What is a Totalitarian Regime?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 January 2019
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A totalitarian regime is a government that controls every aspect of the life of the people. People living under this type of regime generally also support it, sometimes almost cultishly, thanks to extensive propaganda missions that are designed to promote a positive view of the government. Citizens are also usually afraid to criticize the government, so they may be outspoken supporters to avoid closer scrutiny.

The concept of the totalitarian regime in political theory arose in the 20th century, and although there are a few examples of such governments that predate the 20th century, some of the most distinctive examples, such as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, date to the 1900s. Communist governments such as those of China and North Korea are also sometimes accused of being totalitarian.

Many people note that there are some distinct similarities between totalitarian and authoritarian governments. The main feature that separates these two types of governments is that a totalitarian government encompasses the whole of society, while an authoritarian government is focused solely on governance. While there may be some overlap, in order to be considered totalitarian, government and society must be closely intertwined, as for instance in countries where there is only one political party and everyone belongs to it.


Several characteristics can be seen in all totalitarian regimes. The first is strict government control of the media, with the media typically being used as a propaganda organ. Cultural, political, and artistic expression among the populace is also usually severely curtailed, as is access to outside news sources. People who criticize the government tend to disappear, and their family members may fall under close scrutiny.

These governments also cultivate a sense of deep devotion to the state, with citizens being encouraged to regard it as being almost like a parent. People must file applications before changing residences, taking new jobs, or getting married. They may also be expected to serve the state in some capacity, ranging from the military to a labor camp, and the government has control over access to education, reproductive freedoms, healthcare, and a number of other aspects of life that many people consider personal.

Many people feel that totalitarian regimes are a very poor form of government because they can be quite oppressive. They are also highly efficient, however, thanks to the extreme level of control, and this is one reason why such regimes are capable of mounting massive economic and military attacks on their neighbors.


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Post 23

What are the forms of totalitarian systems?

Post 21

@anon932693: I'm not going to suggest you re-read the article. I'm going to suggest you actually research what you said yourself.

Only two political parties: Nope. One can be an Independent, Green Party, Communist, Libertarian... Granted, mostly the R's or D's win the elections, but there are certainly more than two parties, and it's not illegal to belong to any of them.

Government rules the media -- you cited Fox News. This channel is more critical of the government than any other media outlet. They denounce the president every chance they get, and give lots of airtime to his opponents. But they're still on the air.

What journalists have disappeared? Care to name any names? Look how hard the U.S

. government worked to free Laura Ling, the journalist who was held for 140 days in a North Korean prison for (according to Pyongyang) speaking out against the regime? If she speaks out in North Korea, she will speak out here, but they still worked to free her, anyway.

The U.S. doesn't have a parliament. A parliament is what you have when you have a prime minister. We have a Congress. Like the British parliament, it is bicameral, but it's a Congress.

I don't think anyone likes to have outsiders tell them what's wrong with their country. Nothing unusual about that. We know America has plenty of flaws, and we discuss them loudly with each other. We're not afraid of them. But we do tend to close ranks when those who live in other countries start the criticism. Tell you what: you have criticized America roundly. O.K. Go on with your bad self. But in the interests of fair play, how about you tell me what country you're from and I'll give you a critique and see how much you appreciate it. I suspect you might be a little prickly, too.

Post 20

@anon319076: "If people think the USA is totalitarian, then they need to re-read this article and re-analyze the ideologies of USA government."

O.K. I re-read this article, and according to it, the USA is definitely totalitarian.

People living under this regime generally support it almost cultishly (Americans can't handle discussing America's perfection and purity -- or lack thereof.)

There are only two political parties. You have to choose between Republicans and Democrats. No other option is allowed to take a place in the parliament.

Government controls the media and the media is used as a propaganda organ (e.g., Fox News)

People who criticize the government tend to disappear (e.g., certain journalists)

They cultivate a sense of deep devotion to the state (constantly celebrating America, flying the flag everywhere, saying 'God bless America' in every other sentence of politicians, brainwashing with the American dream from a young age and many more), etc.

Post 19

The U.S is not totalitarian in the slightest. Look at the freedoms American citizens possess in comparison to those of say, North Korea and any statement attempting to imply otherwise merely seeks to mock the plight of those under the oppressive heel of a dictatorship in N.K., whose citizens are allowed minimal self expression.

Also, to answer questions posted here: Yes, totalitarian regimes can be predicted through the monitoring of economics, military activities, and certain religious/and or political groups. Totalitarian regimes are almost always dictatorships, with all political/military/economic power held by a small group of, or one person(s).

Post 18

Can a totalitarian regime be predicted?

Post 17

America isn't exactly totalitarian, but it does have some aspects that suggest that.

Post 16

If people think the USA is totalitarian, then they need to re-read this article and re-analyze the ideologies of USA government.

Post 13

USA is totalitarian.

Post 12

is your government functioning as a totalitarian state today?

Post 11

could someone please tell me the difference between totalitarianism and dictatorship?

Post 10

Good article. Happy new year!

Post 7

thanks. I might pass history thanks to you.

Post 6

this was fantastic! thanks!

Post 4

very useful information. thanks.

Post 1

looooved it!!! i want to start one of my own now. this article has inspired me! thanks! very much!

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