A totalitarian regime is a government that controls every aspect of the life of the people. People living under this type of regime generally also support it, sometimes almost cultishly, thanks to extensive propaganda missions that are designed to promote a positive view of the government. Citizens are also usually afraid to criticize the government, so they may be outspoken supporters to avoid closer scrutiny.
The concept of the totalitarian regime in political theory arose in the 20th century, and although there are a few examples of such governments that predate the 20th century, some of the most distinctive examples, such as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, date to the 1900s. Communist governments such as those of China and North Korea are also sometimes accused of being totalitarian.
Many people note that there are some distinct similarities between totalitarian and authoritarian governments. The main feature that separates these two types of governments is that a totalitarian government encompasses the whole of society, while an authoritarian government is focused solely on governance. While there may be some overlap, in order to be considered totalitarian, government and society must be closely intertwined, as for instance in countries where there is only one political party and everyone belongs to it.
Several characteristics can be seen in all totalitarian regimes. The first is strict government control of the media, with the media typically being used as a propaganda organ. Cultural, political, and artistic expression among the populace is also usually severely curtailed, as is access to outside news sources. People who criticize the government tend to disappear, and their family members may fall under close scrutiny.
These governments also cultivate a sense of deep devotion to the state, with citizens being encouraged to regard it as being almost like a parent. People must file applications before changing residences, taking new jobs, or getting married. They may also be expected to serve the state in some capacity, ranging from the military to a labor camp, and the government has control over access to education, reproductive freedoms, healthcare, and a number of other aspects of life that many people consider personal.
Many people feel that totalitarian regimes are a very poor form of government because they can be quite oppressive. They are also highly efficient, however, thanks to the extreme level of control, and this is one reason why such regimes are capable of mounting massive economic and military attacks on their neighbors.