Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Totalitarianism and Authoritarianism

Totalitarianism vs. authoritarianism

Democracy means freedom of the people in a nation to choose. The people have the power over the entire nation. It is up to the majority what the fate of the country will be. The exact opposite of this type of leadership in the government is the authoritarian and the totalitarian type of governance. This type of government has only one person or a group leading the entire nation. These two types of regime are like a dictatorship regime, but still these two has many differences.

First the authoritarian regime has a single power holder, either a single person who is the dictator or a committee or otherwise called a junta. The power in this kind of government is monopolized to one political power. Authoritarianism is more on the government rather than the society.

Totalitarianism on the other hand is just like authoritarianism only in an extreme manner. The social and economic aspects of the nation are no longer under government control.

There are still so many differences these two regimes have. To know and understand the differences between the two, it is better to know deeper each of the regimes.

For the totalitarian regime, the dictators or the one in power has a charisma over the people. The people are attracted to his prophetic leadership that drives them to do what the dictator orders. Examples of individuals who have rules using totalitarianism are Joseph Stalin of USSR, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Adolf Hitler of Germany. There is a sense of connection between the ruler and the entire nation. In this way the dictator can rule the entire nation. There is a sense of ideology that the totalitarian shares with the people, making the people follow him. This makes the person in power more than just an individual but more likely a theological tyrant. This sense of being a divine being that leads takes away their appearance as a power hungry ruler.

Authoritarians on the other hand are more focused on the status quo and are driven by control. Examples of famous authoritarians are Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. They see themselves as individual beings which make them prone to the appearance of being power hungry dictators. They impose their rule through fear and loyalty. They gain loyalty by rewarding those that collaborate with them. The power in an authoritarian government is centralized and concentrated to one authority; it represses the word of the people and all those who oppose it. To reach a certain goal, it uses political parties and mass organization to make the people do whatever it takes to reach that certain goal.



An authoritarian regime has one ruler, a leader or a committee, the same as a totalitarian, only in an extreme way.

The totalitarian has charisma over his people while the authoritarian imposes fear over those who oppose and rewards those that are loyal to him.

The totalitarian is more of a divine ideologist who will save the people, while the authoritarian is focused more on control and status quo as an individualist.

The totalitarian uses his prophetic leadership to drive the people, while the authoritarian uses political parties, mass organizations, and other propagandas to make the people follow him.

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  1. You mention “Examples of individuals who have rules using totalitarianism are Joseph Stalin of USSR, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Adolf Hitler of Germany”. This following website suggests otherwise. Adolf Hitler is more authoritarian. Even the description provides by you of the authoritarian suggests, he controlled more with fear and awarded those loyal and punished those who opposed.


    • In reply to Zainab Choudhery, Joseph Stalin seemed more as an Authoritarianism form of government. He didn’t really appeal to the citizens and pretty much everyone, especially farmer and Catholics, knew that if they opposed his communistic rule he would kill you.

      • In response to Kyle Ledford, thank-you for the input. However, I was specifically referring to Hitler at that time. On the other hand, reading this article now. I find there isn’t much of a clear distinction between the two forms of government. I think arguably, if we were to consider that the main distinction between the two is the way in which the civilians emotionally connect or value the leader(s), then any political leader or party could be categorized as being totalitarian or authoritarian; all depending on who is asked- the protestants or supporters.

  2. This is a very confusing article.

    “Totalitarianism on the other hand is just like authoritarianism only in an extreme manner. The social and economic aspects of the nation are no longer under government control.”

    If totalitarianism is more extreme than authoritarianism, wouldn’t the social and economic aspects be under strict government control? This says they are “no longer” under government control.

    “An authoritarian regime has one ruler, a leader or a committee, the same as a totalitarian, only in an extreme way.”

    This last sentence contradicts what was said earlier. This is a waste of time.

  3. This article is entirely off base.

    “Authoritarian” is best understood by considering where authority / power rests. Is it with the government / state? Or does it sit with the individual?

    The opposite of “authoritarianism” is “liberty”. You may have countless forms of government that support one side or the other, or a blend of both.

    That said, totalitarianism is a form of government. Democracy is a form of government. Monarchy, Anarchy (classic definition, not the hoodlums busting windows chanting anti-capitalist / pro commie slogans), Theocracy, etc. , are forms of government.

    Any one of these forms of government can tilt towards liberty or authoritarianism.

    For example, as a King, I might deem that our society is all mine, and that my subjects are to serve at my behest, essentially slaves to me and my national interests.

    Or… I may deem that liberty is the highest social order, and that the sole purpose of my government is to protect my subjects liberty — their right to consent. I would jail those who would steal, murder, etc., and while I would encourage my subjects to be charitable and good people otherwise, I would otherwise leave them alone. The people would be responsible for funding the forces used to protect their own liberty, and would be free to organize that as they choose.

    That said, I find the differences in the article above to only confuse the matter of difference.

    A democracy — contrary to assertions can be despotic authoritarian, with elected despots who pay off their constituency and rape and pillage others to achieve their ends. The majority in democracies have a very bloody history of violating liberty and consent.

    • Thank you! I find this much more helpful than this confusing and inaccurate article

    • Yeah leopolds answer is much better

    • True, but this’ NOT “autocracy vs. democracy”! The reason why this article is confusing, other than it being YOU, is that these two are SO similar: subtle differences (“cynical” and “pessimist” is another example)! Today in Government class, my student teacher said that “highly educated” individuals still argue about the difference.

  4. You say that in a totalitarian government, “the economic and social aspects of the nation are no longer under the government’s control”. That is completely backwards. Both of these aspects of the nation ARE under the government’s control in a totalitarian government. They are not necessarily under the government’s control in a non-totalitarian, authoritian regime. Totalitarianism is authoritarianism that includes government control of the citizens private life. I would say that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq would be considered totalitarian, as well as Hitler’s Germany and Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, but under the definition that I just mentioned above, not your contradicting definitions,

  5. Simply put, Authoritarianism seeks to repress people that oppose the existing government, but grants a certain liberty to people who don’t refuse or even support the government. It’s purpose is to soley keep the status quo in power which is led by one single leader, board or party.

    On the other hand, totalitarianism goes beyond that and invades the private life of every member of the population, in an attempt to change human nature and society as a whole, often through hermetic ideologies (Stalinism, National Socialism, Maoism but also often forgoten Fundamentalism in religious theocracies).

  6. Bottom line authoritarian/totaltarian bad (trump?) democracy good.

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