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Context of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Context of The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Author: Alexander Best

Develop an awareness of the political and military background to the setting of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  

  1. Czech Republic up until 1960's. 
  2. Prague Spring
  3. Totalitarianism as a governmental structure
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Below are a few articles about the geography of the Czech republic, the Prague Uprising, and Totalitarianism. There are some self check questions for you to consider, and then a "question to answer" in writing. A short paragraph is generally enough.

Looking at where Czechoslovakia is (and about the name)


From Wikipedia's Czechoslovakia Article


Here's a map of Europe at the time: 



Question to Answer

1. What can you conclude about how The USSR will view Czechoslovakia's position as a "not-entirely Communist" country?  How many neighbours does Czechoslovakia have? What does this imply about their military position?


Short Introduction to Czech History

Read the following short introduction to Czech History.  As you read, consider how its history differs from our own.

Short Introduction to Czech History

The Czech lands, which lie in the center of Europe and include Bohemia, Moravia, and part of Silesia, have long been settled. The first evidence of inhabitation— artifacts and ceramics— dates from the early Stone Age, roughly 28,000 B.C. From the third century B.C. the Czech lands were inhabited by Celts. The Celtic tribe, called Boii in Latin, is the source of the Latin name Boiohaemum, which gave rise, in turn, to Bohemia, the name for the Czech lands used to this day in many languages. At the start of the first century, German tribes began to encroach on Czech territory. Recent archeological finds prove that in the second century Roman legions encamped in central Moravia, near present-day Olomouc.

Slavic settlement began around the fifth century A.D. From 623 to 659 there existed on Czech territory a loose confederation of Slavic tribes led by the Frankish trader Samo, the so-called Samo’s Realm. In the early ninth century, Christianity began to spread through the Czech lands. In 845, fourteen Czech princes were baptized in German Regensburg. In 830, in Moravia the Great Moravian Empire arose, encompassing both Bohemia and Western Slovakia. In 863 and 864, the Christian mission of Cyril (Constantine) and Methodius , came to Moravia from then Byzantine Salonica, bringing the Glagolitic alphabet and disseminating Christianity in Old Slavic— a language comprehensible to the local population. The Great Moravian Empire, from which the Czechs had broken away just before the end of the 9th century, was overrun in 906-908 by the Magyars. The beginnings of a Czech state, ruled by the Przemyslid dynasty, also date from the 10th century. In 924, Prince Václav took power, only to be murdered in 936 by his brother Boleslav. Václav was later canonized and, as Saint Vaclav became the patron of the Czech lands. Prague, where the first bishopric was established in 973, became the natural center of the Czech state. The most significant monument remaining from the 10th century is the Romanesque Saint George basilica at the Prague Castle.

In 1085, the Premyslid prince Vratislav II was granted a personal royal title. Hereditary kingship, however, was not established in the Czech lands until the reign of Vladislav II in 1158. In the 13th century such cities as Brno, Znojmo or Poděbrady began to be founded, as well as the royal cities Jihlava, Hradec Králové, České Budějovice or Olomouc. King Vaclav II (1278-1305) invited Germans from the neighboring lands to settle the Czech border regions. The Premyslid dynasty died out in 1306 with the murder of Vaclav III. From the 13 century, the Czech Kingdom became a part of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Czech king one of the seven electors who chose the emperor.

In 1310 Jan Lucembursky ascended the Czech throne, having married Eliska Premyslovna, the daughter of King Vaclav II. The Czech lands enjoyed an unprecedented renaissance under his son Karel, who became king of the Czech lands in 1346 and in 1355 was elected and crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Karel IV. founded the first university in Central Europe (in Prague in 1348), laid the foundations of Gothic Prague, established Prague's Nove Mesto (New Town), enlarged both the Stare Mesto (Old Town) and Prague Castle, had a stone bridge built across the Vltava which still bears his name, and not far from Prague built Karlstejn Castle. In his day Prague was the center of the empire. With four hundred thousand inhabitants, it was then one of the largest cities in Europe.

After the death of Karel IV, in 1378, his son Vaclav IV assumed power. In Prague the preacher Konrad Waldhauser rose to prominence, agitating against injustice in the church and promoting its reform. His attempts at reformation were later continued by the rector of the university of Prague, Master Jan Hus. Hus's preaching, which anticipated the later Protestant movement, aroused the indignation of the church, but was received enthusiastically by the people. In 1414, Hus was summoned to Konstanz, to answer charges of heresy before the church council. Despite coercion and imprisonment, Hus never recanted. On July 6 1415, he was condemned by the Council of Konstanz and burnt as a heretic.

When news of Hus's death reached Bohemia, the rivalry between Catholics and Hussites, who agreed with Hus's views on church reform, turned to open hostility. Outrages were committed on both sides, particularly after the death of King Vaclav IV in 1419. The defenestration of councillors and aldermen from the Prague town hall and the concentration of Hussites in cities and mountain regions marked the start of the Hussite revolution and the wars which were to follow. In 1420 the Hussites promulgated their demands in the "Four Articles of Prague". In the same year the city of Tábor, later to become the center of the Husite movement, was founded.

