Totalitarianism is a form of government in which the national government takes control of all aspects of both public and private life. Thus, totalitarianism seeks to erase the line between government and society. It has an ideology, or set of beliefs, that all citizens are expected to approve. It is often led by a dynamic leader and a single political party. Mass communication technology helps a totalitarian government spread its aims and support its policies. Also, surveillance technology makes it possible to keep track of the activities of many people. Finally, violence, such as police terror, discourages those who disagree with the goals of the government.
Fear of Totalitarianism
George Orwell illustrated the horrors of a totalitarian government in his novel, 1984. The novel depicts a world in which personal freedom and privacy have vanished. It is a world made possible through modern technology. Even citizens’ homes have television cameras that constantly survey their behavior.
Totalitarian leaders in the 20th century
• Adolf Hitler (Germany) 1933–1945
• Benito Mussolini (Italy) 1925–1943
• Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union) 1929–1953
• Kim IL Sung (North Korea) 1948–1994
• Saddam Hussein (Iraq) 1979–2003
• The two most infamous examples of state terror in the 20th century were in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.
• An estimated12.5–20 million people were killed in Nazi Germany.
• An estimated 8–20 million people were killed in Stalinist Russia.
• There are many authoritarian regimes in the world, but there are very few actual totalitarian governments. In 2000, one monitoring agency identified five totalitarian regimes—Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam.
1. How does a totalitarian state attempt to make citizens obey its rules?
2. How would your life change if you lived in a totalitarian state?