The techniques of the scam artist has been elevated to new heights in destructive, authoritarian or totalist groups, which are also commonly known as cults. The term “totalist” or “totalitarian” refers to dictatorial leadership which allows no disagreement and has “total authority”. Our concern is for any authoritarian group or relationship, wherever it fits on the spectrum between autonomy and totalism.
There is no democracy in an authoritarian group. These groups have proliferated in our society. Experts list as many as three thousand dangerous authoritarian groups in the US alone. Some claim to be religious or philosophical, some are political or offer supposed therapy, others promise revelations leading to wealth or success in relationship, yet others promise eternal life.
There are many more “family” groups that cluster around an abusive individual, who has total authority. The smallest authoritarian group consists of a single follower in an intimate relationship with an authoritarian partner. The dynamics of manipulation or undue influence are broadly the same: all create authoritarian or even totalist relationships.
This definition of a totalist cult – which can be applied to any authoritarian group or relationship – was arrived at by a group of experts under the direction of Professor Louis Jolyon West, MD:
“A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, and employing unethical, manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the possible or actual detriment of members, their families or the community.”