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In political science, totalitarianism denotes a form of domination which, in contrast to an authoritarian dictatorship, strives to influence all social relationships, often combined with the claim to shape a “new person” according to a certain ideology . While an authoritarian dictatorship seeks to maintain the status quo , a totalitarian dictatorship requires the ruled to take an extremely active part in state life and to further develop it in a direction that is directed by the respective ideology.

Typical are therefore the permanent mobilization in mass organizations and the exclusion up to the killing of those who actually or possibly oppose the total claims to power. The political counter-model to totalitarianism is the democratic-free, substantive constitutional state with the freedom of citizens guaranteed by basic rights , the separation of powers and the constitution . Most of the time, both National Socialism and Stalinism are classified as prototypes of totalitarian regimes.

Concept history

The term was coined in 1923 by the Italian liberal Giovanni Amendola . He called the fascist system of rule created by Benito Mussolini , the dictator of Italy at the time , a totalitarian system ( sistema totalitario ). While the anti-fascists initially wanted to warn against an absolute and uncontrollable rule, the term was quickly adopted by the fascists themselves and given a positive connotation. As early as 1925, in a speech at La Scala in Milan, Benito Mussolini described the character of the total state he was striving for as follows: Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato (“Everything in the state, nothing outside the state , nothing against the state ”).

In Germany the right-wing constitutional lawyer Carl Schmitt spoke in the affirmative of a "total state" that would bring the unification of state, society, culture and religion and to which the future belongs, and his colleague Ernst Forsthoff soon published a monograph of the same name .

Meanwhile, the concept of totalitarianism found its way into the general domestic political debate in Italy. For example, the Catholic People's Party around Luigi Sturzo , using the term, equated the camps of fascists and communists , as both rejected parliamentary democracy . In November 1939, the American Philosophical Society hosted the first symposium on the Totalitarian State , at which the American historian Carlton JH Hayes emphasized the historical novelty of totalitarianism in relation to older forms of dictatorial rule. In 1940, Franz Borkenau presented an early conception of totalitarianism in his work The Totalitarian Enemy by comparing National Socialism and Bolshevism .

After the Second World War , the term was used exclusively with negative connotation. Different publicists compared National Socialism and Stalinism and described both as totalitarian regimes. Others rejected the use of the word totalitarianism as an expression of the Cold War without deeper reflection .

One of the best-known critics of totalitarianism was the writer George Orwell , who in 1948 in his novel 1984 anticipated later findings of other publicists on a fictional level. The most widely received theorists of totalitarianism are Hannah Arendt , Carl Joachim Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzeziński . Numerous scientists, such as B. Bassam Tibi , today advocate the thesis that Islamist systems and movements represent a current manifestation of totalitarian claims to rule.

The concept of totalitarianism was also applied to parliamentary democracies, for example in Sheldon Wolin's theory of “inverted totalitarianism”.

Characteristics of the totalitarian state

Parade at the Nazi party rally in 1935
Josef Stalin, 1942

Many totalitarian states (such as the Nazi-ruled Germany , the Stalinist Soviet Union or North Korea ) have very specific characteristics that they all have in common, for example:

Totalitarianism models

There are various attempts to determine totalitarian systems by defining characteristics. What these totalitarian models have in common is that they define and analyze totalitarian systems in terms of their structures of rule . The focus is not on the goals or the number of victims of totalitarian dictatorships, but on the mechanisms of the rule of such systems. The most important of these totalitarianism models are presented below.

Friedrich / Brzeziński model of totalitarianism

The political scientists Carl Joachim Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzeziński saw something fundamentally new in totalitarian regimes. The various totalitarian systems are, however, basically the same and comparable with one another. The essence of totalitarian regimes is their organization and their methods of achieving total control, not their pursuit of total control. Nevertheless, one should not imagine totalitarian systems as static structures, since they are subject to evolution. In their 1956 work Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy , Friedrich and Brzeziński defined six constitutive characteristics of totalitarian systems:

  1. a universally binding ideology that encompasses all important areas of life and is geared towards the creation of a new society, claiming to be true and strongly utopian , e.g. T. religion-like elements.
  2. a single, hierarchically and oligarchically organized mass party (new type), with all formal power, which is usually led by a man (the dictator) and which is either superordinate to the state bureaucracy or is completely intertwined with it. Only a small part of the population (up to 10%) are active members of the party and an active minority within the party is fanatically devoted to the underlying ideology.
  3. a physical and / or psychological terror system : control and surveillance of the population, but also of the party itself, by a secret police. This fights not only actual, but also potential enemies.
  4. the almost complete monopoly of the means of mass communication with the state.
  5. the almost complete monopoly of the use of combat weapons by the state.
  6. central, bureaucratically coordinated monitoring and control of the economy.

