Explaining what is Meant By Authoritarian and Totalitarian Models of Government

In political science, or any studies related to politics, a major concern is the right understanding of the various systems of government and the clear understanding of the systems of authoritarianism and totalitarianism is of pertinent significance as they are often not well understood or discussed. Authoritarianism can be well understood as “A political system where the administration of government is centralized… characterized by the curtailment of individual freedoms; excessive reliance on actual, and the threat of, violence and punishment; virtual unaccountability of government officials; and the aversion of the decision-making process to consultation, persuasion and the necessity of forging a policy consensus” (Spero and Hart).

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An extreme form of oppressive government, which is almost similar to the dictatorship model of authoritarianism, is totalitarianism, where instead of the individual occupying the total control, the state-controlled by a group enjoys the authority. In political science, this may be best understood as a “system of government and ideology in which all social, political, economic, intellectual, cultural, and spiritual activities are subordinated to the purposes of the rulers of a state.” (Totalitarianism. 2007).

In the ideological structure of authoritarianism, the leaders, though very oppressive in nature, often leave room for private life and freedom compared to the totalitarian government. However, as opposed to the totalitarian system, “authoritarian governments usually lack a guiding ideology, tolerate some pluralism in social organization, lack the power to mobilize the whole population in pursuit of national goals, and exercise their power within relatively predictable limits” (Is Harding Authoritarian or Totalitarian? 2007).

Thus, a comparative study of both these forms of government draws out the basic meaning of both the political concepts as well as elicit the major difference between the two.

In our attempt to distinguish the two systems of governments, let us first understand what an authoritarian government means by explaining its myths and realities. In this system of government, the governed are subject to unbound and unquestioned obedience to the authority and the general notion is that authoritarianism is without any freedom and merit of administration. There are various other myths concerning the system which are often far from reality. The six chief myths of the system listed by Jess include that the model is “An Abnormal Byproduct of Modernization,” “Always Tyrannical,” “Never Legitimate,” “Always Unpopular,” “Worst Possible Government,” and has “No Redeeming Qualities” (Jess).

In clarification of these myths, the realities of things are exposited. Thus, the particular system seems not more abnormal than the other recognized systems like democracy. The common error in judging this political system is the generalization of its characteristics. Thus, unlike the general notion that all authoritative governments aim at political power without concern for economic development, we find that many of these governments are motivated to economic development.

To the notion that the legitimate governments worked only with the consent of the people, we may point out that in history the dynastic principle and the divine right principle made the rule legitimate. This is a mistake to consider that given a choice people would choose democracy over authoritarianism. The latter, in reality, provides more political stability and economic growth and the other merits of the system make the people admire it.

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This system has, as opposed to the myth, has many redeeming qualities, and the example of Hitler curing Germany’s woes many be cited as an example and we have the example of China which is the most successful autocratic regime. An unbiased understanding of the system would clarify that it is wrong notion to consider it as the worst possible government. In reality, the system allows freedom to the citizens, and the exploitation of the people, if any, is directed towards the well-being and the development of the state. Thus, for the development of a nation, the best system recommendable is the authoritarian government.

To understand totalitarianism in its complete sense, it can be defined as A system of centralized government in which a singled unopposed party exerts total and repressive control over a country’s political, social, economic, and cultural life” (Davis et al 2003).

The system allocates for the rule by a group driven by a particular popular ideology but has the same authoritative nature in the working. The basic distinction between an authoritative and totalitarian government is possible on the matter of the degree of force exercised. “Authoritarians meddle more in society, and demand higher allegiance and more obedience than democratic societies do. Totalitarians go further. They meddle in every aspect of life. There is nothing off-limits to them. The totality of your life belongs to the state… hence the name, totalitarianism.” (Virkaala 2006).

The authoritarian system of government is weaker and milder compared to the greater control by the state in a totalitarian government. There is a view that these two systems are variant forms of the same model of governmental system and only the amount of power and the forms of its exercise differ. But, as we understand it, there is an even greater difference between the two and the popular notion of them is not always true to fact.

Works Cited

Spero, Joan and Hart, Jeffrey. The Politics of International Economic Relations. Glossary. Indiana University. 2007. Web.

Totalitarianism. Introduction. Msn.com. 2007. Web.

Is Harding Authoritarian or Totalitarian? Political cartel. 2007. Web.

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Jess. 6 Major Myths of Authoritarian Government. 2007. Web.

Davis, Paul et al. Glossary of Critical Terms. 2003. Web.

Virkkala, Wirkman. Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism. 2006. Web.

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