Burleigh on Totalitarianism

Burleigh mentions – and this is something I didn’t know – that for 30 years American academia tried to banish the word “totalitarianism.” The reason was that this term was a shortcut to saying that Nazi Germany and the USSR had a similar system of government. This idea was intolerable to many academics because they were apologists for the Soviets. After 1991 there was no longer a need to defend the USSR, and the word “totalitarianism” came back into use.

Still, however, putting up leaflets with a hammer and sickle on a US campus is considered completely normal, while drawing a swastika would get a student expelled. “I grew up in a totalitarian regime” is a phrase that evokes complete incomprehension from US academics when I say it. “But there were good things about it, right?” they sometimes ask, looking at me with pleading, desperate expressions.

The difference between totalitarianism and absolutist, authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, says Burleigh, is that a totalitarian regime wants to control not only all of the functions of the state state but also the family, personal morality, art, and science.

PS. I’m reading Burleigh in Spanish, so if you see some slight imprecision in the quotes, that’s the reason.

2 thoughts on “Burleigh on Totalitarianism

  1. Perhaps try to get some of your academic friends to say that the Chinese system is not “Communism with Chinese characteristics” but rather “authoritarian capitalism”.

    Despite the accuracy of the latter term, capitalists in America, Europe, Australia etc don’t like it when someone points at the similarity between their capitalist oligarchy and the Chinese capitalist oligarchy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I really hate carelessness with terminology. China is Communist like I’m an astronaut. Words need to mean something.

      “Authoritarian capitalism” is a great description for the Chinese system.

      Like

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