Friedrich and Brzeziński also point out the central role of technical progress , which makes features 3–6 possible.

Totalitarianism model by Peter Graf Kielmansegg

Political scientist Peter Graf Kielmansegg criticized Friedrich / Brzeziński's model, which in his opinion could not explain the dynamics of social change within the system. According to Kielmannsegg, the decisive characteristics of totalitarian systems are:

  • monopolistic concentration of the possibilities to influence decision-making processes in a management center
The decisive factor here is not that the leadership really regulates everything itself, but that it has the possibility, in principle, to take every decision to itself and to revise the decisions that were made outside the leadership. It is also decisive that the totalitarian leadership is not subject to any control body.
  • in principle unlimited scope of the decisions of the political system
This means that the political system has the power to intervene in all areas of social life.
  • basically unlimited freedom, sanctions to be imposed (unlimited intensity of sanctions)
What is decisive is the set of sanction instruments available and the freedom of disposal over these instruments. Terror is just one of the possible instruments. The provisions on educational, professional and communication opportunities as well as on the opportunities for material satisfaction are also mentioned, for example.

According to Kielmansegg, the use of decision-making power of unlimited scope (2) would result in the above structure. This point should therefore be seen as the beginning of the emergence of totalitarian systems. As soon as the monopoly of power is established, securing the monopoly (maintaining power) becomes the monopoly end in itself. According to Kielmansegg, in totalitarian systems there is priority to securing the monopoly of decision-making over all ideological goals of rule. Ideology and the mass party would only have the task of motivating, controlling and providing legitimation.

The model of total domination according to Hannah Arendt

According to Hannah Arendt , the role of terror is the defining characteristic of a totalitarian system. In their extensive study The Origins of Totalitarianism , first published in English in 1951 and published in Frankfurt am Main in 1955 as Elements and Origins of Total Domination , it says:

“So the essence of totalitarian rule is not that it curtails or eliminates certain freedoms, nor that it eradicates the love of freedom from human hearts; but only in the fact that it closes people, as they are, with such violence in the iron bond of terror that the space of action, and this alone is the reality of freedom, disappears. "

She names further criteria of totalitarian rule: the will to rule the world , fanatical mass movements based on the Führer principle , millions of murders in the name of a “new” legal order, that is, the reinterpretation and manipulation of morality and the link with an ideology and the totalitarian one Propaganda.

Arendt only referred to National Socialism and Stalinism as totalitarian systems of rule. Since ancient times she has viewed other forms of political oppression, for example in times of war, as dictatorships or systems of tyranny . She provides a wealth of examples for this. Among other things, she marked the fascism of Benito Mussolini and the Soviet Union after Stalin's death as well as their "satellite states" as non-totalitarian dictatorships. She expressed concern that totalitarian forms of society could again be expected in the future.

Karl Popper's regression thesis

Karl Popper tried to show that our civilization has still not recovered from its birth trauma - from the trauma of the transition from the tribal or "closed" social order, which is subject to magical powers, to the 'open' social order , which the critical abilities of the Set people free. The shock of this transition was one of the factors that enabled the rise of those reactionary movements that have worked and are working towards the overthrow of civilization and the return to tribalism. This suggests that the ideas we call totalitarian today belong to a tradition that is as old or as young as our civilization itself.

