Listing of the Characteristics of a Totalitarian Government

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's totalitarian regime used terror to maintain power.
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Totalitarian governments are defined primarily by their aspiration to the creation of a utopian society by any means necessary. Not to be confused with authoritarian governance, in which the leader seeks merely to preserve a hold on power, totalitarianism has lofty but ultimately unattainable goals that compel all of society to participate in unreasonable and oftentimes irrational acts of devotion to the state. Usually headed by an exceptionally charismatic leader, totalitarian regimes rely primarily on strong negative emotions, such as fear, to hold power.

1 Revolution

Totalitarian regimes generally come to power by overthrowing the existing government, ostensibly to bring a better life to the people. Such regimes quickly get rid of opposition parties and begin a crackdown on public dissent and individuals with opinions that are hostile to the new rule. Crackdowns are usually harsh but justified with the excuse that threats to the regime could jeopardize a public goal, such as political stability or economic growth. In the throes of what may be a long-awaited revolution, people are more likely to tolerate harshness in favor of promised long-term benefits.

2 Extreme Idealism

Totalitarian governments seek the transformation of society an ideal state, in which the the usual societal ailments -- poverty or corruption, for example -- are wiped out. To this end, regimes dominate every part of public life, from the government to churches and schools, in order to expose society to the "right" ideology at every opportunity and gain support. Totalitarian governments abandon the rule of law in favor of coercion to advance their utopian ideal and commonly use violence and fear to control the public. Generally, these negatives are excused by leaders as temporary necessities that will go away in time.

3 Intolerance

Totalitarian regimes do not tolerate dissenting or even alternative views. Those who promote such views are usually dealt with very harshly. There is little independent media in a totalitarian state; ever TV channel, radio station and newspaper is merely a state mouthpiece used to further indoctrinate society . There are no elections, since opposing views are illegal. Such regimes also control all means of communication. Emails, letters and phone calls, for example, are closely monitored so that opposition can be wiped out before it spreads.

4 Planned Economy

An unregulated economy is a danger to totalitarian power, so every aspect of the state economy is planned. Farmers are told how much of and which crop to plant, while private enterprise, if it exists at all, is very closely regulated to suit the needs of the state. The goal is constant economic growth (or at least stability) so that the public is kept content and the regime's ruling measures are sustained.

5 Scapegoating

In totalitarian regimes, both real and perceived setbacks - whether historical or current - are usually blamed on a particular group of state-designated undesirables, such as a particular ethnic group. Adolf Hitler, for example, blamed Germany's economic and political problems on non-Aryan people, communists, homosexuals and others easily marginalized. The already-frustrated Germans, once they had a target at which to aim their anger, were willing to participate in irrational acts in order to rid their society of the imaginary threat. Of course, scapegoating is simply a unifying tactic; once the public develops an us-versus-them mentality, it is easier to advance the regime's goals and ideals.

Kate Bradley began writing professionally in 2007. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies and a minor in German from Berry College in Rome, Ga; TEFL/TESOL certification from ITC International in Prague; and a Master of Arts in integrated global communication from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga.