chapter  4
42 Pages

Totalitarianism and transitions

Words and reality

The term ‘totalitarian citizenship education’ comprises three words, each of which, by being brought into juxtaposition, is untrue; the term itself therefore has no validity. Or so it may be argued. Totalitarianism as a political word owes its origin in the 1920s mainly to Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile, who expounded in detail the Italian Fascist ideology (see e.g. Schapiro 1972: 13). It was subsequently extended to define what were believed to be the common features of ideologically driven dictatorial regimes as disparate as fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Maoist China, which sought the total control of their populations. But, the promiscuous use of the label ignores the deep differences that separated these states, exaggerates the distinction between the so-called totalitarian and other authoritarian forms of government, and assumes an omnipotent efficiency which they did not necessarily exercise in practice.