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Form of government that subordinates all aspects of its citizens' lives to the authority of the state, with a single charismatic leader as the ultimate authority. The term was coined in the early 1920s by Benito Mussolini, but totalitarianism has existed throughout history throughout the world (e.g., Qin dynasty China). It is distinguished from dictatorship and authoritarianism by its supplanting of all political institutions and all old legal and social traditions with new ones to meet the state's needs, which are usually highly focused. Large-scale, organized violence may be legitimized. The police operate without the constraint of laws and regulations. Where pursuit of the state's goal is the only ideological foundation for such a government, achievement of the goal can never be acknowledged. Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) is the standard work on the subject.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on totalitarianism, visit Britannica.com.