Examples of totalitarian regimes

Nazi rally in Berlin
CIP parade, after Stalin's death in 1953, Dresden

Depending on the totalitarianism model, different states are referred to as totalitarian. Examples of frequently mentioned regimes are:

It is controversial in research whether the term can be applied to the GDR , for example. Eckhard Jesse (1994) applied the concept of Juan José Linz , who differentiated totalitarian dictatorships from authoritarian ones on the basis of various characteristics, to the GDR. He came to the conclusion that the GDR under Walter Ulbricht can be described as totalitarian. Under Erich Honecker , the GDR increasingly lost this character and developed into an authoritarian system due to the decreasing ideologization even within the SED and the decreasing mobilization of the population . In his monograph The SED State, Klaus Schroeder describes the GDR as a “(late) totalitarian surveillance and supply state”.

According to Jacob Talmon , a democratic constitutional state can also develop into a “ totalitarian democracy ”.

Totalitarianism theory

The totalitarianism theory has been comparing the systems of fascism with Stalinism since its emergence in the 1920s. Although both ideologies opposed and fought against each other strictly, they show, according to the position of totalitarianism researchers, a number of striking similarities in terms of form and content. Hannah Arendt only describes National Socialism and Stalinism as totalitarian and as “variations of the same model”.

In recent years some intellectuals have compared the crimes in socialist states with those of National Socialism. In 1998 the Black Book of Communism was published , in which various studies portray the crimes of communist governments in part as the “ Red Holocaust ”. This newly introduced term ties in with the so-called “ Historikerstreit ” of 1986, in which the historian Ernst Nolte paralleled the “racial murder” of the National Socialists with the “class murder” under Josef Stalin .

Critique of the totalitarianism theory

The theory of totalitarianism has been criticized by socialist historians and is sometimes referred to as the “doctrine of totalitarianism”. It is an ideological construct of the Cold War that should defame the countries of real socialism . According to this view, National Socialism cannot be compared with socialist systems of any kind. The concept of totalitarianism does not capture the goals and contents of political systems or the motivation of political actors, but only the external forms such as the oppression and persecution of political or other groups. A number of common features, such as a unity party, a comprehensive apparatus of power, a monopoly of communication, the cult of the leader and terror, are therefore insufficient to describe governments with different ideological orientations as totalitarian.

Critics of the concept of totalitarianism see the danger of equating Stalinism and National Socialism. Any comparison of structure and practice inevitably leads to relativizations. This is how the Holocaust is made one crime among others. Thus, even among the manifestations of such a historicization of the Holocaust, z. For example, the so-called “massacre comparisons”, which did not take into account the anti-Semitic core of Auschwitz , led to a reinterpretation of German history.

This is countered by the fact that the historical uniqueness of the National Socialist crimes cannot mean that political structures and practices cannot be compared with one another. A comparison of systems and their crimes does not represent an equation of the compared systems or their crimes. Regardless of the diversity of the ideologies of the systems examined and the extent of the victims they are responsible for, totalitarianism research brings progress in knowledge regarding the structures and mechanisms of rule of totalitarian dictatorships. Their condemnation as a construct of the Cold War also overlooks the fact that their terminology and basic statements had already been developed since the late 1930s and that any politically striking claims of the theory could generally say nothing about its scientific justification.

In political science, the models of totalitarianism, which are more aimed at structures of rule, are now supplemented by concepts such as political religion , for example to explain motivation and mobilization within totalitarian systems.

Inverted totalitarianism

In 2003, the political scientist Sheldon Wolin coined in a newspaper article the term Inverted Totalitarianism (German: Inverted totalitarianism ). With the book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism , he expanded his argumentation on inverted totalitarianism in 2008 and received the Lannan Literary Award in the category of a particularly noteworthy book in the same year .

The thesis of this work is that at the end of the 20th century, with the pursuit of superpower and the management of democracy in the USA, a post-democratic government technique emerged that combined elements of liberal democracy with those of totalitarian political systems. Wolin sees a central difference to classical totalitarianism in the fact that National Socialism was a mobilization regime, while inverted totalitarianism relies on a far-reaching depoliticization of the population. In addition, the postmodern form of total domination relies on softer , barely perceptible mechanisms of oppression. A strong leader is also dispensable in this form of government.