The church reacted to the developments in the Czech lands with five crusades between 1420 and 1431. All were routed in battle with the Hussite troops. The Hussite army was commanded by the legendary, invincible Jan Žižka z Trocnova (1374 – 1422). He was succeeded in command of the Hussite troops by Prokop Holy. The Hussites, however, could not rid themselves of internal divisions and splintered into a radical wing of Taborites, who refused all compromise, and a moderate wing, which sought to reach agreement with the emperor and the church. This led finally to a fratricidal battle at Lipany in 1434, in which the Taborites were defeated. A treaty known as the Basilean Compact brought an end to the Hussite wars. Negotiations began at a church council in Basle (1453), where representatives of the Hussites defended the "Four Articles of Prague". It was agreed that in the Czech lands the right to take communion in both kinds, bread and wine, would be preserved. In 1436 a treaty was finally signed between the Emperor Sigmund and the Czech kingdom at the Council of Jihlava.

In 1448 Jiří z Poděbrad, an adherent of Hussitism, became regent of the Czech lands. In 1458, upon the untimely death of King Ladislav Pohrobek (1453-1457), he was elected king by the Czech Estates. The beginnings of the Czech Reform church, the Jednota bratrská (in English often called the Czech or Moravian Brethren), date from his reign. After the death of the Hussite king Jiri z Podebrad in 1471, the Jagellonian dynasty assumed the Czech throne and reigned until 1526, when after the death of King Ludvik Jagellonsky at the battle of Mohacs, the Habsburg Ferdinand I was elected king of the Czech lands.

In the second half of the 15th century, the country so long devastated by religious strife and wars finally saw peaceful coexistence between Catholics and supporters of the Hussite reforms. A gradual regeneration began. Throughout the 16th century, cities expanded, Renaissance castles were built, especially in Prague, and in Southern Bohemia Jakub Krčín (1535-1604) established an extensive and justly famous network of fish-ponds. Humanistic literature flourished. In Moravian Kralice a brotherhood of scholars worked on a translation of the Bible from its Hebrew and Aramaic sources. Their translation, published from 1579 to 1594 under the title Biblí svatá (Holy Bible), is generally known as the Bible Kralická (Kralice Bible). The Bible had a huge influence on the Czech language and literature, and its language is alive to this day.

During the reign of Rudolf II (1576-1611), Prague again became the cultural center of the empire, but after his death disputes broke out between Catholics and reformers, peaking in the revolt of the Czech Estates against King Matyas, who succeeded his brother, Rudolf, to the throne. Like the Hussite revolution, this uprising, too, began with a defenestration. In May of 1618 two royal governers were thrown out a window of Prague castle. In August of 1619 the Czech Estates selected as king Fridrich Falcky. His reign was short-lived, however. The army of the Czech Estates was decisively defeated on November 8, 1620, near Prague at the battle of White Mountain. King Fridrich fled. The Czech lands were cruelly punished. 27 Czech lords who had participated in the defense against the Hapsburgs were publicly executed on the Old Town Square in Prague in June of 1621. To this day, the place where the the executioner’s block and gallows stood is marked on the cobblestones. The execution of the Czech lords was but a prologue to further repressive, anti-reformation decrees. Emperor Ferdinand II, who assumed the throne in 1620, pardoned a series of participants in the uprising, but confiscated their lands. In a nation which had been nine-tenths Protestant, counter-Reformation was undertaken by force. The Thirty Years' War, which followed on the Estates' uprising, devastated and impoverished the country to such an extent that of more than three million inhabitants, only eight hundred thousand remained. Many preferred to emigrate to neighboring countries where they could practice Protestantism. The best known of them was Jan Ámos Komenský (1592-1672), a Czech thinker and pedagogue and a leading figure among the Czech Brethren. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years' War, sealed the fate of the Czech lands. They lost their independence and would remain within the borders of Austro-Hungary under Hapsburg rule until 1918.

The Czech nobility and landowners were decimated, their estates given to foreigners and the serfs required to work much longer for their new masters, leading in the late 17th century to revolts bloodily suppressed. Forced re-Catholicization of the country continued. The Kralice Bible and a number of other books were placed on the index: banned books found during house-to-house searches were collected and burned. The majority of Czechs could not but succumb to the pressure. Only a tiny minority of secret Brethren managed to preserve their faith while pretending to be Catholic. Some preferred to convert to Judaism, the only other faith recognized by law. Remaining monuments to this time are a series of Baroque churches in the countryside, and buildings of the high Czech Baroque, erected mostly in the first half of the 18th century.

Some relief came with the reforms of Emperor Joseph II (1780-1790). The Jesuit order was disbanded, torture during criminal trials was forbidden, the judiciary was made independent, and in 1781 a patent abolishing serfdom was published; in the same year the Patent of Tolerance was published, legalizing Protestantism. At the same time, however, government was centralized and higher schools and the civil service Germanized.

