What do we know about dictators? Totalitarianism and authoritarianism

Dr Daniel P

By Dr. Daniel P.:

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 is the authoritarian and totalitarian types of governance. These have only one person or a group leading the entire nation. Both types of regime are like dictatorships, but they have many differences.

First the authoritarian regime has a single power holder, either an individual who is the dictator or a committee or junta. The power in this kind of government is monopolized. Authoritarianism is reflected more in the government rather than the society.

Totalitarianism, on the other hand, is like authoritarianism only in a more extreme manner. In a totalitarian regime, the dictator has a charismatic hold over the people. The people are attracted to his prophetic leadership which drives them to do what he orders. Examples of individuals who have ruled using totalitarianism are Joseph Stalin of the 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 and more like a theological tyrant. This sense of their being a divine being who leads camouflages 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 contemporary authoritarians are King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Masod Barzani of South Kurdistan. 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 in 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 organizations to make the people do whatever it takes to reach that certain goal.


  1. An authoritarian regime has one ruler, a leader or a committee; it is the same in a totalitarian regime, only in an extreme way.
  2. The totalitarian exercises charisma over his people while the authoritarian imposes fear over those who oppose and rewards those who are loyal to him.
  3. The totalitarian appears as more of a divine ideologist who will “save” the people, while the authoritarian is focused more on control and the status quo.
  4. The totalitarian uses his prophetic leadership to drive the people, while the authoritarian uses political parties, mass organizations, and other propaganda tools to make the people follow him.

 Dr Daniel P.: PhD in Political Sciences at the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. Specializations: Middle East political and social information; Master of Arts in Diplomacy and International Relations: Specializations – Middle East Conflict and Kurdish, and Foreign Policy Analysis. The London School of Economics and Political Science is a School of the University of London; Bachelor of Arts: Political sciences at The London School of Economics