Authors: Bobbio, Matteucci, Pasquino
Summary: The entry summarizes the main features of totalitarianism, reviewing major traditional theories of totalitarianism as well as several revisionist approaches. The major traditional theories of totalitarianism are those of Arendt (1951) and Brzezinski and Friedrich (1956). Arendt saw totalitarianism as a new form of domination tending to destroy those groups and institutions on which private relations are normally based; its aim is the transformation of human nature through ideology and terror. Arendt considered the personalization of power an important but not fundamental feature of totalitarianism.
Brzezinski and Friedrich focused their attention on the term's main characteristics: an official ideology concerning all aspects of human existence; a single, rigidly hierarchical mass party headed by a dictator; a well-developed system of police terror; monopoly of the mass media; monopoly, in the hands of the party, of the means of violence; and centralized control of the economy. Both theories note the degree to which the regime mobilizes and penetrates society.
The second part of the entry describes three revisionist trends: arguments over the historical novelty of totalitarianism; arguments over the similarity between fascist and communist totalitarianism; and the extension of the concept of totalitarianism to all communist regimes and to the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. The entry questions this last trend, limiting the term to Germany under Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin.