Difference Between Totalitarianism and Dictatorship

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: August 18, 2022


Difference Between Totalitarianism and Dictatorship Difference Between Totalitarianism and Dictatorship

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What is a Government?

We hear the term government more often than we can count on our fingers. So what does a government mean? In political terms, a government is a group of people who have the authority to govern a country or a state. Other words similar to the government are administration, authority, management etc.

A government is the essence of any civilization. The ancient scriptures have been proof of how our ancestors too understood the need for a functioning government to live in a civilization. With little shreds of evidence of the Harappa valley civilization, we know that the oldest civilization known to man was also based on a government.

Although during the ancient days, the people were not as democratic as we know our governments to be now. So how did they elect their representatives? It was about power and strength and eventually, it came to hierarchy. The strongest male of the clan would be chosen as the leader and once someone stronger than him challenges him and wins, the new stronger male is the representative of the clan. And when our ancestors grew out of tribes and entered a proper civilization, the government became a monarchy.

According to a few historians, the governments essentially came into force largely because of agriculture and irrigation. We noticed that most of the civilizations were near the rivers for the need for water while practising agriculture which has been the main occupation of the people in ancient times. According to David Christian, ‘as farming populations gathered in larger and denser communities, interactions between different groups increased and the social pressure rose until, in a striking parallel with star formation, new structures suddenly appeared, together with a new level of complexity. Like stars, cities and states reorganize and energize the smaller objects within their gravitational field.’

What are the Different Types of Governments?

In regards to a government and our world, we must know that not everyone follows the same form of government that we do. Thus, after carefully studying the types of government we came up with several different kinds of governments.

  1. Authoritarian
  2. Anarchy
  3. Democracy
  4. Dictatorship
  5. Monarchy
  6. Republic
  7. Theocracy
  8. Totalitarian

Anarchy – a country that is said to be in a constant state of war or at the brink of war or civil unrest and a un functioning government.

Democracy – for the people, of the people and by the people. The common motto of every democratic nation. It means that this form of government is solely for the betterment of the people of the country. The representatives are elected by the people, the representatives work for the people and are one among the citizens of the nation.

Dictatorship – is where a single person has the sole power of the entire nation through force and holds the government in his hands.

Monarchy – a monarchy is a form of government where the power is in the hands of the king or the queen.

Republic – it is much like a democracy where the people are elected to office through democracy but it is governed by a single person who is the collective representative of the entire government and the people.

Theocracy – the countries where the powers are in the hands of the religious leaders rather than the king or the president or the prime minister.

Totalitarian – it is a group of people having equal rights in the country, but are not nominated by the people.

Why is a Government Necessary?

We are well aware that an ideal government consists of the law-making body or the legislature, the executioner body or the executive and the body that maintains the justice of the judiciary. There are the essential foundations in a government so it can run smoothly. A government is necessary to maintain law and order and law and order are necessary to run the society smoothly.

Imagine a world where there is no law binding us, we can do whatever we want and so can the others. The roads would be a mess without traffic police, but what is their job? Isn’t it to administer the people and the vehicles and make that no law is being broken and that no person can get hurt throughout the journey? That is quite similar to what the government does. It builds laws and regulations that suit everyone’s preferences and at the same time ensures that our freedom is still intact. Lord know that we humans are in a dire need of freedom after the years of slavery.

Taking the example of animals, we know that wolves often travel in packs and a lone wolf is weaker and more prone to being hunted despite it being a hunter itself. There is always a bigger fish in the sea! Why do the wolves travel in a pack? To answer this, let’s think, how often do we like to travel alone ourselves? Not very often, it makes us more vulnerable to the world. Similarly, the wolves travel in packs and do their activities in packs because they feel more protected and more fierce. An alpha of a pack is the leader, the one who chooses to protect its members and make sure things are in order.

A government works like the alpha of a pack. We citizens of a country are like the members of the pack and the government is the alphas who ensure our safety.

Difference Between Dictatorship and Totalitarianism in Tabular Form

Table: Dictatorship and Totalitarianism
Dictatorship is an authoritarian and irresponsible system of governance in which a single ruler experiences full and excessive authority.
Totalitarianism is the form of a government where the state holds full authority over the life of the individual.
Limited and controlled pluralism
No pluralism
Exploitation of the party system of the state to meet the ideals of the ruling dictator.
Domination of status and role of a single party and single leadership.
People’s role in politics
Limited, regulated and controlled participation of the people.
Forced, controlled and manoeuvred participation of the people.
Overly powerful and strong position of the executive, a single person.
Total and intense centralization of all power and authority.
Usage of an ideology or the principles of an ideology to justify the actions of the executive and his junta.
Adoption and projection of an ideology which is held to be the state ideology.

