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?
History tends to leave scars on the subconscious, little remains of feelings and ideas that transcend generational boundaries and exist in the underlying conscious of all human beings and I think totalitarian governments are one of those nasty scars. We have every reason to absolutely fear a totalitarian state, especially today when governments attempt to reach their hands further and further into personal lives. When today we have internet and other technologies that put our personal information up front it is even more important to guard ourselves against governments that seek to control every sector of life. Plus, these totalitarian states still exists today in some desolate and desperate places in South America and Africa where the people and infrastructure simply cannot support for the education and security needed as a country, but that doesn’t make it right. Totalitarian governments are fundamentally taking away freedom, the idea scared the deepest and most prominent in the human mind. RORYYY
I think that we always need to keep in mind the lessons of the past, and this includes learning from the debaucheries of the early 20th Century dictators like Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini. Since WWII the Western world has done a good job of keeping these terrible systems of rule out of its governments. However, humanity has a whole has certainly not learned its lesson; abusive dictatorships certainly still exist today in Africa and the Middle East. I can't help but notice that these areas are also parts of the world that are severely lacking in sufficient standards of education, and I believe that because of this, people are more inclined to submit to abusive forms of government. They do not have the confidence or authority provided by education to challenge those who rule them, and as a result dictatorships still exist in our world today. Before we can eradicate the existence of such terrible institutions of government, we must first encourage and spread the practice of good education. ~Ashley
Like Ashley said, the modern world still suffers from totalitarianism and education has a lot to do with eliminating totalitarianism as a good idea. However I also think a general desire to prove yourself as a country, to show the rest of the world you are powerful adds to a nation's tendency to buy into totalitarian regimes. The common theme of a totalitarian state consists of a third world or 'up and coming nation' combined with a charismatic leader who has the ability to excite the people in a certain direction. This goes along with people being uncapable on developing their own political allegiances and instead taking the easy way out and following the public opinion. Maybe this is too simplistic, but I think a way to avoid this kind of situation in the 21st century is to avoid harsh post-war treatment. We haven't really gotten to WWII yet so we'll probably learn more about the causes. But given the situation in Italy and the Soviet Union I think it is safe to say that the repercussions of WWI were on some level influential in the rise of Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler. These leaders made their followers feel important, like they were part of something and in any setting this is hard to resist. -Becca
Just based on my knowledge of the past and my limited knowledge of current events, I think a totalitarian state is something that still needs to be feared, perhaps just not by us. I believe that the US, as well as most other European countries, have learned from the mistakes of Hitler, Mussolini, etc, but other, perhaps less economically developed countries are still facing the problems of dictators. I don’t know if these dictators are totalitarian rulers, but they are still dictators nonetheless. Hitler and Mussolini rose to such great power because their countries were falling apart and in desperate need of a leader. It almost seems to me that history is working in a cycle, and countries that are now in similar positions as Italy and Germany are facing dictators. - Erin
I apologize for taking such a pessimistic stance, but no matter what the past has taught us, there will always be people who choose to ignore these lessons, particularly when power is involved. Though totalitarianism may not seem like such a threat in the United States, where people gripe about the government but generally don’t feel the need to violently destroy it, there are plenty of places around the world where there is a potential for this to happen. Around the world, there are many nations revolting (or have had revolutions recently), where a potential outcome of frustration with the former government could result in support for radical, charismatic leaders, as we have studied. Though totalitarianism might not return as prolifically as in the mid-1900s, there are still opportunities for it to thrive. -Alexis
Despite our knowledge of the atrocities committed by dictators like Hitler and Stalin in totalitarian states, the causes of a totalitarian state still exist in the 21st century, so I think the possibility of a totalitarian regime also exists and should be feared. As Ashley and Erin said, most nations in danger of totalitarianism lack a strong education system, an organized government, and a functioning economy. Unfortunately, because these problems have not vanished, the possibility still exists. Although most people still have the horrible example of Hitler in the back of their mind, I think when a charismatic leader begins to take power in a weak country, people don’t have the hindsight to tell whether or not he/she will become as powerful and destructive as Hitler. We are more skeptical now, but like Alexis said, we haven’t always learned our lesson from past mistakes. On the bright side, if we work to fix problems like hunger, illiteracy, and political corruption, we can help prevent totalitarian dictators from taking power. -Grace
