A totalitarian dictatorship is the term used by political scientists to describe a regime that seeks to control every aspect of life inside a nation. The term was first developed in the 1920s to describe Fascist Italy, but was quickly applied in the 1930s to the regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
There is a significant difference between an authoritarian regime and a totalitarian dictatorship. Both systems have a single individual or ruling junta monopolizing political power, but a totalitarian regime seeks to control all aspects of social life as well: the economy, education, art, science, plus the private lives of citizens. The state of Oceania depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 is an example, albeit fictional, of a totalitarian regime.
Political scientists have come up with a list of six defining characteristics of totalitarian regimes. They are: an elaborate guiding ideology, a single party led by a dictator, a system of terror, including a secret police and the use of violence, a monopoly on weapons, a monopoly on communication, and central control of the economy through state planning.
Despite their ideological opposition, both Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union were twin examples of totalitarian dictatorships, having more in common than differences. Modern, real-life examples of totalitarian regimes include North Korea, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Syria.