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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S062-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2022, from

Article Summary

A term adopted in the 1920s by the Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile to describe the ideal fascist state, ‘totalitarianism’ quickly acquired negative connotations as it was applied to the regimes of Hitler in Germany and Stalin in the USSR. Within political science it has generally been used to refer to a distinctively modern form of dictatorship based not only on terror but also on mass support mobilized behind an ideology prescribing radical social change. Controversially, the specific content of the ideology is considered less significant than the regime’s determination to form the minds of the population through control of all communications.

Totalitarianism has attracted the attention of philosophers as well as political scientists because a number of classic philosophical systems have been suspected of harbouring totalitarian aspirations, and also because the model of total power exercised through discourse has been used by critical theorists to mount an attack on modernity in general.

Citing this article:
Canovan, Margaret. Totalitarianism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S062-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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