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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1926, first recorded in reference to Italian fascism, from totalitarian + -ism.


n. A system of government in which the people have virtually no authority and the state wields absolute control, for example, a dictatorship.

  1. n. a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator (not restricted by a constitution or laws or opposition etc.) [syn: dictatorship, absolutism, authoritarianism, Caesarism, despotism, monocracy, one-man rule, shogunate, Stalinism, tyranny]

  2. the principle of complete and unrestricted power in government [syn: absolutism, totalism]


Totalitarianism is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through an all-encompassing propaganda campaign, which is disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror. A distinctive feature of totalitarian governments is an "elaborate ideology, a set of ideas that gives meaning and direction to the whole society."

The concept of totalitarianism was first developed in the 1920s by the Weimar German jurist, and later Nazi academic, Carl Schmitt, and Italian fascists. Schmitt used the term, Totalstaat, in his influential work on the legal basis of an all-powerful state, The Concept of the Political (1927). The concept became prominent in Western political discourse as a concept that highlights similarities between Fascist states and the Soviet Union.

Other movements and governments have also been described as totalitarian. The leader of the historic Spanish reactionary conservative movement called the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right declared his intention to "give Spain a true unity, a new spirit, a totalitarian polity..." and went on to say " Democracy is not an end but a means to the conquest of the new state. When the time comes, either parliament submits or we will eliminate it."

Usage examples of "totalitarianism".

FCC 651919, under the auspices of the Society for the Conversion of Extraterrestrial Nascent Totalitarianisms, calling Maxima Control.

I cannot for the life of me fit the recurring facial carbuncles of Karl Marx into my manipulationsnot even, though we know, well after the fact, that agonizing staphylococcus aitreus infections behind that famous beard helped shape twentieth century totalitarianism.

Hu Jintao came third, counted as worse than the leaders of the catastrophic regimes in Zimbabwe and Guinea and the Wahabi Islamist totalitarianism of Saudi Arabia.

There are several vital differences between totalitarianism and all the orthodoxies of the past, either in Europe or in the East.

All the evidence we have suggests that the sudden emotional changes which totalitarianism demands of its followers are psychologically impossible.

Totalitarianism has abolished freedom of thought to an extent unheard of in any previous age.

McCarthy's fundamental thesis was absolutely correct: The Democratic Party had fallen to the allures of totalitarianism.

Seventy years of totalitarianism had left them with a terrific appetite for back-tracking, doublespeak and doublecross.

It means condemning the Iraqi people to decades more terror and torture under Saddam's totalitarianism.

Britain may be fascized from without or as a result of some internal revolution, but the old ruling class can't, in my opinion, produce a genuine totalitarianism of their own.