political system in which the state holds total authority

Totalitarianism is when regimes (political systems) control all public behavior and as much of private behavior as they can.[1] No elections are held, or if they are, candidates must be approved by the ruling group. Physical force and/or arrests and detentions are used on people who protest against the regime. There are events such as parades or rallies. These suggest to the people that the ruling group is in complete control.[2]

Joseph Stalin
Benito Mussolini (left) and Adolf Hitler (right).
Kim Family (North Korea)

For some, totalitarianism is as old as history.[3] Main examples in modern times are Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, North Korea, the Soviet Union, and Eritrea.

There are other countries which had dictatorships, but never reached full totalitarianism. Italian fascism under Benito Mussolini, Spain under General Franco, Portugal under Dr. Salazar, China under Mao Zedong, and many Latin American countries for periods were dictatorships with some aspects of totalitarianism. Some African countries have been dictatorships for long periods (e.g. Zimbabwe). The Empire of Japan (predecessor state of the modern nation state of Japan) was a well-known example of a totalitarian military dictatorship during World War II. The satire Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell was about such a society taken to extremes.

According to some, authoritarianism "does not attempt to change the world and human nature". In contrast, a totalitarian regime attempts to control virtually all aspects of the social life, including the economy, education, art, science, private life and morals of citizens.[4]

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  1. Conquest, Robert 1999. Reflections on a ravaged century. p. 74. ISBN 0-393-04818-7
  2. John A. Armstrong 1961. The Politics of Totalitarianism. New York: Random House.
  3. Hannah Arendt 1951. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Random House.
  4. Carl Friedrich and Z.K. Brzezinski 1967. Totalitarian dictatorship and autocracy. Harvard University Press.