Charlie Jane Anders
io9
June 22, 2010

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t
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Totalitarianism towered over the 20th century — a leader-focused, oppressive form of rule in which the individual was crushed. Now it seems to have receded as an ideal. But will it be back? We asked the expert, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Brzezinski is best known for having been the National Security Advisor in the Carter Administration, and for helping to dismantle the Ford Administration’s policy of detente towards the Soviet Union. But in the 1950s, he was one of the main scholars developing the theory of totalitarianism, and helping to spread the idea that both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union represented examples of this type of system. He’s currently Robert E. Osgood Professor of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

So when we were wondering if totalitarianism was discredited for good, or if it might still stage a resurgence, we could think of no better person to ask than Brzezinski. Here’s what he said, via email.

Could we see the rise of a new electronic totalitarianism?You helped pioneer the idea of totalitarianism as a system of government. Do you think totalitarianism has been discredited as a form of government in the past couple of decades?

Totalitarianism has been discredited during the past several decades, but that does not mean that it cannot reoccur. However, the discerning aspect of totalitarianism is not simply that it is “totally” in control of society, but that it tries to change society according to a dogmatic blueprint, the latter usually being described as “ideology.” For the time being, there is no total ideology of change being advocated by any serious political grouping.

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