Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through an all-encompassing propaganda campaign, which is disseminated through the state-controlled mass media.
Critical to the totalitarian state are communications, propaganda, and publicized ideology, and simultaneously the prevention of contrary views. Censorship, such as that currently found on the Inter Net, is an absolutely essential requirement and one that includes writers to refute the by definition radical, non-mainstream media output.
What constitutes “totalitarianism”? The simple answer is that the dictionary defines it as:
“of or relating to a centralized dictatorial form of government requiring complete subservience to the state.” Adjectives that might be used to describe the ingredients of totalitarianism include: “absolute, arbitrary, authoritarian, autocratic, dictatorial, fascist, undemocratic, illiberal, monolithic, Nazi, oppressive, despotic, tyrannical.”
The earliest record of the ideals of totalitarianism date back to 1923, in proclamations made by Giovanni Amendola. The use of the word instead of the commonly coined 'dictatorship' was used in reference to Italian Fascism. At a later stage, Giovanni Gentile, a prominent Italian philosopher and theorist, used the term to refer to the state's revised structure and goals. He described totalitarianism as a form of society and not government; largely responsible for influencing its citizens with a self-centered ideology. While in power, and very interestingly, Benito Mussolini described the system as 'spiritual and humane'.
Totalitarian regimes differ from older concepts of dictatorship or tyranny. Totalitarian regimes seek to establish complete political, social and cultural control, whereas dictatorships seek limited, typically political, control. Two types of totalitarianism can sometimes be distinguished: Nazism and Fascism which evolved from "right-wing" extremism, and Communism, which evolved from "left-wing" extremism.
Totalitarian regimes, in contrast to a dictatorship, establish complete political, social, and cultural control over their subjects, and are usually headed by a charismatic leader. Fascism is a form of right-wing totalitarianism which emphasizes the subordination of the individual to advance the interests of the state. Nazi fascism's ideology included a racial theory which denigrated "non-Aryans," extreme nationalism which called for the unification of all German-speaking peoples, the use of private paramilitary organizations to stifle dissent and terrorize opposition, and the centralization of decision-making by, and loyalty to, a single leader.
Various totalitarian systems, however, have different ideological goals. For example, of the states most commonly described as totalitarian—the Soviet Union under Stalin, Nazi Germany, and the People's Republic of China under Mao—the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and China sought the universal fulfillment of humankind through the establishment of a classless society; German National Socialism, on the other hand, attempted to establish the superiority of the so-called Aryan race.
The main examples of regimes considered totalitarian are Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. Totalitarian systems, however, may not be as monolithic as they appear, since they may hide a process in which several groups—the army, political leaders, industrialists, and others—compete for power and influence.
Totalitarian governments do not tolerate activities by individuals or groups such as labor unions that are not directed by the state's goals. Totalitarian regimes maintain themselves in power through secret police, propaganda disseminated through the media, the elimination of open criticism of the regime, and use of terror tactics. Internal and external threats are created to foster unity through fear.
Stalin used propaganda, censorship, and terror to force his will on the Soviet people. Government newspapers glorified work and Stalin himself. Secret police spied on citizens, and anyone who refused to praise Stalin and the state faced severe punishment, even death. Both Lenin and Stalin supported the idea of a world communist revolution and aided communists in other countries. In the 1920s, when some communist uprisings did occur in Europe, they were quickly suppressed.
In a totalitarian state, the government is a single-party dictatorship that controls every aspect of the lives of its citizens. Individual rights count for nothing. Citizens must obey the government without question, and critics are silenced. Also, the totalitarian state supports extreme nationalism.