on revolutionary France[1]
If you are confronted with two evils, thus the argument runs, it is your duty to opt for the lesser one, whereas it is irresponsible to refuse to choose altogether. Those who denounce the moral fallacy of this argument are usually accused of a germ-proof moralism which is alien to political circumstances, of being unwilling to dirty their hands. …
Politically, the weakness of the argument has always been that those who choose the lesser evil forget very quickly that they chose evil. Since the evil of the Third Reich finally was so monstrous that by no stretch of the imagination could it be called a "lesser evil," one might have assumed that this time the argument would have collapsed once and for all, which surprisingly is not the case. Moreover, if we look at the techniques of totalitarian government, it is obvious that the argument of "the lesser evil"— far from being raised only from the outside by those who do not belong to the ruling elite—is one of the mechanisms built into the machinery of terror and criminality. Acceptance of lesser evils is consciously used in conditioning the government officials as well as the population at large to the acceptance of evil as such.
—Hannah Arendt[2]

Totalitarianism is a rhetorical term deployed to indicate "really repressive tyranny." By implication, some tyrannies or authoritarian regimes are more repressive than others and therefore merit a special designation. The obvious problem is that there is no obvious line to be drawn between them. Dictatorships use the same instruments of repression: secret police surveillance, torture, and propaganda. Which liberties they repress depend on their ideologies. At best there are differences in the intensity of repression. Totalitarians are notably intolerant of all who disagree with them.

The term totalitarian was coined during the Cold War to designate regimes deemed most threatening: most communist regimes and the extinct fascist regime in Germany. Other fascist regimes like Franco's Spain and Salazar's Portugal, as well as a raft of other pro-Western tyrannies such as Pinochet's Chile and Pahlavi's Iran were given a pass as "merely" authoritarian. Thanks for that?

Consistent with the Cold War construction of the term is the following: authoritarianism reflects a political ethos valuing the authority of the state over the individual freedoms of its citizens. A totalitarian state usually requires a defining ideology with which to justify its appropriation of the levers of power: extreme nationalism was the driving force behind Nazism; Marxism in the case of the Soviet Union; and a puritanical form of Islam in the case of a theocracy such as Iran. China offers an interesting example of a totalitarian regime that has abandoned the practical ramifications of its ideology, whilst retaining the power structures thus derived. Ba'athist regimes in Syria and Iraq have also been termed totalitarian. Under a totalitarian system it's often not enough for the people to not question the dictator in question but they are also expected to go a step further and openly endorse and espouse the regime's ideology.

Such states are characterized by the extent of their subversion of the rule of law, with the police and judiciary acting as direct instruments of control and providing no meaningful check or balance upon the ruling elite. Media outlets are subordinated to faithful promotion of the defining ideology and, as the state matures, this tends to be reinforced with coordinated programmes of indoctrination within the education system. Dissent is often brutally repressed and extrajudicial executions are common. Virtually all totalitarian regimes have scapegoats on which they blame all their problems, and any members of said scapegoated group can expect to face extremely intense repression on behalf of the state. Other common features include the fostering of a cult of personality around the head of state and rampant corruption due to the arbitrary enforcement of laws and statutes.

In an abstract sense, totalitarianism can be distinguished from authoritarianism by its ideological scope; generally the 'authority' in an authoritarian system is primarily concerned with having and keeping absolute political and military power over a group or groups of people, while a more totalitarian approach would be seen from an authority who is primarily concerned with extending the reach of their power to control each individual citizen.

Examples[edit]

Fascist[edit]

Theocratic[edit]

White supremacist[edit]

  • The Congo Free State under Leopold II if one was indigineous
  • South Africa under Apartheid if one was not part of the white minority (reformed)

Communist[edit]

Black supremacist[edit]

Combinations of the above[edit]

