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Political Philosophies – Totalitarianism and Nationalism – World History – Free PDF Download



  • Totalitarianism refers to an authoritarian political system or state that regulates and controls nearly every aspect of the public and private sectors.
  • Totalitarian regimes established complete political, social, and cultural control over their subjects, and are usually headed by a charismatic leader.
  • In general, totalitarianism involved a single mass party, typically led by a dictator; an attempt to mobilize the entire population in support of the official state ideology; and an intolerance of activities which are not directed towards the goals of the state, usually entailing repression and state control of business, labor unions, churches and political parties.
  • A totalitarian regime is essentially a modern form of authoritarian states, requiring as it does an advanced technology of social control.
  • Totalitarian regimes or movements tend to offer the prospect of a glorious, yet imaginary, future to a frustrated population, and to portray western democracies and their values as decadent, with people too soft, too pleasure loving and too selfish to sacrifice for a higher cause.
  • They maintain themselves in political power by various means, including secret police, propaganda disseminated through the state controlled mass media, personality cults, the regulation and restriction of free speech, single party states, the use of mass surveillance and the widespread use of intimidation and terror tactics.
  • Totalitarianism is not necessarily the same as a dictatorship, or autocracy, which are primarily interested in their own survival and, as such, may allow for varying degrees of autonomy within civil society, religious institutions, the courts and the press.
  • A totalitarian regime, on the other hand, requires that no individual or institution is autonomous from the state’s all-encompassing ideology.
  • However, in practice, totalitarianism and dictatorship often go hand in hand.
  • The term “Totalitarismo” was first employed by “the philosopher of Fascism” Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini in the mid 20th century fascist Italy.
  • It was originally intended to convey the confronting sense of an “all embracing, total state”, but it soon attracted political connotations and unflattering comparisons with liberalism and democracy.
  • Totalitarianism does not necessarily align itself politically with either the right or the left.
  • Although most recognized totalitarian regimes have been Fascist and ultra-nationalist, the degraded communism of Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China were equally totalitarian in nature, and the phrase “Totalitarian Twins” has been used to link Communism and Fascism in this respect.

History of Totalitarianism:

  • It can be argued that totalitarianism existed millennia ago in ancient China under the political leadership of Prime Minister Li Si( 280-208 BCE), who helped the Qin dynasty unify China.
  • Under the ruling legalism philosophy, political activities were severely restricted, all literature destroyed, and scholars who did not support legalism were summarily put to death.
  • Something very similar to totalitarianism was also enforced in Sparta, a war like state in ancient Greece, for several centuries before the rise of Alexander the Great in 336 BC.
  • Its “educational system” was part of the totalitarian military society and the state machine dictated every aspect of life, down to rearing of children.
  • A rigid caste based society which Plato described in his “Republic” had many totalitarian traits, despite Plato’s stated goal( the search for justice), and it was clear that the citizens served the state and not vice versa.
  • In his “Levianthan” of 1651, Thomas Hobbes envision an absolute monarchy exercising both civil and religious powers, in which the citizens are willing to cede most of their rights to the state in exchange for security and safety.
  • Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” touched on totalitarian themes, arguing that the state is merely an instrument for the benefit of the ruler, who should have no qualms at using whatever means are at his disposal to keep the citizenry suppressed.
  • Most commentators consider the first real totalitarian regime to have been formed in the mid 20th century, in the chaos following World War One, at which point the sophistication of the modern weapons and communication enable totalitarian movements to consolidate power in:
  • Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, from 1928 to 1953.
  • Italy under Benito Mussolini, from 1922 to 1943.
  • Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1945.
  • Spain under Francisco Franco, from 1936 to 1975.
  • Portugal under Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, from 1932 to 1974.
  • Other more recent examples, to greater or lesser degrees, include: the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong, North Korea under Kim II Sung, Cuba under Fidel Castro, Cambodia under Pol Pot, Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu, Syria under Hafez al Assad, Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.


