by Jon Atack
The Total Authoritarian
A centralized state that outlaws all opposition and demands complete subservience of the population.
Mussolini’s Fascist Movement
“Totalitarian” combines “total” and “authoritarian” and was first used to describe Mussolini’s Italian Fascist movement in 1926. It describes a political philosophy where a centralized state outlaws all opposition and demands complete subservience of the population. Fascism totalitarianism is not simply right-wing: it is opposed to democracy. In a totalitarian state, the leader makes all of the policy decisions. The state depends entirely upon the will and the whims of a dictator, who will almost inevitably be a tyrant.
Hitler’s “One People”
Hitler expressed his own totalitarian view in the statement, “One Empire, One People, One Leader” (Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Führer). The last totalitarian regime in western Europe ended with the death of General Franco in 1975. Franco ruled Spain and its colonies for almost 40 years, as a totalitarian, fascist dictator.
Most supposedly communist countries – such as Russia under Stalin – have also been totalitarian, in complete opposition to the basic tenets of Marx’s ideas. All dictatorships are totalitarian by definition.
“Totalism” is a contraction of “totalitarianism”, and Robert Jay Lifton extended the expression beyond state totalitarianism to all authoritarian relationships. To be “totalitarian” or “totalist” means to demand control. It describes dictatorship in all its many forms – whether in politics, religion, business, therapy, or even personal relationships. Totalitarianism sacrifices individual rights and freedoms, with the argument that only the greater good of society matters.
Robert Jay Lifton provides the basic model used by many in the counter-cult world to understand the submission to irrational ideas and anti-social practices that define destructive cult groups. Lifton’s model is the “thought reform” model, derived from his study of returnees from Chinese “brainwashing” camps and discussed in detail in his book “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China”.