Totalitarianism: What is the Meaning of the Totalitarianism?

Totalitarianism, in its adjectival form ‘totalitarian’, originated in 1923 among the opponents of Italian Fascism who used it as a term of abuse to describe the government and politics of Mussolini.

The period 1918-39 saw a reaction against democratic governments in Europe and elsewhere and the rise of totalitarian regimes in a number of states. In Italy, a liberal government was overthrown and a fascist regime under the leadership of Mussolini was set up in 1922.

Before that, a communist regime had been established in Russia in 1917. The trend continued with Spain, Portugal, Germany and Japan slipping into dictatorial regimes. All these regimes were characterized as totalitarian because they, as Hanna Arendt pointed out, were the novel form of government and not just modern versions of dictatorships that have existed since antiquity.

Totalitarianism, among the opponents of Italian Fascism who used it as a term of abuse to describe the government and politics of Mussolini. However, the fascists embraced the term as a fitting description of the true goal and nature of their regime. When Mussolini expounded the doctrine of everything within the state nothing outside the state, nothing against the state in a speech in 1925, he brought forth the essential nature of a totalitarian state.

If nothing could stand outside the state, there could be no free markets, no free political parties, no free families and no free churches.Thus, totalitarianism stands at the opposite pole of liberal democ­racy. Under a totalitarian regime, the state controls nearly every aspect of individual life and does not tolerate activities by individuals or groups that are not directed by the state’s goals.

If Mussolini applied the term to his own regime in Italy, Leon Trotsky applied the term to both fascism and ‘Stalinism’ as ‘symmetrical phenomena, and the great thinker Hanna Arendt popularized the term in order to illustrate the commonalities between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Soviet Union. Thus, the main examples of the regimes considered totalitarian are Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Giovanni Gentiles explaining the concept says that ‘totalitarian’ is the condition of a state in which all activities of civil society, inadvertently or not, ultimately lead to, and therefore perpetually exist in, something resembling a state. William Ebenstein describes the nature of such a state as ‘the organization of government and society by a single-party dictatorship, intensely nationalist, racist, militarist and imperialist.’ Totalitarianism cultivates and encourages state worship.

It preaches that every individual’s life belongs not to him but to state and to the state alone. Individuals acquire significance only by service to the state, and if they do not identify themselves with the state, they are little more than atoms. Thus, a totalitarian state permits no autonomous institutions and the aims, activities and membership of all associations are subject to the control of the state.

The state becomes omnipotent and omnipresent. Religion, morals and education are subordinate to the state. The aim of totalitarianism is to abolish the fundamental distinction between the state and society and to make the state unlimited. Franz Schanwecher, the Nazi theorist, used to say ‘the nation enjoys a direct and deep unity with God…. Germany is the kingdom of God’.

Here, it is necessary to point out that the totalitarian theory of state was not a full-fledged theory to start with. It gradually evolved and worked out of practical movements and actual socio-political situations. Thus, in this case, theory followed practice instead of preceding it. Among the thinkers who have analyzed the totalitarian theory and movements, the names of Hanna Arendt, Carl Friedrich, Brzezinsky and Jean Kiskpatrick figure prominently.

Submitted by : Professor Micah, Category : Political Science, Tag : Totalitarianism