to·​tal·​i·​tar·​i·​an | \ (ˌ)tō-ˌta-lə-ˈter-ē-ən How to pronounce totalitarian (audio) \

Definition of totalitarian

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy : authoritarian, dictatorial especially : despotic
b : 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)
2a : advocating or characteristic of totalitarianism
b : completely regulated by the state especially as an aid to national mobilization in an emergency
c : exercising autocratic powers



Definition of totalitarian (Entry 2 of 2)

: an advocate or practitioner of totalitarianism

Examples of totalitarian in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The totalitarian theocracy of Gilead still looks like an America where the country’s puritanical politics have run amok. Angela Watercutter, Wired, "The Handmaid's Tale Hits Hard in Covid-Era America," 30 Apr. 2021 Additionally, this totalitarian system produces only poverty and hunger, and these poor, hungry people hightail it to the United States. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, "‘Blowback’ Podcast Tackles America’s Meddling in the Cuban Revolution," 19 Apr. 2021 This argument rested on the assumption that the Soviet totalitarian state would last forever, or at least a very long time, and that the battle against it would be eternal. Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, "Why Alexey Navalny Returned to Russia," 13 Apr. 2021 And if that sounds creepily totalitarian to you, your instincts are sound. Andrew Stuttaford, National Review, "Warren’s Wealth Tax and the Return of Feudalism," 3 Mar. 2021 But if Greenberg’s insight was that the decorative residue of painting might be the best thing about it, his evil genius was to enforce this insight with a coercive historical scheme, and then police it with totalitarian arguments. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, "Helen Frankenthaler and the Messy Art of Life," 5 Apr. 2021 To be suffocated by the thick dust and debris of bombs, and crushed under the weight of a totalitarian system. Arwa Damon, CNN, "We tell Syria's human stories so that the 'victors' don't write its history," 15 Mar. 2021 The fence is more than an overreaction, one that makes the United States look like a totalitarian regime trying to keep its own people out. Eleanor Holmes Norton, National Review, "Bring Down the Capitol Hill Fencing," 15 Mar. 2021 In the 1990s, the new Russia, painfully acquiring its shape, faced a massive invasion of totalitarian sects, which instantly attracted thousands and tens of thousands of new adherents to their ranks. . . . Cameron Hilditch, National Review, "Religious Persecution Abroad Reminds Us Why Religious Liberty Matters," 20 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun And there’s another reason why totalitarians capable of horrific human rights violations are a real hosting nightmare. Sarah Todd, Quartz, "Why dictators make terrible conversationalists," 27 Dec. 2019 Some of his most popular works were surrealistic fantasies set in grisly worlds run by totalitarians and conformists. Fox News, "Science fiction author Harlan Ellison dead at age 84," 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, "'Star Trek' scriptwriter Harlan Ellison, master of sci-fi literature, dies at 84," 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, "Why Dictators Write," 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, "There’s No Such Thing as an ‘Illiberal’," 4 Aug. 2017 Alas, the illiberal totalitarians who demanded that the American Conservative Union reverse course denied us a chance to find out. Osita Nwanevu, Slate Magazine, "There’s nothing outrageous about stamping out bigoted speech.," 12 Mar. 2017 That’s always true of violent radicals and would-be totalitarians. Jonah Goldberg, National Review, "The Alt-Right Is Bad — And So Is ‘Antifa’," 18 Aug. 2017 Not only did Churchill take his nation to war with all these totalitarians,... William Mcgurn, WSJ, "‘America First’ Takes On a New Meaning," 23 Jan. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'totalitarian.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of totalitarian


1926, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1934, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for totalitarian


Italian totalitario, from totalità totality

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Time Traveler for totalitarian

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The first known use of totalitarian was in 1926

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Statistics for totalitarian

Last Updated

6 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Totalitarian.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of totalitarian

: controlling the people of a country in a very strict way with complete power that cannot be opposed

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Nglish: Translation of totalitarian for Spanish Speakers

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