What is totalitarianism?

Totalitarianism is a term coined to describe a particular type of political regime which mainly existed during the 20th century. It is a type of regime which is driven by an urge to transform the entire society after a specific ideological or religious programme. To achieve that goal, the totalitarian regime utilises mass-mobilisation of the population, surveillance, and tries to exert political and ideological dominance over both the public and personal spheres of society[1] . We all have seen those documentaries about Hitler's Germany, Stalin's USSR and Mao's China, regimes which killed millions of people. In those documentaries, we are seeing the full level of control exerted by the ruling parties, the marching soldiers, the statues of the "great leaders", the cheering masses of people, the barbed wire, the concentration camps, and we are feeling distressed.

Would all ideologies or social programmes which are espousing an alternative to the current price system automatically become totalitarian, and start to persecute religious, political, ethnic minorities? Would all forms opposition or questioning of the current order automatically lead to the killing fields of Kampuchea?

What characterises a totalitarian ideology?

A totalitarian ideology is, as characterised by the philosopher Karl Popper, an ideology which is basing its premises on determinism, namely, that history is predetermined to take its course towards the inevitable utopia or dystopia at the end of the tunnel. Especially marxian communism is characterised by the almost religious faith in the "science" of dialectical materialism. Marxism in itself is not totalitarian, but the leninist interpretation of marxism has developed this deterministic idea into an almost theological standpoint, where the working class, unaware of its historical mission to destroy capitalism, must be lead by a "vanguard" of "proletarian intellectuals".

This has lead to what could be considered an ideology where all aspects of society should be directed for the good of building the new society. Even if one would not call that totalitarianism, it is surely different from Technocracy which do not aim to change the human being.

Fascism is not that developed as an ideology (we are talking about the fascism of Benito Mussolini and not the contemporary European fascists here), but is equally plagued by the deterministic idea about the struggle between the states (instead of between the classes as in the case of communism), much like the game Age of Empires and all of its off-shots. National socialism espouses race as the dividing factor.

That is another characterisation of a totalitarian ideology, namely that it divides the history in a struggle between a set of fixed groups, ranging from the subjective of history (the Vanguard, the Italian state, the Aryan Race or, as Eduard Limonov recently put it out, the "Misfits"), to the enemies of the new order (the bourgeoisie - who apparently could be everything from free peasants to people who have glasses - the other states and, of course, the Jews).

To simplify it: a totalitarian ideology is an ideology which is searching for an absolute, a sort of a substitution for religion, and it demands a total transformation of the individual and the reality to adapt to the new order, the secular kingdom of Christ, which will be an eternal Utopia (except in the case of Italian fascism which imagined an eternal struggle between the states). In a totalitarian movement or state, all forms of expression and endeavours which question the official policy are trampled or shut down by the leaders. Some totalitarian ideologies are unfit for rule because of their internal inconsistency. Among them I would characterise Ayn Rand's Libertarian Objectivism as a prime example.

Popper contrasted the totalitarian, or Closed society, with the Open society.

The Open society is a society where the official value foundation is based around the scientific method[4] , namely, that all hypotheses need to be tested out again, again and again, and where the channels of information are transparent and open for the general population to take part of and to partake in. The scientific method is also called falsificationism since it is never contend with accepting a fact for truth, and always looks forward to testing its postulates.

One could contrast the scientific method with monotheistic fundamentalism.

Scientific Method: Hypothesis => Test => Report => Peer Review => Publication => Fact => Hypothesis

Fundamentalism: Prophecy => Truth => Stick to it

One could clearly see that totalitarianism has a lot in common with fundamentalist interpretations of religion (something which also could explain why militant atheist groups like marxist-leninists bother to persecute religion, a move which often has contrary effects in relation to intended results).