See also


Classic of the totalitarianism theory

Representations on totalitarianism theory and totalitarianism models

  • Uwe Backes : Totalitarianism - in search of a definitional minimum. In: FORUM for Eastern European Contemporary History and Ideas. 17, 2013, issue 1, pp. 45-64.
  • Uwe Backes: What does totalitarianism mean? On the rulership characteristics of an extreme type of autocracy. In: Katarzyna Stokłosa, Andrea Strübind (ed.): Faith - Freedom - Dictatorship in Europe and the USA. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 3-525-35089-9 , pp. 609-625, (PDF; 294 kB).
  • Lothar Fritze : Anatomy of totalitarian thinking. Communist and National Socialist worldview in comparison. Olzog, Munich 2012, ISBN 3-7892-8324-X .
  • Abbott Gleason: Totalitarianism. The Inner History Of The Cold War. Oxford University Press, New York 1998, OCLC 229907011 .
  • Jens Hacke : “National community of like-minded people”. Liberal analysis of fascism and the roots of the totalitarianism theory. In: Mittelweg 36 . 23, 2014, issue 4, pp. 53–73.
  • Klaus-Dietmar Henke (Ed.): Totalitarismus. Six lectures on the content and scope of a classic concept of dictatorship research. HAIT, Dresden 1999, (PDF; 796 kB).
  • Klaus Hildebrand : Between Politics and Religion. Studies on the origin, existence and effect of totalitarianism (= writings of the historical college . Colloquia 59). Oldenbourg, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-486-56748-9 , (PDF; 6.7 MB).
  • Martin Jänicke : Totalitarian rule. Anatomy of a political concept. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1971, ISBN 3-428-02448-6 .
  • Eckhard Jesse (ed.): Totalitarianism in the 20th century. A balance sheet of international research. Nomos, Baden-Baden 1999, ISBN 3-7890-5954-4 .
  • Árpád von Klimó , Malte Rolf (Ed.): Intoxication and dictatorship. Staging, mobilization and control in totalitarian systems . Campus, Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-593-38206-7 .
  • Gerhard Lozek: Totalitarianism - (not) a topic for the left? (= Pankower Lectures Vol. 1). Bright panke. Berlin, 1997 (2nd edition).
  • Konrad Löw (Ed.): Totalitarismus. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1993, ISBN 3-428-07664-8 .
  • Hans Maier (Ed.): "Totalitarianism" and "Political Religions". Concepts of dictatorship comparison. 3 volumes. Schöningh, Paderborn 1996-2003, ISBN 3-506-76825-5 .
  • Wolfgang Merkel : Totalitarian Regimes. In: Totalitarianism and Democracy . 1, 2004, issue 2, pp. 183–201, (PDF; 166 kB).
  • Robert Christian van Ooyen : Theory of totalitarianism against Kelsen and Schmitt. Eric Voegelin's “political religions” as a critique of legal positivism and political theology. In: Journal of Politics. 49, 2002, issue 1, pp. 56-82.
  • Richard Overy : The dictators. Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia. Translated from English by Udo Rennert and Karl Heinz Siber. DVA, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-421-05466-5 .
  • Bruce F. Pauley : Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. Totalitarianism in the Twentieth Century. 4th edition. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford 2014, ISBN 1-118-76592-3 .
  • Lars Rensmann : Totalitarianism. In: Gerhard Göhler , Matthias Iser, Ina Kerner (eds.): Political theory. 22 contested terms to introduce. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-8252-2594-1 , pp. 367-384.
  • Frank Shell , Ellen Thümmler (Ed.): Thinking the totalitarian state. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2015, ISBN 3-8487-1640-2 .
  • Walter Schlangen: The totalitarianism theory. Development and problems. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1976, ISBN 3-17-002776-X .
  • Mike Schmeitzner (Ed.): Criticism of totalitarianism from the left. German discourses in the 20th century (=  writings of the Hannah Arendt Institute for Totalitarian Research . Vol. 34). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2007, ISBN 978-3-525-36910-4 .
  • Bruno Seidel , Siegfried Jenkner (ed.): Ways of totalitarianism research. WBG, Darmstadt 1968, DNB 458589039 .
  • Hans Otto Seitschek: Political Messianism. Critique of totalitarianism and philosophical historiography following Jacob Leib Talmon (=  publications of the Görres Society on politics and communication studies . Vol. 26). Schöningh, Paderborn 2005, ISBN 3-506-72929-2 .
  • Achim Siegel (Ed.): Theories of totalitarianism after the end of communism (=  writings of the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism . Vol. 7). Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-412-04498-9 .
  • Alfons Söllner : Totalitarianism - a necessary figure of thought in the 20th century? Five historical stations of the concept of totalitarianism (=  Philosophical Discussions. Vol. 39). Bright panke. Berlin, 2015, DNB 1078000972 .
  • Alfons Söllner, Ralf Walkenhaus, Karin Wieland (eds.): Totalitarismus. A history of ideas from the 20th century. Academy, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-05-003122-0 .
  • Guido Thiemeyer : Totalitarianism and the Cold War (1920-1970). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2019, ISBN 978-3-17-034426-6 .
  • Clemens Vollnhals : The concept of totalitarianism in the course of the 20th century. In: Bohemia . 49, 2009, issue 2, pp. 385–398, (PDF; 584 kB)