What is Totalitarianism?

A totalitarian state is one in which the state has full authority over the life of an individual. The trust of a man is given to the state to do as the state pleases for its benefit of it. In the words of Finer, “totalitarian state is the veritable contradictory of the liberal democratic type of government. The scope and authority of government are not limited, but just the reverse is total.” It is a state of truly sovereign means which dominates every sphere of the country and its people.

To make it short, totalitarianism is a political ideology where the state is witnessed as an all-powerful institute which exercises full control over the people and the society. There exists no difference between the state and society. The state exerts power in almost every aspect of the social, economic, religious, political, cultural and ideological lives of the people. All the public and private institutes are under the control of the government. There is little to no respect for the freedom of a person as they are considered to be the means to serve the end which is the state. Political repression, use of force and fear to make the people obey the laws, single centralized leadership, monolithically ideology and absence of social-economic political checks upon the ruling establishment are all major characteristics of the totalitarian government.

What are the Main Features of a Totalitarian Government?

It is the opposite of a democratic state and is based on the complete centralization of powers in the hands of the ruling party. There is only one political party that is, the party of the ruler. It is against the pluralistic view and stands for complete centralization of the powers of the people at the hands of a single social - economical – political system. It is based on force and coercion to make the people abide by the rules. No part of the individual’s life is outside of state control. No opposition to the rule of the current government is tolerated. Internationalism is not followed by a state of totalitarianism, it believes war to be the ultimate source of power and assert dominance in the world. It is exclusive and does not believe in liberalism or sharing of powers. There is a lack of independent judiciary and it believes in state worship. All aspects of an individual and society are a concern of the state, there is an elaborate ideology that regulates political activities.

What is Dictatorship?

A dictatorship is a form of government where the authority lies in the hands of only one person or a small band of people who possess extreme power over the state or the government. It can also be defined as a state which is neither democratic nor totalitarian and falls under the category of a dictatorship. Its alternative name is autocracy or authoritarian government. Its alternative name is autocracy or authoritarian government. In this form of government either a person comes into authority through legal means or illegal means or a revolution and begins to take charge of the country and the people commanding them to do his bidding.

Who doesn’t know about Hitler? He was the dictator of Germany after the first world when Germany was stripped of everything she had. He began exercising powers and began commanding the army of Germany or what was left of it after the war. There were many cruelties and atrocities committed under his name in Germany during his reign and it was eventually his undoing which led to the second world war.

“Dictatorship is an authoritarian and irresponsible form of government in which the ruler dominates the legislature and the judiciary. Under it, little respect is given to the rights and freedom of the people.”

General Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, Ayub Khan, and Pervez Musharraf are a few examples of dictators.

What are the Features of a Dictatorship?

It involves one person or a small group led by that one person who holds complete powers over the people and the state. It is usually illegal and comes into force through manipulation or by a coup. The will of the dictator is the law. Dictatorship is neither transparent nor responsible for the people or the wishes of the people. Oftentimes, dictatorship is backed by militarism either directly or indirectly. Strict follow-up of the rules is demanded and if not then force is used for those who oppose the will of the dictator. There is not any difference between the state and the government. The power is exercised in the name of unity and nationalism by the executive. It is the complete opposite of the democracy of the people. Centralization of all the power is in the hands of the dictator who often sees war as a means to secure more land and project power to the world. The media and the connections of the people are highly controlled.


Although totalitarianism and dictatorship seem quite similar in their execution there are minute details that we must not overlook while differentiation between the two. The table above might clarify the difference between the two briefly. To understand this more clearly let us take the example of Adolf Hitler who is one of the most famous dictators in the world. He gained that reputation by overthrowing the government after he allegedly became a part of the German parliament. Not only was he supported by the military but was also supported by the Ottoman Empire which was later disbanded due to the treaty of Versailles. He upheld great power and control over the people. He followed his ideologies and cared little for the citizens of the country as long as he did not have to summon them to do his bidding. However, in a totalitarian state, the power is in the hands of the state or the current government. And a totalitarian state follows one particular ideology and rejects the others. There is a forced legitimacy while in a dictatorship, there is a manipulated legitimacy. There is little difference between the state, society and the government in a totalitarian government while in an authoritarian government there is a certain distance between the state and the society. And the major difference is that in a dictatorship, one person holds all the power whereas, in a totalitarian government, a single party holds the power.


  • Political science book by K.K Ghai



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"Difference Between Totalitarianism and Dictatorship." Diffzy.com, 2023. Mon. 27 Mar. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-totalitarianism-and-dictatorship-723>.

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