The main difference between totalitarian and authoritarian is that the totalitarian regimes exert total control over the lives and freedoms of citizens while the authoritarian regimes give certain individual freedoms to citizens.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is Totalitarian
– Definition, Characteristics, Examples
2. What is Authoritarian
– Definition, Characteristics, Examples
3. What are the Similarities Between Totalitarian and Authoritarian
– Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Totalitarian and Authoritarian
– Comparison of Key Differences
Authority, Authoritarian, Government Forms, Totalitarian, Politics
What is Totalitarian
Totalitarian government or totalitarianism is the form of government where the state exerts its power on all aspects of the lives of citizens, thereby limiting all the freedoms. Hence, the power of the state in this type of government is unlimited. Consequently, this form of government requires all the citizens to be completely subservient to the decisions and rules of the state.
The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini coined the term ‘totalitarian’ during early 1920. He used this form of governance to describe the nature of the fascist state of Italy. He emphasized the nature of totalitarian government as “all within the state, none outside the state, and none against the state.”
Characteristics of a Totalitarian Government
A totalitarian government has distinguishable characteristics such as;
- Rule enforced by a single dictator or a single ruling political party that controls and directs all facets of individual life through coercion and suppression,
- Strict censorship
- Constant dissemination of pro-government propaganda and prohibiting any form of public criticism of the government
- Mandatory population control practices
- Obligatory service in the military for all citizens
- Prohibition of certain religious or political groups and practices
- Suppression of traditional social institutions and organizations, etc.
Hence, in a totalitarian rule, virtually all public, as well as the private life of the citizens, are controlled by the state. In other words, the government’s range of control over the people is virtually unlimited. The government controls all aspects of the economy, politics, culture and society, education, religion, and even reproductive and moral rights. Moreover, fear is a necessary tool used by the ruling party in a totalitarian government.
What is Authoritarian
Authoritarian government or authoritarianism is the form of government in which strict obedience from the people to the authority of the state is required even though they have a limited degree of personal freedom. As a result, the citizens have the freedom of individual preferences and beliefs in comparison to that in a totalitarian regime.
However, the political process, as well as all individual freedoms such as freedom of speech and public policies are controlled by the government without any constitutional accountability.
Characteristics of an Authoritarian Government
Some significant characteristics of an authoritarian government are;
- A controlling regime over the citizens
- The presence of a ruling executive with loosely defined and shifting powers
- Limited political freedom with strict government controls imposed on political institutions and groups on legislatures, political parties, and interest groups
- Strict government-imposed constraints on social freedoms (suppression of political opponents and anti-regime activities)
More importantly, unlike totalitarian regimes, authoritarian regimes have less influence over the individual beliefs and preferences of citizens.
Similarities Between Totalitarian and Authoritarian
- In both totalitarian and authoritarian governments, the individual rights and freedoms are severely limited.
- Both types of governments are controlled by a single ruler or a group of elites.
Difference Between Totalitarian and Authoritarian
Totalitarian, totalitarian rule or totalitarianism is a form of government where the state exerts its power on all aspects of the lives of citizens, thereby limiting all the freedoms. In contrast, authoritarian, authoritarian rule or authoritarianism is a form of government where strict obedience from the people to the authority of the state is required even though they have a limited degree of personal freedom. Thus, this is the main difference between totalitarian and authoritarian.
Control of the state is also a major difference between totalitarian and authoritarian government. The control of the state over the citizens in a totalitarian government is dictatorial as it involves complete subservience of its citizens to the state, limiting all individual freedoms. On the other hand, the control of the state over the citizens in an authoritarian government is not dictatorial, but authoritative; hence, there are several freedoms the citizens enjoy in such a rule.
Influence on Citizens
The influence of the state on the citizens is very high in a totalitarian ruling since the state controls all individual freedoms, including their personal choices and beliefs. However, there are several freedoms such as personal beliefs and choices for citizens in an authoritarian rule. Hence, this is also a difference between totalitarian and authoritarian rules.
Individual freedom is another difference between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. There is no individual freedom in a totalitarian state whereas there is limited personal freedom in an authoritarian state.
Some popular totalitarian governments and rulers in the world include the Soviet Union under Joseph Starlin, Nazi rule in Germany under Adolf Hitler, North Korea under Kim dynasty, China under Mao Se Tung, and Iraq under Saddam Hussain. Meanwhile, some popular authoritarian government and rulers in the world include Venezuela under Hugo Chávez, and Cuba under Fidel Castro.
Though both forms of governments have several similarities such as control over the individual freedoms by a single ruler of a political group, there is a d distinguishable difference between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. The main difference between totalitarian and authoritarian is that totalitarian governments exert total control over the lives and freedoms of citizens, while authoritarian governments give certain individual freedoms to the citizens.
1. “Benito Mussolini colored” By Martianmister and Vps – Unknown, Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Everyday life in North Korea 10” By Nicor – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
3. “Fidel Castro – MATS Terminal Washington 1959 (cropped)” By Warren K. Leffler (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia