Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.
What exactly does totalitarianism mean? To be honest, the average person doesn't know. They know it is bad and applied to bad dictators in history. That's about all they get from this word.
I had to look up the exact definition. Webster says that it is "centralized control by an autocratic authority; the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority." Now, what images come to mind?
The World Was Ready for It
Totalitarianism found the perfect ground to root in right after World War I ended. Europe had changed. Gone were the romantic ideals of the Victorian age and beyond. Gone were the nations as the world once knew them. There was a loss of security and identity flowing through the nations. There was a hole that wanted to be filled...and was.
Totalitarianism governments were the answer to the need as most countries desired to “avoid revolution” and to “avoid another world war.” (1) It also helped that because of the way, the people were used to sacrificing for the government and having it be involved in all aspects of their lives: “the economy, politics, religion, culture, philosophy, science, history, and sport.” (2) It was a severely controlling government that normally would have been avoided, but the collapse of Victorian Europe shoved all suspicion aside.
In Italy and Germany, the economy collapsed leaving the people wanting stability and something to hold them up. Chaos erupted in the workplace and among the various social classes. Fear plagued the citizens who had just witnessed the horrors of war. Their entire society was crumbling down around them. Any time fear feeds on the people, opportunity arises for systems of government to step in that can go the extreme as in totalitarianism.
All of Europe was open to these political movements, and all were susceptible. Mussolini in Italy saw a chance to use that chaos to get somewhere politically. In office, he began “censoring the press, organizing a secret police, and banning any criticism of the government” as he “controlled the army and the schools.”(3) He gave the people organization and ‘peace’ at a very high price. Hitler also preyed upon the fears of the people as he gave the German people someone to blame for all their problems and “for their defeat in the war.” (4)
Fear in Control
When fear takes control, disaster is bound to happen. That is when men with dark agendas can rise up and take control using the fear against the people.
Look back through history. Over and over there are examples of such things. When people find a common fear, a few find the opportunity to take control. They use the fear as their biggest resource. They make those fearful think they can help eliminate the source of the fear.
Think of Hitler. He used fear to rally Germans against Jews and others deemed outcasts. His fellow Germans feared their economic and political circumstances. They were angry of the past and fearful of the future. Fear has to have something to focus on. He took that fear and directed it against various groups of people.
Even in America that fear has been used to control people. The Red Scare was one where certain politicians tried to turn neighbor against neighbor to keep the evil communists out of the country. Even family members turned on one another because of the fear mongering people in power used.
(1) Steven Kreis, “Lecture 10: The Age of Totalitarianism: Stalin and Hitler,” The History Guide: Lectures on Twentieth Century Europe, 2000, http://www.historyguide.org/europe/lecture10.html.
(3) “The Rise of Totalitarianism,” Fresno United School District, http://fresno.k12.ca.us/divdept/sscience/history/totalitarianism.htm.
"How Did Hitler Turn Germany Into a Totalitarian State?" - Marked By Teachers - http://www.markedbyteachers.com/gcse/history/how-did-hitler-turn-germany-into-a-totalitarian-state.html
"Nazi Fascism and the Modern Totalitarian State" - Remember.Org - http://remember.org/guide/facts-root-nazi
"Fascism and the Italian Road to Totalitarianism" - Library of Social Science - https://www.libraryofsocialscience.com/ideologies/resources/gentile-fascism-and-the-italian/
Indiana University - http://www.iun.edu/~hisdcl/h114_2002/fascism.htm