Totalitarianism is that political theory adopted by that government which prohibits other opposition parties, even individual opposition to the state. This form of government leaves no room for individual freedom; all the aspects of individual life are subordinated to the state’s authority. Totalitarian dictators exercise extremely high degree of control over both public and private life. It is a form of authoritarianism and such states are mostly ruled by a single leader who holds control over the economy, state, cultural practices, mass media, etc. It restricts freedom of speech, administers mass surveillance through terrorism, prevents occurrence of social movements and all sorts of activities that could hamper its rule.
It was Benito Mussolini who first coined the term totalitario in the early 1920s to describe the recent emergence of the fascist state of Italy. He described this as, “all within the state, none outside the state, none against the state.” The concept of totalitarianism was first expressed and developed by Weimer jurist, Carl Schmitt and the Italian Fascists. Some states that had totalitarian government include the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, the People’s Republic of China under Mao Tse-tung, North Korea under the Kim dynasty, and Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler.
For a totalitarian regime to develop and survive, a strong central rule is a pre-requisite. This rule attempts to exert force and control over the people through coercion as well as repression. However, an exception was the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union under Stalin that had a decentralized totalitarianism. The state had popular support due to the charismatic leadership and developments made in the transport and communication sector.
People are restricted from forming any groups or organising any movements against the state by suppressing and discouraging the traditional social institutions and organisations. The religious ties and social bonds are replaced by other vague ties to the state. The existing diversity is reduced to mass conformity to those beliefs which are sanctioned by the state. The people, in a totalitarian dictatorship are absorbed into a single unified movement. Everything is encompassed under the regulation of a monolithic state. When the public try to show disagreement, they are often subjected to large scale organised violence. This violence gets justification due to the commitment to the state ideology. An instance can be shown from the Nazi Germany, where the entire class of Jews people became the victim of persecution and atrocities. The state is regarded as the end whereas the general public as the means. People have little or no role in decision making. It is the ruling party or the ruler to be precise who makes all the decisions and later impose them upon the public. Force is the basis to command obedience and instil fear amongst the people. Mass media and press are all owned and run by the state. Only that news or information is projected which suits the public. No part of the individual life remains outside state control. The state dominates all aspects of an individual. The people can only live and act by the rule of the state or the ruler who control the entire population and the government.