Totalitarianism, a tyrannical form of government, emerged in the global geopolitical order in the twentieth century. Totalitarianism entails the total subjugation of society and the people under dictatorial leadership underpinned by imposed ideologies (Magstadt, 2011). Through various forms and ideologies, such as Communism, Nazism, Fascism, and Maoism, totalitarianism was able to dominate large swathes of the twentieth-century world political order. It brought into the limelight the place of the citizen in the political environment and the essence of the concept of the ‘ideal citizen’.
Aristotle, the Greek philosopher of yore, defined totalitarianism as an illegitimate form of government by an individual that tightly controls every part of life and government (Bowring, 2011). Totalitarianism is built around a strong and charismatic leader who can sway the opinion of the people to his/her favor using warped ideologies aimed at tightening his/her hold on power. To maintain a totalitarian state violence and massive use of propaganda is fundamental (Magstadt, 2011). A good example of a totalitarian state is Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party.
Hitler, accrued power through violence, which was orchestrated by his Nazi party military apparatus, and through a constitution coup d’état (Magstadt, 2011). He then unleashed barbaric terror to consolidate power. He meddled with the civil rights of the Germans by outlawing dissent and opposition to his leadership and the Nazi party. Besides, he interfered with the citizens’ right to free speech and information. Through massive destruction of publications deemed counter-revolutionary by his government and ubiquitous censorship of all broadcasts and publications, Hitler infringed on the citizens’ rights to information and speech.
Hitler ordered the extermination of millions of Jews and his political opponents without following due laws and procedures. By doing this, he infringed on the citizen’s rights to a fair trial and their fundamental right to life. His government also forcefully expropriated private citizen’s property and expelled thousands of Germans from Germany (Magstadt, 2011). Therefore, he infringed on the affected citizen’s rights of property ownership.
The concept of an ideal citizen was initially coined by Aristotle. According to him, a citizen is made by the contemporary political system under which the citizen is subject (Magstadt, 2011). However, he avers that a good citizen is not only defined by laws and regimes but also a moral fiber that transcends the expectations of any political system (Magstadt, 2011). Therefore, a good citizen should conduct himself/herself per the rules and norms of his state. However, a good citizen should not discard his/her moral compass in his/her obligations to the state and its rulers. Voter apathy occurs when citizens eligible for voting lose interest in the electoral process. This leads to low voter turnout and minimal citizen participation in governance.
The state controls citizens through a myriad of ways. Through censoring and control of information, the state controls the perception of its citizens and influences their decision-making processes. Behavioral control of the citizens through laws and law enforcement apparatus, such as jails and the police, is another method of state control of citizens (Bowring, 2011). The state also controls its citizens’ finances through fiscal policies, regulations, and taxes.
History has proven that totalitarianism always fails and that it leaves massive destruction and millions of deaths in its wake. Good citizens should always be patriotic to their states but never allow patriotism to cloud their moral perspectives.
Bowring, F. (2011). Totalitarianism. In Hannah Arendt: A Critical Introduction (pp. 188-216). London: Pluto Press. DOI:10.2307/j.ctt183p31g.11
Magstadt, T. M. (2011). Political Socialization: The Making of a Citizen. In Understanding politics: Ideas, institutions, and issues. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Magstadt, T. M. (2011). The Totalitarian Model: A False Utopia. In Understanding politics: Ideas, institutions, and issues. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.