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What Is Totalitarianism?

"The word ‘totalitarianism’ was invented by Italian Fascists to encapsulate their drive to ‘nationalize’ the Italian masses – to incorporate them within a hierarchical, mobilized, militarized community serving the needs of Italy. As a scholarly idea the term enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, when anti-Marxist social scientists favoured a concept that discredited communism by linking it with fascism.


"Famously, the American political scientist C. J. Friedrich defined totalitarianism as follows:

1. A single mass party, led by one man, which forms the hardcore of the regime and which is typically superior to or intertwined with the governmental bureaucracy.


2. A system of terror by the police and secret police which is directed against real and imagined enemies of the regime.


3. A monopolistic control of the mass media.


4. A near monopoly of weapons.


5. Central control of the economy.


6. An elaborate ideology which covers all aspects of man’s existence and which contains a powerful chiliastic [messianic or religious] moment.


"The final point is the most important, for fascists aim to restructure society in accordance with an ideological blueprint. Totalitarian theorists argue that in traditional societies a person’s place in the world is dictated by divine plan. Modernization, however, causes the breakdown of religious certainties, and some people find this alarming (they suffer from what is termed cultural despair, angst, or anomie), so they create substitute ‘religions’ such as communism or fascism. Hannah Arendt argued that the essence of totalitarianism lay in the use of terror to make real an abstract ideological understanding of the world, and to destroy all existing human solidarities in the name of this programme."

Kevin Passmore, Fascism: A Very Short Introduction, 18-19.

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