Twentieth Century Ideological Tyranny or “Totalitarianism”

   In the Twentieth Century, a new kind of tyranny emerged which does not necessarily fit into the Aristotelian understanding of a city ruled by one who aims at his own self-interest. The two prominent forms of tyranny that began in the last, and may continue into the next century are fascism and communism. Fascism is an extreme “right” wing phenomenon, while communism is the “left” wing extreme. Surprisingly, these extreme opposites, in their most developed forms, have a number of characteristics in common, in addition to the total power held by the ruling element, from which their common name, “totalitarianism” is derived. As distinct from the despotic rule of a single tyrant, these both involve the rule of an idea or theory. Because they are tyrannical theories, they outlive any particular tyrant or particular tyrannical government. The most developed forms of both arose out of the German philosophy of the nineteenth century, from the thought of Marx and Nietzsche, which are each in some way related to the tyrannical politics of Hitler and Lenin. Both begin in Atheism, following the enlightened modern rejection of the Medieval world. Both emphasize the will rather than the reason of man. Both are historicist, rejecting the idea of a permanent human nature while understanding man to be a product of historical processes (and so both reject the idea of natural rights that are unalienable). Both are reductionisms, reducing political science to biological or economic science (on the right or left respectively), and both focus on one thing, whether race or class, as the most important of the human things. Both replace moral or ethical right and law with a new principle, based on either race purity or revolutionary class. Both depend on a group of elites or party members indoctrinated into the march or goal of history or the aims of nationalism and race purity. Both are “Utopian,” looking to a future condition considered to be a perfection, to occur at the “end of history” for the Marxists, or lasting for “1000 years” for Hitler. Both tyrannies killed millions of their own subjects when there was no civil war occurring, in a genocide, aimed at racial purity, or a “classocide,”aimed at eliminating the economic class of the bourgeois. Finally, both are universal, transcending national boundaries and, as part of their Utopian vision, aimed at world rule or empire.


Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt Bruce Janovich, 1973

Griffin, Roger. General Introduction to Fascism. Edited by Roger Griffin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Johnson, Paul. Modern Times. New York: Harper and Rowe, 1983 (pp. 71, 308, 342-343).

Kershaw, Ian and Lewin, Moshe. Intrioduction to Stalinism and Nazism: Dictatorships in Comparison. Edited by Iam Kershaw and Moshe Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Marx, Karl. The Marx-Engels Reader. Edited by Robert C. Tucker. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1978.

One thought on “Twentieth Century Ideological Tyranny or “Totalitarianism”

  1. Both can be understood to be inversions of the medieval imagination, as occurred in the void Tocqueville notes spawned the Socialisms of the early Eighteenth century which preceded Marx (The Old Regime and the French Revolution, III iv). The sameness of these mortal enemies is indeed striking. It is said that Hitler learned the concentration camp from Stalin, though similar places existed in the U. S. Civil war, where the first raced based constitution was declared, even before Mussolini and the word fascism became common currency.

    These new forms of tyranny can be understood by classical political philosophy, but not as the rule of one tyrant over a city or even a nation. They can be understood from the eighth and ninth chapters of Plato’s Republic as intellectual perversions or perversions of the Medieval imagination of the Kingdom of God, its opposites, if you will.

    For this reason, too, we wonder if contemporary “radical Islam” does not betray a Western source, since we do not believe this can be derived from the Quran.

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