View Full Version : Recent/current totalitarian governments?

08-17-2009, 09:01 AM
What are some examples of real life totalitarian regimes, either currently active or in recent (twentieth century upwards) history? Are there any good examples of totalitarian governments that have arisen out of a formerly democratic society? Trying to get as much real-world perspective as possible as background research for my novel.

08-17-2009, 09:43 AM
North Korea.

You can get into all sorts of debates about exactly what kind of governments they were, but Germany and Italy in the 30s and 40s, and Spain under Franco.

08-17-2009, 10:32 AM

08-17-2009, 12:00 PM
I don't quite concur about North Korea and Burma being examples of totalitarian regimes. These two countries are ruled under absolute dictatorship, but from bits and pieces of information, it seems the people there know they're living in hell.

I'd quote a brief period of China--specifically during the Cultural Revolution (between 1966 and 1976), while ruled by Chairman Mao. Originally started out as political campaign in a power struggle, the Cultural Revolution evolved into a widespread cataclysm. Traditional values, cultures, education, and economy were largely destroyed or suppressed. New (laughable, in hind sight) systems were established. Most importantly, so many people involved in the movement at that time believed they were doing the right things and heading toward an ideological direction. It was disastrous. Thanks god it didn't last too long.

There is another example, a good one, that is of interest, but it is far from totalitarian. It might marginally be called dictatorship. That is Singapore while ruled by Lee Kuan Yew during and after independence. I don't think Lee possessed the kind of power to qualify as dictator, but his government was still very autocratic. The difference is this guy acted for the best interests of his people, and when the time was up, he willingly stepped aside, though still very influential.

08-17-2009, 12:33 PM
Thanks for the suggestions, gives me a lot to go on!

I've thought a lot about the Cultural Revolution under Mao but didn't think I'd be able to take much from it as inspiration because the government in my WIP is not Communist at all - however you are spot on with your comments about people believing it was the right thing - this is an important aspect of what happens with the society in my WIP. So I'm going to have a closer look at the Cultural Revolution again.

The actual title of 'totalitarian' doesn't matter that much - I'm mostly looking at some of the specific traits of that sort of regime, such as repression of civil liberties, control of the media, heavy propaganda, turning people against each other/making people suspicious of their neighbours etc.

The government in my WIP is voted in democratically, but uses some of the country's specific crises to justify imposing more and more control over the citizens, which then basically devolves into fascism. What I'm having trouble with is finding the right balance needed for my WIP - I don't want the government to come across as inherently evil in a way that all of its citizens know that they are 'living in hell' (to quote from GordonK above), but there needs to be a good reason for my main characters to do what they do in resistance to it. My protagonist, in particular, never really knows what to believe because in the eyes of many people - especially her middle class family - the things the government does is in the best interests of the people, however her best friend and his resistance group need to also be convincing when they explain to her their reasons for basically waging guerilla warfare.

08-17-2009, 02:05 PM
A good example is the rise of Adolf Hitler. His party was elected into power and then went about dismantling all Germany's democratic insititutions.

08-17-2009, 07:49 PM
I think Gordon and Wikipedia have it wrong. A government does not have to be willingly accepted by its subjects, to be totalitarian. The leader doesn't have to be charismatic. If you live in a country where the government has COMPLETE control over every aspect of your life, and you have NO POWER to change it. That is a totalitarian government. It could be run by a dictator, an emporer, a king, or President for Life Idi Amin Da Da.
This planet has no shortage of these governments now or in the past.

08-17-2009, 09:52 PM
Just look at some south American countries. Chile is a good example.

08-17-2009, 10:37 PM
You might want to look at what happened in Chile when a coup unseated Allende and ultimately put Autusto Pinochet in charge.

Also examine the rise of Juan Peron in Argentina.

Consider as a thought experiment what might have happened if the United States had less democratic traditions--especially considering how this country treated the Nisei in the 1940s, Communists (and suspected communists) in the 1950s and 1960s, or how we responded to 9/11.

Many "democratic" countries are in fact ruled by a minority simply because the majority of eligible voters don't bother to do so. Control of the organs of the political process is also a means of maintaining/seizing power--try to win an election if you cannot get on the ballot! Likewise virtual control of the press and/or media (which need not even require force) can be an awesome weapon (look at Rwanda for a hideous example of what that can achieve). There's also the question of how seriously people take government safeguards. In the Roman Republic, several laws to prevent individuals from getting too much power (such as an age limit on the Consulship) were simply broken and their breaking ignored.

A lot of such regimes declare somebody to be the Enemy--Jews, Masons, Asians, Catholics, Merchants, Women, etc. have all been the targets. Lots more, besides.

Rewards for turning people in for "crimes against the state" can also create quite an effective un-official secret police. These types of "crimes" have historically included placing a picture higher on the wall than that of a revered person (Christ, the President, etc.) or giving a toast at a private party to the word "Freedom." During WWI, there were calls for indictments against people who spoke or read German!

It also helps if people are genuinely terrified of being imprisoned. "Going to jail" doesn't have nearly the emotional wallop of "Being sent to Siberia" or "Sentenced to Re-Education".


08-18-2009, 07:06 AM
The actual title of 'totalitarian' doesn't matter that much - I'm mostly looking at some of the specific traits of that sort of regime, such as repression of civil liberties, control of the media, heavy propaganda, turning people against each other/making people suspicious of their neighbours etc.
I know you said not communist, but the USSR is a classic example of all the things you mentioned above.

Also, a personality cult of some sort seems to be a part of many of the regimes cited so far.

08-18-2009, 07:36 AM
I'd suggest the former Iraq: opressive, indeed.

08-18-2009, 09:30 AM



There are a lot of these place.