Criticism of the totalitarianism theory and totalitarianism models

Web links

Wiktionary: totalitarian  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hans-Gerd Jaschke: Totalitarianism | bpb. Retrieved March 27, 2020 .
  2. In his article Maggioranza e minoranza (majority and minority), which appeared on May 12, 1923 in the daily newspaper Il Mondo, Giovanni Amendola described fascism for the first time as a sistema totalitario , which strives for "absolute and uncontrolled rule". Quoted from Jens Petersen: The history of the concept of totalitarianism in Italy. In: Hans Maier (Ed.): Totalitarianism and Political Religions . Paderborn 1996, pp. 15–35, here p. 20.
  3. ^ Benito Mussolini: Per la medaglia dei benemeriti del comune die Milano . In: Opera Omnia . tape 21 , p. 425 .
  4. Bassam Tibi: The New Totalitarianism. 'Holy War' and Western Security . Primus Verlag, Darmstadt 2004.
  5. ^ Wahied Wahdat-Hagh : The Islamic Republic of Iran. The rule of political Islam as a variant of totalitarianism . Lit-Verlag, Münster / Hamburg / Berlin 2003.
  6. Johannes Urban: The Fight against International Islamist Terrorism . VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2006, in particular p. 24 ff. With further references.
  7. Thomas Vollmer: Militant Islamism as a new totalitarianism. Jihadist Terrorism and Western Security Architecture. VDM Verlag, Saarbrücken 2007.
  8. ^ Hannah Arendt: Elements and origins of total domination . 1986, p. 958.
  9. Eckhard Jesse: Was the GDR totalitarian? In: From Politics and Contemporary History , Issue 40, 1994, pp. 12–23.
  10. Klaus Schroeder : The SED state. History and structures of the GDR. Hanser, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-446-19311-1 , p. 619 f.
  11. The Origins of Totalitarianism . New York 1951 (German elements and origins of total rule , Frankfurt am Main 1955, p. 640; 10th edition, Piper, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-492-21032-5 ).
  12. ^ Wolfgang Wippermann : and Michael Burleigh : The Racial State. Germany 1933-1945. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1991, pp. 12 ff. And others; the same: theories of totalitarianism. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1997, p. 99 fuö.
  13. ^ Ian Kershaw : The Nazi State. An overview of historical interpretations and controversies . 4th edition. Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 2006, p. 66/67 (Kershaw, however, considers the concept of totalitarianism theories only partially suitable for the analysis of National Socialism, see p. 63).
  14. for example: Hans Joachim Lieber: On the theory of totalitarian rule. In: Hans-Joachim Lieber (ed.): Political theories from antiquity to the present. Bonn 1991, pp. 881-931, here pp. 883 and pp. 926-931.
  15. Hans Maier : Interpretations of totalitarian rule. In: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 50 (2002), pp. 362–366 ( online , accessed June 7, 2019).
  16. Sheldon Wolin, Inverted Totalitarianism. How the Bush regime is effecting the transformation to a fascist-like state , In: The Nation , May 19, 2003, accessed November 4, 2018.
  17. Sheldon Wolin 2008. Lannan Literary Award for Notable Book Awards , accessed November 4, 2018.
  18. Representation after Claudia Ritzi: The post-democratization of the political public: Critique of contemporary democracy - theoretical foundations and analytical perspectives . Springer VS, Wiesbaden 2014, p. 85 ff.