| How the sausage is made|
“”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|
“”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.
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; Russian Communism 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. (Totalitarianism is sometimes described as "theocracy without a god", and many writers have remarked on the tendency of Communist ideology in particular to look, walk,and quack like religious faith.)
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.
Hannah Arendt, among others, offers the concept of totalitarianism attempting to maintain a "fictitious world" in which the totalitarian ideology dominates perceptions of reality, with actual reality being irrelevant. (On this view, contempt for reality becomes a defining feature of totalitarianism, if not its basis; and the term post-truth thereby acquires extremely ominous implications.)
As a result, totalitarianism tends to be marked by heavy scapegoating of an imagined external enemy (in Communist terms, 'the international bourgeoisie') accompanied by violent hostility specifically targeting adherents of the ideology who deviate even in small ways, these to be identified as being as one with the imagined enemy (Mensheviks and non-Communist socialists being termed 'fascist' or 'fascist hirelings').
- Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. (Ended)
- Austria under Engelbert Dolfuss, Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, and Kurt Schuschnigg and the Fatherland Front. (Ended)
- Italy under Benito Mussolini and the National Fascist Party. (Ended)
- Spain under Francisco Franco and the Falange. (Ended)
- Portugal under Antonio Salazar's (and his hand picked successor Marcelo Caetano's) Estado Novo. (Ended)
- Militarist Japan under the Taisei Yokusankai (Imperial Rule Assistance Association). (Ended)
- Croatia under Ante Pavelić and the Ustaše. (Ended)
- Vichy France under Philippe Petain's rule as a Nazi puppet. (Ended)
- Serbia under Milan Nedić. (Ended)
- Hungary under Ferenc Szálasi and the Arrow Cross Party. (Ended)
- Norway under Nazi puppet Vidkun Quisling and his Nasjonal Samling Party. (Ended)
- Romania under Ion Antonescu and the Iron Guard. (Ended)
- Haiti under Duvalier and the Tonton-Macoutes. (Ended)
- Chile under Augusto Pinochet. (Ended)
- Conservapedia under Andrew Schlafly. (Current)[citation NOT needed]
- Mississippi under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups, and even having a secret police as an enforcer of a form of Apartheid. (purged)
- Afghanistan under the Taliban (Current-ish)
- Saudi Arabia under the House of Saud (Current)
- Iran is often portrayed as one, though it occupies a somewhat ambiguous position. It does allow for some dissent (within quite sharply delineated borders) and restricted elections which nevertheless feature multiple (but only clerically approved) political parties. However, when push comes to shove, final power still rests with the Ayatollahs in the Council of Guardians and especially the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, the successor of Ayatollah Khomeini. (Current)
- The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (Current)
- Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Syria, and Somalia. (Current)
- Colonial New England under the Puritans, particularly during the governorship of John Winthrop. (Ended)
- The Congo Free State under Leopold II if one was indigenous. (Ended)
- South Africa under Apartheid if one was not part of the white minority (Reformed)
- Basically all Axis Powers except Finland (not racist or antisemitic, and not even authoritarian) and Japan (substitute the Japanese 'master race' for 'white', and it is no improvement. (All ended except for Finland)
- The Soviet Union, especially under Stalin; world wars, famines, and purges to the extent of genocide petered out after Uncle Joe died. (Ended)
- Maoist China (possibly extending into the short reign of Mao's immediate successor Hua Guofeng) (Reformed)
- Multiple Soviet puppet regimes (read: practically all of the Eastern Bloc), such as Romania under Nicolae Ceaușescu, Mongolia under Khorloogiin Choibalsan and Poland under General Wojciech Jaruzelski. (Ended)
- Albania under Enver Hoxha, apparently admired by that well-known
commie sadistsaint, Mother Teresa. (Ended)
- Cuba under Fidel Castro and his successors. (Current)
- Cambodia under Pol Pot. (Ended)
- Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam. (Reformed)
- The Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. (Ended)
- Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe and his successors. (Current)
- Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Empire.
- Uganda under Idi Amin. (Ended)
- 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)
- 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. (Ended)
- 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-ish)
- 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)
- 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. (Ended)
In the pre-modern world
- Ancient Sparta
- Ancient Egypt
- the Roman Empire
- the Byzantine Empire
- the Khmer Kingdom
- the Aztec Empire
- the Inca Empire
- One of the earlier modern examples is France under the Jacobins, who followed a form of "Radical egalitarianism", i.e. a vague form of authoritarian proto-socialism. It's features included both nationalism and egalitarian appeals, as well as claims to embody true liberty and the people.
- Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang 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.
- Cults and the more extreme forms of organized religion can have elements of this. Civil society under ISIS clearly fits the bill, for example.
- According to wingnuts, the USA under Barack HUSSEIN Soetoro Obama.
- 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 Nazi-dominated, puppet United States of America in the east and the Japanese-dominated Pacific States of America in the wake of an Axis victory in Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle
- 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 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 Covenant in Halo is a theocratic empire built on the idea that they will reach godhood if they activate a superweapon called Halo, thereby ascending just as their gods did. Entire species are conscripted into its caste system with the San'Shyuum (Prophets) at the top as their government bureaucrats and religious leaders. Anybody who challenges the word of the Prophets, or even becomes politically popular or influential, is either deemed a heretic to be purged or a threat to their rule and therefore must be eliminated. Their best warriors and the leaders of their military, the Sangheili (Elites), were once led by a warrior-judge/king called Arbiter who was the mightiest of their number until one Arbiter challenged the Prophets. He was branded a heretic and the title of Arbiter became a mark of shame for their most failed leaders; anyone who had their own power base separate from that of the Prophets would be charged as heretics and anointed Arbiters so they could be sent into suicide missions. This totalitarian dystopia caused its own downfall as these tensions led to a civil war that it would not survive.
- The Batarian Hegemony in Mass Effect, where slavery is said to be pivotal to their economy. No information outside their territory is allowed, and batarians are constantly inundated with nationalistic and xenophobic propaganda, especially against humans, while making deals with batarian-led criminal organizations who harass human colonies and settlements. They're very much a hermit kingdom akin to North Korea minus the personality cult around a single family. Once the Hegemony is crushed by Cthulhu-esque Reapers, who are themselves Robot Space Nazis, many batarians who no longer have the tyranny of their government slowly get exposed to the outside world and start shedding their old views of humans.
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.
- The Jew World Order once the Jewish plot for world domination as depicted in the fraudulent, absurd, and unreal Protocols of the Elders of Zion is fully underway. Some people will believe anything, even infants being in on such a plot. Oy vey!
- The Galactic Empire in Star Wars is usually portrayed this way under Darth Sidious, known as Emperor Sheev Palpatine.
- The Ministry of Magic in books five and six of the Harry Potter series.
- "The Walls" in Attack on Titan. Free speech is non-existent and it is technically a theocracy. The in-universe "Church of the Walls" has leverage in the government.
- Columbia in Bioshock Infinite, under a hyper-violent, theocratic ultranationalist white supremacist regime atop a flying city built to be a warship.
- The Eggman Empire in various Sonic games.
- Under Section 3.2.47
- "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship" by Hannah Arendt (2003). Responsibility and Judgment. Ed. Jerome Kohn. Schocken Books, 2003. ISBN 0805211624.
- 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.
- See the Wikipedia article on Burmese Way to Socialism.
- Joseph Sassoon. Saddam Hussein's Ba'th Party: Inside an Authoritarian Regime. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
- See the Wikipedia article on Third International Theory.
- See the Wikipedia article on Legalism.