  • Libya under Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was too batshit to decide where he was on a political spectrum. His ideology, known alternatively as the "Third International Theory" or "Third Universal Theory" and laid out in his Green Book, was a hodgepodge of Arab nationalism, socialism, conservative Islamic values, and a bizarre form of "direct democracy" that, in practice, removed any significant avenues of opposition to his rule.[9]
  • Iraq under Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, which had both left-wing and right-wing elements before Hussein and his allies took control and purged the left-wing of the Iraqi Ba'ath Party.[10]
  • Chinese emperor Qin Shi HuangWikipedia's W.svg arguably tried to apply elements of totalitarianism by suppressing regional differences in everything from cultural practices to weights and measures, ordering all earlier histories to be burned, tightly controlling the economy, and encouraging total loyalty to the state (including censorship and reward for denunciation). Some historians have called him history's first totalitarian dictator.[11]
  • Syria under the Ba'ath Party, which is currently led by Bashar al-Assad. Like its Iraqi counterpart, the Syrian Ba'ath Party combines elements of both left-wing and right-wing totalitarianism. (Current, some reform)
  • North Korea under the Kim family, as Juche is a syncretic communist hodge-podge distilled from disparate ideologies, including Korean nationalism, Stalinism, Confucianism, and even an imperial cult. (Current)
  • Eritrea under the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, follows a blend of ultranationalism, authoritarian socialism, and extreme anti-Ethiopia sentiments, to the point that it is nicknamed "Africa's North Korea". (Current)
  • Cults and the more extreme forms of organized religion can have elements of this. Civil society under ISIS clearly fits the bill, for example.

Fictional[edit]

  • Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Their ideologies vary on the surface, with Oceania following English Socialism (or "Ingsoc"), Eurasia following neo-Bolshevism, and Eastasia following Obliteration of the Self (or "Death Worship"), but in practice, they are virtually indistinguishable. This fact is not lost on their rulers, who use doublethink to get the masses to believe that the other guys are their total antithesis.
  • The Republic of Gilead from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.
  • The World State from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
  • The One State from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We.
  • Norsefire from Alan Moore's V for Vendetta.
  • Animal Farm/Manor Farm[12] from George Orwell's Animal Farm.
  • The Combine in Half-Life 2.
  • America under Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip in Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here.
  • Tomainia under Adenoid Hynkel and Bacteria under Napaloni in Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, a satire of fascism made shortly before America formally entered World War II.
  • The Imperium of Man and (arguably) the Tau Empire from Warhammer 40,000 are generally miserable places to live due to the repressive governments there. The Imperium is a fascist, theocratic, disorganized mess of a state, while the Tau are a pseudo-Communist caste society, though the Tau generally are more affable than their human counterparts. That the two states are considered the "good guys" of the setting, in addition to the fact that the Imperium is repressive by necessity, is a statement on how dark the setting of WH40k is.
  • The New World Order once the Illuminati get around to actually doing something.
  • Nazty Moronica under Moe Hailstone in The Three Stooges short You Nazty Spy and I'll Never Heil Again.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Under Section 3.2.47
  2. [http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~other1/Hannah%20Arendt%20-%20Personal%20Responsibility%20Under%20Dictatorship.pdf "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship" by Hannah Arendt (2003). Responsibility and Judgment. Ed. Jerome Kohn. Schocken Books, 2003. ISBN 0805211624.
  3. [1]
  4. Essentially, in contrast to the ideal of free and fair elections, Iran has fair elections, in the sense of relatively little direct tampering with the voting process (especially compared to most other Middle Eastern countries), but it doesn't have free elections, because the clergy decides who gets to run.
  5. Stalin possibly died because his guards were too afraid of disturbing the Generalissimo to check why he was late in getting up while he had suffered a massive stroke and lay undiscovered for hours soaked in his own urine.
  6. The only Soviet puppet whose title as "totalitarian" is debatable was Hungary under János Kádár with his "Goulash Communism" (Communism-lite), which involved easing off a bit on the violent repression of dissent (while still seeking to stifle dissident voices) and making some liberalizations to Hungary's planned economy, meaning that Kádár's regime was still at the very least authoritarian and anti-democratic.
  7. Though apparently admired by that well-known commie sadist saint, Mother Teresa.
  8. This cult grew to (even more) ridiculous proportions in the years between Tito's death and the dissolution of Yugoslavia, producing pithy but empty slogans, such as "After Tito - Tito!" and "We are Tito, Tito is ours!" (Sabrina P. Ramet, The Three Yugoslavias: State-building and Legitimation, 1918-2005, 2006, p. 329)
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Third International Theory.
  10. Joseph Sassoon. Saddam Hussein's Ba'th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  11. See the Wikipedia article on Legalism.
  12. [2]