Is the totalitarian state an idea that we still need to fear in the 21st Century or have we learned our lessons of the 20th Century well enough?
Like Richmond and Ellie have stated, a totalitarian state requires a perfect leader; unfortunately, no such thing exists. Thus, the idea of a totalitarian state will always be flawed in some fashion. Actually, I’ll take that even further and say that a totalitarian state doesn’t exist. As much as we like to believe in purist government, there is not one country that is strictly democratic, strictly socialist, or strictly communist. I think that governments can have democratic, socialist, communist, and even totalitarian foundations, but are they such in being? I’d say no. So why fear something that doesn’t exist? Maybe it’s the idea of a totalitarian government that we need to fear as well as the motives of the people who support the idea of such, not a the totalitarian state itself because it's just not real. —-TB
Totalitarianism is not an idea that needs to be feared necessarily, but rather approached with caution. The problem is that the model is idealistic and requires a perfect leader. We’ve feared totalitarianism because we have a plethora of examples of situations in which totalitarianism leads to the abuse of citizens and degradation of the state long term as it wears on the people. The model makes sense especially as we see the failure of governments made up of multiple institutions designed to work together but that in fact fail to cooperate like our own congress, as it concentrates power in the hands of one and allows that person to swiftly and thus effectively respond to crises so that things can be done when they need to be done. The problem with the model is, as we see in the clear failures of totalitarianism, that it allows for the exploitation of the citizens and state. It is this exploitation that we fear most and with good reason, as it is an Achilles heel in the practical implementation of this government structure. So it isn’t something that should be blindly feared and labeled as evil, but should instead be understood as a model requiring a divinity as the head of state.
I think that perhaps in the United States or England or a similar country there should be almost no fear of a totalitarian dictator because their systems of democratic government are such a strong defense against it. However, in developing nations the fear of a totalitarian dictatorship is very real. We may often wonder how it is possible that a people would submit themselves to such a terrible leader, but desperate times call for desperate measure, and thus, it is much more likely that a developing nation might, in desperation, allow themselves to be controlled by a totalitarian dictator. Thus, in order to prevent this, it is important that developing nations be taught the principles and benefits of democracy and that the whole world be on alert for signs of burgeoning dictatorship. (Beuler)
I agree with all that Richmond had so intelligently said. But, most people in the world today do fear a totalitarian dictator, for many reasons. The model can only work if the one man in charge is the ideal human being. The leader would have to be militant during times of war yet calm during times of international crisis. Realistically, it is impossible to find the perfect ruler who can peacefully maintain control over his/her countries. Many states today in Africa and the Middle East are being threatened by totalitarian states because their failing economy and politics. I can see people being less fearful of Totalitarianism when they are desperate and think there are no other options out. But, in the USA all is hunky-dory(…mostly) with our government so we are not on the brink of resulting to dictatorship. When a state is amidst a crisis, totalitarianism becomes more popular. This is evident in the rises of Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini. Despite how appealing totalitarianism may seem during a time of chaos, it will only result in dissatisfaction because the citizens pay the horrible price to operate this government. – ELLIE SHEILD!
Is a totalitarian state something WE, the fifteen American/Canadian citizens in first period, need to fear? No. But we as citizens of the world should still be on alert, because in many developing nations, totalitarianism continues to be a real threat. I think that totalitarian dictators gain control when there is chaos - economic, political, maybe social - that produces a lack of faith in the present government and leads to a vacuum of power that can be filled by one charismatic person. When people in developing nations are suffering, we should help them out not just because of human kindness, but because suffering people are desperate to believe in any solution - in other words, they're much more likely to place their faith in a charismatic totalitarian leader trying to take power. I think that the potential political effects of hunger and other quotidian discomforts is under-recognized. (Jane Wester)
Since the “war to end all wars” actually didn’t accomplish that goal, it is plausible that the possibility of a totalitarian state is still vibrant in our chaotic world no matter how distant we think we are from such an old fashioned concept. If anything, we need to fear a totalitarian state more now than in the 1900s; we live in a world of nuclear missiles and leaders with large, seemingly undefeatable egos (and even those who don’t seem to have a problem with slaughtering their own people). In any country, the risk of economic downturns and social issues are present, and scapegoats will therefore always be necessary. Totalitarian states feed off of chaos and further fuel the fire with these scapegoats (the kulaks in Russia, the Jews in Germany). Even though America is likely to never fall fallow to the concentration of power within one sole leader without checks and balances, we must caution our less solidified peers throughout the world about the dangers of totalitarianism and keep their citizens above the temptation of totalitarianism. (KatieMayo)
I agree with Jane. I think that Citizens in the United States and other countries with sound democratic governments should not fear a totalitarian government. Based on the examples we have talked about in class such as Stalin, Mussolini, and eventually Hitler, it is evident that these totalitarian states are huge failures that cause economic, social, and political ramifications and leave in their place vacuums of power that are hard to overcome. The brutality inflicted upon people in these unfortunate states is quite extensive as seen in the massive exterminations of people under Hitler in the Holocaust and Stalin’s Great Purges. Unfortunately for the people in poorer countries during this day and age, it is hard resist tempting totalitarian leaders. The people are so desperate for a change that any one seemingly smart and wise leader that steps into power is enough for them to profusely support. As Jane mentioned above, it is important for the US and other privileged nations to help these countries that see no other option but to follow an alluring leader. (Lauren Burton)
