Introduction: The Concept of Totalitarian Democracy

  • Richard N. Hunt


The word “totalitarian” did not exist before the twentieth-century regimes it is supposed to describe. It gained currency in the 1930s as a means of singling out those common traits which were curiously shared by Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia (and perhaps similar regimes), and which distinguished them from other forms of government, including earlier forms of absolutism and dictatorship.1 As classically defined by Carl J. Friedrich, these common and distinctive characteristics include: (1) an official chiliastic ideology which everyone is supposed to embrace; (2) a single, hierarchically organized party, composed of a passionately dedicated elite, which is completely commingled with—or superior to—the official governmental apparatus; (3) a technologically conditioned near-complete monopoly of the means of violence; (4) a parallel monopoly of the means of mass communication, used to disseminate the ideology; (5) a system of lawless, terroristic police control which employs the above monopolies and modern scientific psychology to full advantage. Friedrich stressed the twentieth-century technologies, the single ideologically committed party, and the emphasis on mass politicization, which separate modern totalitarianism qualitatively from earlier kinds of despotism and dictatorship.2


Mass Politicization Momentary Aberration Paris Working Class Social Workshop Secret Committee 
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  1. 1.
    Herbert J. Spiro, “Totalitarianism,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 16:106-07. The first edition of this famous encyclopedia, published in 1934, contained no entry under the word “totalitarianism.”Google Scholar
  2. 11.
    Charles Vellay, Discours et Rapports de Robespierre (Paris, 1908), p. 332, as quoted in Talmon, Totalitarian Democracy, p. 115.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    Victor Advielle, Histoire de Gracchus Babeuf et du Babouvisme (Paris, 1884), 1:42, as quoted in Talmon, Totalitarian Democracy, p. 207; see also pp. 170-72, 208.Google Scholar
  4. 18.
    Philippe Buonarroti, Conspiration pour l’égalité dite de Babeuf (Brussels, 1828), 1:138-39, as quoted in Talmon, Totalitarian Democracy, p. 216.Google Scholar

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© University of Pittsburgh Press 1974

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  • Richard N. Hunt

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