  • Nationalism is the doctrine that one’s national culture and interests are superior to any other, and that nation should act independently( rather than collectively) to attain their goals.
  • It holds that a nation, usually defined in terms of language, ethnicity or culture, has the right to constitute an independent or autonomous political community based on a shared history and common destiny.
  • It can also refer to the aspiration for national independence felt by people under foreign domination.
  • Nationalism seeks to order the world as a series of nation-states, each based on the geopolitical national Homeland of its respective nation, and holds that each nation has a moral entitlement to a sovereign state.
  • It seeks to guarantee the continued existence of a nation, to preserve its distinct identity, and to provide a territory where the national culture and ethos are dominant.
  • In turn, nation states appeal to a national cultural-historical mythos to justify their existence, and to confer political legitimacy.
  • Simplistically, nationalism is the desire of a nation to self-determination.
  • It is usually associated with patriotism( positive and supportive attitudes to a Fatherland), but it can also lead to chauvinism( aggressive patriotism, or blind or biased devotion to any group, attitude or cause), imperialism, racism and xenophobia, militarism, or ultimately to Fascism.
  • It is usually considered a relatively recent idea, based as it is on the concept of the nation-state which is a largely 19th century phenomena and, until around 1800, very few people had more than local loyalties.
  • National identity and the unity were originally imposed from above by European states, in order to modernize the economy in society.

Types of Nationalism:

  • Nationalism may manifest itself along civic, cultural, religious or ideological lines.
  • These self-definitions of nation are used to classify different types of nationalism, although such categories are not mutually exclusive and many nationalist movements combine some or all of these elements to varying degrees.

Ethnic Nationalism: 

  • Where the nation is defined in terms of ethnicity and descent from previous generations.
  • It also includes the idea of a culture shared between members of the group, and usually a shared language.

Civic Nationalism:

  • Where the state drives political legitimacy from the active participation of its citizenry and from the degree to which it represents the will of the people.

State Nationalism:

  • A variant of civic nationalism, where the nation is assumed to be a community of those who contribute to the maintenance and strength of the state, and that the individual exists in the community expressly to contribute to this goal.
  • This often results in Fascism.

Expansionist Nationalism:

  • A radical form of Imperialism( and not really true nationalism at all) that incorporates autonomous, patriotic sentiments with a belief in expansionism, usually by military aggression, example Nazism( or nationalistic socialism) in Germany.

Romantic Nationalism:

  • A form of ethnic nationalism in which the state derives political legitimacy as a natural(or organic) consequence and expression of the nation.
  • It relies upon the existence of historical ethnic culture which meets the romantic ideal( folklore developed as a romantic nationalist concept).

Cultural Nationalism:

  • Where the nation is defined by shared culture, and neither purely civic nor purely ethnic.
  • Chinese nationalism is the example of cultural nationalism, partly because of the many national minorities within China.

Third World Nationalism:

  • Where nationalist sentiments result from resistance to colonial domination in order to survive and retain a national identity.

Liberal Nationalism:

  • Where it is claimed that individuals need a national identity in order to lead meaningful, autonomous life, and that the liberal democracies need a national identity in order to function properly.
  • John Stuart Mill expressed similar sentiments.

Religious Nationalism:

  • Where a shared religion can be seen to contribute to a sense of national unity, and a common bond among citizens of the nation.


  • Where ethnic or cultural nationalism applies to a nation which is itself a cluster of related ethnic groups and cultures( Such as Turkic peoples).

Diaspora Nationalism:

  • Where there is a nationalist feeling among the diaspora,( an ethnic population living outside their traditional homelands) example the Irish in the United States, The Jews in the United States and elsewhere, etc.

Stateless Nationalism:

  • Where an ethnic or cultural minority within a nation state seeks independence on nationalist grounds( Catalans and Basques in Spain)

National Conservatism:

  • A political term, they used primarily in Europe, to describe a variant of conservatism which concentrates more on national interests than standard conservatism, while not being unduly nationalist or pursuing an excessively far right agenda.


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