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three developmental stages in the life of a totalitarian state.

In the seventeenth century, absolutists and royalists such as Thomas Hobbes and Jacques Bossuet advocated, in various ways, a strong centralized state as a guarantor against chaos in conformity with natural law and biblical precedent. However, it was only in the early twentieth century that totalitarianism, properly understood, became a conceptual and political reality. Thinkers as diverse as Carl Schmitt in Germany and Giovanni Gentile in Italy helped to lay the foundations of fascist ideology, stressing the defensive and unifying advantages of dictatorship. In the nascent USSR, Vladimir Lenin developed Marx’s ideas from a potentially totalitarian base into a full blown communist ideology, in which Marx’s own phrase “the dictatorship of the proletariat” was interpreted explicitly to mean the dictatorship of the Soviet Communist Party.

The term “totalitarianism” is also sometimes used to refer to movements that in one way or another manifest extreme dictatorial and fanatical methods, such as cults and forms of religious extremism, and it remains controversial in scope. It has been a topic of interdisciplinary interest, with various typologies offered by political scientists (see Friedrich and Brzezinski 1956 for the locus classicus of such approaches).

This article will primarily examine some key models and criticisms of the problem of totalitarianism defended by preeminent philosophers, as well as the thoughts of some key and representative scholars in other disciplines whose work is of philosophical significance. Their perspectival range encompasses strongly liberal, intellectual historical, neo-Marxist and pragmatist approaches. All have wished to distinguish totalitarianism sharply from liberal democratic ideals and society.