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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
In just over a month, with hundreds of thousands of Poles dead, the country falls, its people and territory divided between two totalitarian behemoths. Matt Thompson, Spin, 10 Sep. 2023 At the end of earlier totalitarian phases, Russia has traditionally reversed course: Alexander II’s Great Reforms of 1861, Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization of 1956, Gorbachev’s perestroika of 1985, Yeltsin’s reforms of 1992. Andrei Kolesnikov, Foreign Affairs, 22 Aug. 2023 No bright causal line connects Zdarsky’s experiences growing up in a totalitarian state and his current watchfulness, but there’s room for speculation. Smithsonian Magazine, 17 Aug. 2023 Moreover, China’s transition to communism obliterated alternatives to the ruling party and cleared the way for totalitarian rule. Lucan Ahmad Way, Foreign Affairs, 20 June 2023 The miraculous bloodless end of Soviet totalitarian Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 were not bloodless after all. Roger Cohen Nanna Heitmann, New York Times, 6 Aug. 2023 Social-democratic programs are equated with totalitarian control. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 26 June 2023 Hun Sen was once part of the Khmer Rouge, the totalitarian regime that rose to power in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, which also saw neighboring Cambodia devastated by U.S. bombs. Frances Vinall, Washington Post, 24 July 2023 The resulting music is irresistible to a totalitarian degree. Vulture, 20 July 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 21 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


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

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