What is Totalitarianism?

Definition: Totalitarianism is a form of government that concentrates all authority and control over subordinates in relation to every aspect of their lives. The term applies to political systems where people do not enjoy complete freedom because of the strong government rules, monitoring and repression.

What Does Totalitarianism Mean?

The word is mainly a political term since it primarily applies to governments. A totalitarian state tends to pursue a specific goal no matter the effects over other human life dimensions. With particular objectives in mind, it regulates and controls every aspect of citizen’s lives and tries to eliminate any emergent displays of discontent. Totalitarianism is usually possible thanks to a charismatic leader that convinces almost everyone about his positive intentions and, steadily concentrates all power towards one government branch but mostly towards him.

This kind of government creates or follows an ideology that later justifies any decision, no matter the negative results shown in matters like freedom, welfare and justice. Although totalitarianism might also exist in business, labor laws applied in most countries will prevent any totalitarian leader to seriously harm worker rights. Beneficial business objectives such as process optimization, increasing of productivity rates or improving product quality are usually pursued. However, totalitarian styles tend to prevent innovation and collaboration. The organizational environment becomes tense and good performers quit as soon as possible.


James Primes is a very intelligent and skilled engineer that founded a firm that manufactures bicycles. He is obsessed about quality and demands high performance of all employees. In the beginning, Mr. Primes used to apply a totalitarian structure with strict rules and serious consequences for any employee that fails to follow them. This kind of leadership created a sense of terror and discouraged any attempt to propose improvements.

The consequences were undesirable due to high turnover and low productivity. Fortunately, Mr. Prime accepted some suggestions coming from a close friend and slowly changed his leadership style. Over the time, the company certainly improved its performance rates, expanded toward other regions and was able to achieve successful financial results.