I believe that the totalitarian state is not only something that is to be feared, but it is also what we must fear most. Leaders of truly democratic nations are checked by the power of different governing bodies and of public opinion, inefficiencies that make rash action difficult. However, headstrong, rash, and pugnacious leaders of totalitarian dictatorships answer to nothing but their own whims. In systems of this nature, absolute power can go to the head of the leader, and, as we saw in Wilhelm II and to some extent in North Korea today (which spends the vast majority of its funds on military expenditures while its population starves), the personal nationalistic pressure to achieve military greatness is powerful. According to the Democratic Peace Theory, democracies are largely hesitant to go to war with one another, a truth we can simply observe. When democracies come into conflict, cooler heads usually can prevail as the heads of state are responsible to the people, and attitudes towards war in developed nations are more negative than they have been in the past. Yet, when a people are desperate, and the will of a nation is concentrated into the hands of one person, anything is possible. With the advent of modern weaponry, the world can simply not handle another full-scale war such as WWI or WWII. If countries truly fought with no holds barred, there would be nothing left. Knowing this, no elected head of a democratically sound country would willfully engage in an offensive war that could spark such a conflict. Yet the same cannot be said of an intractable and bellicose totalitarian ruler. For this reason, totalitarian states are the largest threat to global security. Therefore, it is wise to provide help to less fortunate nations (not only out of altruism) before the people of said nations become desperate and come to a desperate solution. –DavisHeniford
In the twenty-first century, I think totalitarianism will continue to exist; however, the people are given much more effective means to rebel against despots. The paramilitary troops of the past that defined totalitarianism will no longer provide dictators an effective means to restrict rights. The advent of the internet, social media, and greater access to telecommunications in general will make it harder to stop people from collectivizing and assembling. Further, displays of violence, instead of acting as a means of intimidation, act as a rally call to unite the people against dictators. As such, the "examples" of the past become the martyrs of today. Overall, it is the expansion of communication technology that allows for the people to unite that will make it harder for despots to maintain power. The dictator's ability to hold a monopoly over the flow of information has been complicated by the advent of technology. The dictator's dilemma is thus to figure out how to stop people from interacting and from spreading information. The possibility for the restriction of rights still remains; however, it has been significantly complicated.-David Farrow
History has a funny way of repeating itself, and the lessons of the past have a habit of falling on deaf ears. While totalitarianism in its purest sense may be a 20th century idea, the concept of an all-powerful government is by no means less than a hundred years old. Throughout history, evil, power hungry men in positions of absolute authority have caused destruction and trauma, and I see no reason why this should change now. Totalitarianism appears tempting because with a perfect leader it could work beautifully. A perfect leader, however, is likely an allusion. Even if one leader was good, how do you ensure a line of succession that will continue this tradition? You can’t, and eventually every totalitarian regime will end up corrupt and repressive. And that fear should be every bit as real and worrying today as it was in the 20th century. (Connor Haines)
The concept of fearing a totalitarian government should increase or decrease at the rate of the success of the economy. When the economy does well, no need for a totalitarian dictator is necessary. On the other hand, depressions lead to lower and middle class revolts against the government that is letting them down. We as citizens see that totalitarianism is something that should be taken with the most extreme caution, and the world has learned that danger follows in a dictator's footsteps. However, people should always be aware of economically struggling countries that are looking for improvement. While we would like to think that the world would get it, economic struggles have a way of driving people into desperate ideas. (Robert Jessell)
I think the totalitarian state continues to be a threat to democracy that we must fear in the 21st century. Being a citizen of the United States of America, I do not fear my government because I know my essential rights are protected by the law and there is a system of checks and balances set up to protect against totalitarianism that could jeopardize these rights. However, the tendency of developing nations to turn towards radical systems is especially concerning. Neighboring countries, specifically in Central and Latin America, putting their faith in one leader and turning toward totalitarianism have in the past and will in the future pose security issues for the United States. When all of a nation’s power is consolidated under one man, there are no checks or balances to prevent rash, bellicose decisions that could cause real problems, especially with modern technology. A prime example is Fidel Castro’s Cuba and the Cuban Missile Crisis. To prevent and lessen threats against national security, more developed nations ought to advise those less-solidified in democracy against totalitarianism. (Megs)
We as in America and Europe have learned, studied, and understood what a totalitarian government does and how one comes about. Unfortunately in developing nations… not so much. Largely uninformed and disconnected due to cultural boundaries, the people of poor states could naively choose or unknowingly allow one man or regime to take over. I disagree with the earlier stated idea that the modern era makes it easier for the people to rise against a dictator. Yes the social media connects people, but modern weaponry that is only in the hands of the government gives an extreme upper hand to totalitarian states trying to maintain power. America was able to revolt because the common household musket was the same as the military musket, but today, granddad's shotgun can't hang with stealth bombers or even on a simpler level, heavy duty assault weapons. Ultimately, in smaller nations, a dictator or totalitarian state could rise, but America will most likely dig its nose in to stop it. What should scare people more than a small failing totalitarian state like North Korea is a large land where freedom and prosperity is hindered by the tyranny of the uneducated masses that, like a leech, suck the vigor and excellence from an excelling nation. — Louis Stephens