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1938,[1] from totalitarian +‎ -ism, modeled after Italian totalitarismo (1923, by Giovanni Amendola) and German terms such as Totalstaat (1927, The Concept of the Political, by Carl Schmitt).


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totalitarianism (countable and uncountable, plural totalitarianisms)

  1. A system of government in which the people have virtually no authority and the state wields absolute control, for example, a dictatorship.
    • 1951, Hannah Arendt, “Preface to the First Edition”, in The Origins of Totalitarianism (A Harvest/HBJ Book), new edition, San Diego, Calif., New York, N.Y.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, published 1973, →ISBN, pages viii–ix:
      And if it is true that in the final stages of totalitarianism an absolute evil appears (absolute because it can no longer be deduced from humanly comprehensible motives), it is also true that without it we might never have known the truly radical nature of Evil.
    • 2020 October 31, Yiqing, “Why Is the Chinese Communist Party So Afraid of Intellectuals?”, in Minghui[1]:
      The film Repentance caused a sensation across the Soviet Union not only because it publicly condemned the evil of totalitarianism but also because it encouraged tens of thousands of Soviet people to reflect upon the source and root cause of the evil. []
    • 2022 April 9, Sabrina Tavernise, “Putin’s War in Ukraine Shatters an Illusion in Russia”, in The New York Times[2], →ISSN:
      Mr. Yudin argues that Russia is moving out of authoritarianism — where political passivity and civic disengagement are key features — into totalitarianism, which relies on mass mobilization, terror and homogeneity of beliefs.

Usage notes[edit]

Contentious usage: precise definition, application to specific cases, and distinction from similar terms varies by author. Narrowly, a government in which everything is political and controlled by the state, coined to describe fascism, in contrast to the older terms and concepts of autocracy, dictatorship, and tyranny, which focus more on centralization of power, not its pervasiveness. Later applied to the left-wing in general and communism in particular by right-wingers and either Stalinism, Marxism-Leninism or authoritarian communism by other communists and socialists, to emphasize its commonalities with fascism and Nazism. Sometimes considered an extreme form of authoritarianism, in other cases contrasted with it.

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  1. ^ The Communist International (1938), by Franz Borkenau is cited by Nemoianu, Virgil, Review of End and Beginnings pages 1235-1238 from MLN, Volume 97, Issue # 5, December 1982, p.1235.