What to Expect When You’re Expecting Totalitarianism

4 ¾ min

The political jargon and posturing one hears these days seems to suggest that we are in an era unlike any that has ever occurred before. Hope springs anew, there is light at the end of the tunnel, politicians gush, and for those of our elites who really want to impress with their knowledge of history, a reference to Abraham Lincoln fits the bill nicely: we’re seeing “a new birth of freedom”!

I’d agree that something certainly is in the process of being birthed, but I’d be hard pressed to call that baby “freedom.” Some would even say this baby better bears the opposing name of “totalitarianism.”

But before we throw labels around, it’s helpful to know what we mean by such terms. What does totalitarianism look like?

Robert Nisbet gives some answers to that question in his 1953 classic, The Quest for Community:

1. Politics Is Everything

“In the totalitarian order the political tie becomes the all-in-all,” Nisbet explains. Gone is the importance of the individual. Instead, individuals become cogs in the machine of a centralized government. This situation creates a “psychological setting that alone makes possible the massive remaking of the human consciousness.”

2. Hiding Behind a Front of ‘Democracy’

Totalitarian government, Nisbet infers, does not wish to appear as the controlling, centralized power that it is. Instead, “the power of the government must seem to proceed from the basic will of the people.” Thus, when authoritarian laws are passed, they will be framed as necessary for the preservation of democracy, even when it can be clearly seen that nothing could be further from the truth. Doing so enables the government “to bend, soften, and corrode the will to resistance in preference to forcible and brutal breaking of the will.”

3. Diversity Is Abolished

Diversity is a pet issue for many in our government and culture today. Yet what people fail to realize is that under totalitarian rule, “The natural diversity of society is swept away.” In its place comes militaristic conformity to the party line “in art and in politics, in science and economy.” Totalitarian government, it seems, is cancel culture on steroids.

4. New Replaces Old

Perhaps one of the most prominent features of a totalitarian regime is its quest to replace the old with the new. The past becomes synonymous with the bad and everything is redefined. “History, art, science, and morality, all of these must be redesigned, placed in a new context, in order to make of a power a seamless web of certainty and conformity.”

The replacement of the new with the old is necessary because, as Nisbet explains, “Totalitarianism is an ideology of nihilism. But nihilism is not enough.” Thus while totalitarianism must remove the old in order for its new ideology to function, it also recognizes that something must fill the void left by the loss of faith and community. To this end, it attempts to implement a larger group effort which points back to the political and offers allegiance to the state.

The question remains as to whether we have seen these traits play out in our own society of late. So let’s go down the list.

Is politics everything these days? It certainly seems like it. One almost has to become a Luddite in order to get away from hearing political conversation. Even when one is not bombarded with politics on the news, political jargon somehow manages to creep into our private lives at work, in conversations, and even in our entertainment options.

How about democracy or diversity? The terms are certainly thrown around a lot these days, but whether or not we’re really seeing democracy in action or experiencing true diversity of thought is up for debate in an era where genuine censorship is happening before our eyes.

Finally, where is the old being whitewashed by the new? We don’t have to look far. Toppled statues abound, “The 1619 Project” exemplifies attempts to change and undermine the historical narrative, younger generations now accept sexual immorality as normal, and even science seems to drift along with the political winds.

If we are indeed now experiencing totalitarian government more than ever, how can we keep ourselves from being sucked into the vortex, simply becoming another mindless cog in the totalitarian machine?

The simple answer seems to be to swim upstream and foster those things which totalitarian government is against. If totalitarianism wants us to erase our memories of history, community, morality, and faith, then we must cling tightly to those very things.

This memory muscle can be strengthened by reading good books, studying history, and discussing the gleanings from these sources with others. Regularly attending church, getting involved with the community there, and inviting that community into your home for fellowship will also increase that anti-totalitarian muscle. And last but not least, embracing family and expending energy to model good morals and behavior to your children will not only be helpful for the current fight against totalitarianism, but for future battles as well.

“Totalitarianism is an affair of mass attitudes,” Nisbet said.

Don’t run with the crowd.


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Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist

Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.

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Looking for signs? At this point that's like asking if there was a nuclear blast while you are glowing green from top to bottom and receiving AM radio on your fillings.


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Margaret Owen
The real problem with the current descent of totalitarianism is not that the perpetrators are announcing what they're going to do or passing laws to do it. They are just doing it. I've been paying attention to the State's program for the COVID vaccines because - gasp - I'm over 75. Like most people my age, I have a primary health care provider. May I go to her for the vaccine? Nope. I've been told that I can only go to one of 9 government sites - none of which are anywhere near people who live in St. Paul or Mpls. Unless, of course, I'm a schoolteacher belonging to a union, of course - then, and only then, may I go to the hockey rink Xcel Center in downtown St. Paul. To go to one of the 9 allowed sites, I'd still have to deal with a government website that keeps crashing. Anyone who thought ObamaCare was not a good thing has not yet met the vaccine non-care system. At least, Obama said he Cared. This program - not so much. One of these sites, out in Brooklyn Center, was on the TV news. Long lines of gray-haired people bundled up against the weather waiting outside for hours. Sure looked like the old Soviet bread lines from the 1950s to me. How does one person, even a group of people, stop this? I've not seen a single squeak in the media about why the State has just kicked the private health care system to the side of the road, moved in, and taken over our lives.


Be thankful you can't easily get the poke. From what I've been reading about this new gummit sposored travesty it is far too dangerous. Eat right, take your supplements, stay active, DO NOT get the jab, and your odds of living past 100 increase greatly. Study how this injection works. it is NOT a true vaccine.It does reporgamme your DNA, an untried concept, and "the jury is not out" on either how effective or safe it is. Rushed to market to make politicians look good is a bad recommendation
Unfortunately, the whole COVID-19 situation has been politicized by both sides. There is much fake news against the COVID vaccine that is just not credible. As a principled conservative with a scientific background (biochemistry and microbiology), I must speak out whenever misinformation is propagated even by well-meaning conservatives. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do NOT reprogram your DNA. These vaccines use mRNA to produce a protein found in the coating of the COVID virus.
Gregory Nemirofsky
Anybody who is a student of Ludvig von Mises and of Austrian School of Economics can immediately see the fundamental flaw in this article -- because of lack of understanding of economics, the author lists the characteristics of totalitarianism without understanding their underlying cause. Totalitarianism is simply the political side of socialism (I am using the latter term in its original meaning, i.e., social or state ownership of the means of production.) It is interesting that the author does not mention socialism at all. Does that imply that the author believes that totalitarianism can exist in a capitalist society? The characteristics of totalirarianism listed by the author (with the exception of her comments on democracy) are simply the results of the institutionalization of socialism in a particular geographical area. Democracy requires a separate comment. The author is incorrect that totalitarianism hides behind the facade of democracy. The author mistakes the incidental factor for a fundamental factor: it was the accident of history that when Communists were coming into power, democracy was in the vogue, & they decided to pay lip service to it. But socialist societies can exist in the future, & did exist in the past that did not pretend to be democratic. Witness, for example, the Jesuit socialist state in Paraguay not long after the discovery of America & the Inca Empire (see Igor Shafarevich's book on that topic.) Even in the recent past, Nazis never claimed or pretended to rule in a democratic manner once they got in power.