Here is a great definition of totalitarianism from Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History:
“Totalitarianism establishes its own social contract, in which most people will be safe from violence most of the time, provided they stay within certain boundaries and shoulder some of the impressibility for keeping other citizens within the same boundaries. The boundaries are ever shifting and this requires the population to be ever-vigilant in order to stay abreast of the shifts. A hypersensitivity to signals is essential for survival.”
There is no need, of course, to reduce the concept of violence to the purely physical. The “softer” totalitarian regimes don’t eliminate people physically. They erase them from public life, deplatform them, and deprive them of employment. Obviously, it’s a much better fate than being shipped off to the concentration camps. But the nature of this social contract remains totalitarian.
My friend Basia practically forced me to read this book, and I’m now grateful to her.