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to·​tal·​i·​tar·​i·​an (ˌ)tō-ˌta-lə-ˈter-ē-ən How to pronounce totalitarian (audio)
: of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy : authoritarian, dictatorial
especially : despotic
: of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (such as censorship and terrorism)
: advocating or characteristic of totalitarianism
: completely regulated by the state especially as an aid to national mobilization in an emergency
: exercising autocratic powers


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: an advocate or practitioner of totalitarianism

Examples of totalitarian in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Murati grew up in Albania as the Balkan country shifted from a totalitarian communist system to a more democratic government. Bysteve Mollman, Fortune, 18 Nov. 2023 Lek’s parent’s were adolescents when the totalitarian Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, emptying out cities and systematically killing the country’s professional and intellectual classes. Carolina A. Miranda, Los Angeles Times, 9 Nov. 2023 Lifton is fascinated by the range and plasticity of the human mind, its ability to contort to the demands of totalitarian control, to find justification for the unimaginable—the Holocaust, war crimes, the atomic bomb—and yet recover, and reconjure hope. Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, 12 Nov. 2023 Our Nation will thus cease to be a liberal democracy and become a totalitarian tyranny. Beatriz Ríos, Washington Post, 9 Nov. 2023 By such means, Putin is imposing a totalitarian regime that seeks to possess sole control of how events are explained to the country—and what Russians are supposed to think about them. Andrei Kolesnikov, Foreign Affairs, 22 Aug. 2023 His first novel, The Joke, a satire about life under a totalitarian regime, was published in 1967. Vulture, 12 July 2023 Many of us understand that Hamas and other organizations devoted to the extermination of the Jewish people are also committed to brutalizing and murdering Muslims who stand in the way of their totalitarian designs. WSJ, 5 Nov. 2023 The former Tesla engineer was born in Albania under a totalitarian communist regime, and credits boredom with helping to spark a curiosity for knowledge (even the slow internet speeds in her native country couldn’t stop her from tinkering with computers). Joseph Abrams, Fortune, 6 Oct. 2023
This textual totalitarian is, in the popular mind, not a very agreeable person. Neuroskeptic, Discover Magazine, 27 Mar. 2016 But, ten years later, his embrace of near-totalitarian control bears the deep imprint of his most personal beliefs about force, weakness, faith, and order. Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, 23 Oct. 2022 But that would not address the fundamental goal of the protests: to end the totalitarian stranglehold that has subjected the Cubans to an unbearable serfdom. Néstor T. Carbonell, National Review, 16 July 2021 And there’s another reason why totalitarians capable of horrific human rights violations are a real hosting nightmare. Sarah Todd, Quartz, 27 Dec. 2019 Some of his most popular works were surrealistic fantasies set in grisly worlds run by totalitarians and conformists. Fox News, 28 June 2018 Some of Ellison's most popular works were surrealistic fantasies set in grisly worlds run by totalitarians and conformists. Robert Jablon, USA TODAY, 28 June 2018 Surveying the literary output of leaders from Lenin to Kim Jong-il, Kalder asks why so many totalitarians dabble in literature. Colin Dickey, The New Republic, 22 Mar. 2018 No reasonable purpose is served by using a term that lumps together totalitarians, autocrats, conservatives and democratic nationalists, as though these are all varieties of a single dark worldview. Yoram Hazony, WSJ, 4 Aug. 2017 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'totalitarian.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Italian totalitario, from totalità totality

First Known Use


1926, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1934, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of totalitarian was in 1926

Dictionary Entries Near totalitarian

Cite this Entry

“Totalitarian.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


: of or relating to a political system in which the government has complete control over the people

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