I do not think a totalitarian state is something we still need to fear today, at least in America. A strong fear of losing our intrinsic rights to a too-strong government is deeply ingrained into our nation’s identity and no matter how much Americans complain about hating the government and mock it for being useless, most Americans would still agree that a too-powerful government is much more dangerous than a slightly-slower-than-effectual bureaucracy. In addition, a totalitarian state requires, to an extent, the cooperation of a portion of the population, and the example of Stalin’s totalitarian state is adequately repulsive that the people of America would not be okay with it. In the rest of the world, however, in places without the uniquely American culture founded on concepts of freedom, rights, and government’s role serving the people, totalitarianism is generally seen as more viable of an option (and totalitarian states currently exist already), but I feel like America would not really have a need to “fear” totalitarianism. America is militarily strong enough and, if it is spreading quickly, motivated enough to interfere with other nations degenerating into totalitarian states. —Connie
I personally believe that totalitarian regimes should be feared because they still exist in our world today. Some Countries in the Middle East, Africa, and South America for example fall under the iron fist of oppressive governments because of the lack of infrastructure and poor education systems. Most advanced nations no longer have to worry about the threat of totalitarian regimes because there are political institutions put in place to check and regulate the amount of power a single person can attain. The more educated and self-assured citizens are then they will be less vulnerable to charismatic individuals with influence. Poverty also plays an important role because these political leaders will promise more economic prosperity for everyone and pledges like that will bring the masses of the people together to support these corrupt leaders. - Chuka
The possibility of totalitarianism will always need to be feared. Even though we have learned about past totalitarian dictators and hopefully realized that their systems of government were horrible for pretty much everyone, not everyone has access to that kind of education. In countries where this has happened and especially where it is happening, educational systems are more likely to gloss over the unpleasant past out of shame or depict it a positive light and say it isn’t/wasn’t that bad. Furthermore, we should never underestimate the stupidity of humankind. I’m not trying to sound pessimistic here, it’s just true, especially in light of everything we have learned this year. When faced with a crisis and given a strong, charismatic leader who seems to have a solution, people will support that leader despite misgivings they would have had about him/her had there been no crisis. People will accept/ believe almost anything if it comes with the promise of a better life/future. It’s just survival instinct. An example would be the German’s adoration for Hitler despite the human rights violations of his regime because he brought them up out of their economic depression, eliminated unemployment completely, and made their country strong again. Another would be FDR. Not a totalitarian dictator, but the closest the US ever came to having a dictator and he was adored because, like Hitler, he raised the country out of a depression and gave them hope. Kristen.
Totalitarian regimes are dangerous because they consolidate power in the hands of one person, but that does not make them inherently evil. The problem with totalitarian governments in the past is that they were headed by people like Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini, who did not really care about the individuals in their respective countries. They are based upon an ideal, and for that reason I do not think they can function in a way that benefits everyone in the real world. There are totalitarian governments that still exist today, so it has not disappeared. However, in the United States we need not fear a totalitarian takeover. Our system would not allow that, but we still hold an irrational fear of giving someone too much power, which has resulted in our inability to do anything. The US has been set up specifically to avoid too much consolidation. -Sam
I do not think, frankly, that we as a society will ever have learned the lessons of history "well enough". That's the very reason that we continue to study history and why it still has practicality today. We certainly need to fear totalitarian regimes in the 21st century because there still ARE dictatorships and governments that squash the rights of people. Perhaps these do not exist in the Western World, but dictators are still a worldwide issue. We, the United States, are fairly stable and so do not seem as though a dictatorship would be able to take hold here, but as Erin said, nations that are not as stable certainly may fall prey to a dictator. - Leora
I do not think we should be worried about modernized countries turning totalitarian like Germany and Italy did, but third world countries are far more susceptible. One powerful man or a group can exert influence over an entire nation that lacks education or proper safe living. Africa has seen many national revolutions and rebel wars that have ended in a violent rule that harms the people. The United States and other similar democratic or republican nations have less to be worried about in their own borders, due to the more or less balanced government, and the presence of history in the people's minds. Also, a full scale totalitarian rule in a large country would attract a lot of opposition from countries like the US, and face invasion or a removal to aid the people underneath. - Hayes