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Totalitarianism

The condition of a state in which the government tries to control every aspect of life, usually characterized by:

  • 1. One-party state (no voters' choice)
  • 2. secret police and Concentration Camps
  • 3. prohibition of autonomous associations (churches, clubs, parties, trade unions)
  • 4. control of culture, information and opinion

Twentieth century examples:

Pre-20th century examples:

  • 16th century Spain (Inquisition)
  • 17th century Anabaptist Munster (religion)
  • 17th century New England (religion, witches)

Some of the aspects of totalitarianism can appear in apparently democratic societies:

  • Switzerland : the attempt to end Gypsy culture by taking their children and fostering them in non-Gypsy families (1920s, 1930s.)
  • United States : paranoia about Communists (1940s, 1950s - McCarthy, 1960s); FBI under J.Edgar Hoover.

The Science Fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein characterized it as a state of affairs in which "everything that was not forbidden is compulsory".

Arthur Koestler - Darkness at Noon.
The fictional story of an enthusiastic communist who has betrayed others for "the cause" and then finds himself betrayed by the Party. A classic novel about the implications of serving a totalitarian society.

George Orwell - 1984
Orwell's novel is not a prophecy of the future but a work of the imagination based partly on his experiences of being attacked by Stalinists in Catalonia, described in his Homage to Catalonia (Penguin Modern Classics)

Last revised 20/01/08


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