Around this time, reaction against Germanization emerged in the form of the Czech National Revival. In the 1780's, the first Czech newspapers appeared in Prague, Czech theaters opened, and in 1792 a department of Czech language and literature was established at the university in Prague. In 1806 mandatory elementary education was introduced in the Czech lands. In the 19th century, the country was industrialized and education, culture, and Czech literature developed rapidly. In the revolutionary year of 1848, serfdom was definitively abolished. In 1869, a law was promulgated requiring eight years of mandatory schooling. In 1882, Charles University in Prague was divided into a Czech and a German branch. In 1883, the renovated National Theater opened in Prague.

With its defeat in the First World War (1914-1918), Austro-Hungary collapsed. New states emerged from its ruins, among them Czechoslovakia, which was founded on October 28, 1918, as a democratic state with Tomáš G. Masaryk (1850-1937) as its president. In addition to Bohemia and Moravia, Czechoslovakia also included Slovakia and Podkarpatská Rus (Subcarpathian Ukraine). Given its ethnic composition and its population of 14 million, it was not a very stable state. Along with two and a half million Slovaks, who since the fall of the Great Moravian Empire had been part of Hungary, Czechoslovakia comprised a German minority of nearly three million, a more than half-million Hungarian minority in Southern Slovakia, a Polish minority in Northeast Moravia, and a Rusyn population in Podkarpatská Rus.

In 1933 Adolf Hitler came to power and neighboring Germany became a Nazi totalitarian state. In 1938 Hitler's Germany invaded Austria, claiming it as a part of the so-called Great German Reich. Czechoslovakia, with its three million Germans concentrated mainly along the border, was next in line. Hitler demanded that the border territories be ceded to Germany. Although Czechoslovakia had a defense pact with Great Britain and France, the representatives of those nations wanted to avoid war at all cost. The Munich Accord of September 15, 1938, obliged the Czechoslovak government to capitulate and cede the Bohemian and Moravian border regions to Germany. The truncated state was then seized by the German army on March 15, 1939, and renamed the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. The previous day, Slovakia had proclaimed its independence and Hungary had claimed Podkarpatska Rus. On September 1, 1939, the Second World War broke out. In May of 1945, when the war ended, Czechoslovakia was restored, but with Podkarpatska Rus now a part of the Soviet Union, which thus obtained a common border with Czechoslovakia. Germans were expelled en masse from the border regions. In February of 1948, the communists came to power in a putsch; Czechoslovakia became a totalitarian state and a part of the Soviet bloc.

The liberalization movement of 1968 was overturned by Soviet invasion in August of that year. Conditions in the country changed again with the Velvet Revolution of November 1989. Czechoslovakia ceased to exist as a state on January 1, 1993, when it divided peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 2003 both countries agreed by popular referendum to enter into the European Union.

Part 1: Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968


MILESTONES: 1961-1968

Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968

On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union led Warsaw Pact troops in an invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack down on reformist trends in Prague. Although the Soviet Union’s action successfully halted the pace of reform in Czechoslovakia, it had unintended consequences for the unity of the communist bloc.

Prague, 1968

Prague, 1968

Before the Second World War, the nation of Czechoslovakia had been a strong democracy in Central Europe, but beginning in the mid 1930s it faced challenges from both the West and the East. In 1938, the leadership inGreat Britain and France conceded the German right to takeover the Sudetenland in the Munich Agreement, but the Czech government condemned this German occupation of its western-most territory as a betrayal. In 1948, Czech attempts to join the U.S.-sponsored Marshall Plan to aid postwar rebuilding were thwarted by Soviet takeover and the installation of a new communist government in Prague. For the next twenty years, Czechoslovakia remained a stable state within the Soviet sphere of influence; unlike in Hungary or Poland, even the rise of de-Stalinization after 1953 did not lead to liberalization by the fundamentally conservative Czech government.

Alexander Dubcek

Alexander Dubcek

In the 1960s, however, changes in the leadership in Prague led to a series of reforms to soften or humanize the application of communist doctrines within Czech borders. The Czech economy had been slowing since the early 1960s, and cracks were emerging in the communist consensus as workers struggled against new challenges. The government responded with reforms designed to improve the economy. In early 1968, conservative leader Antonin Novotny was ousted as the head of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and he was replaced by Alexander Dubcek. The Dubcek government ended censorship in early 1968, and the acquisition of this freedom resulted in a public expression of broad-based support for reform and a public sphere in which government and party policies could be debated openly. In April, the Czech Government issued a formal plan for further reforms, although it tried to liberalize within the existing framework of the Marxist-Leninist State and did not propose a revolutionary overhaul of the political and economic systems. As conflicts emerged between those calling for further reforms and conservatives alarmed by how far the liberalization process had gone, Dubcek struggled to maintain control.

Soviet leaders were concerned over these recent developments in Czechoslovakia. Recalling the 1956 uprising in Hungary, leaders in Moscow worried that if Czechoslovakia carried reforms too far, other satellite states in Eastern Europe might follow, leading to a widespread rebellion against Moscow’s leadership of the Eastern Bloc. There was also a danger that the Soviet Republics in the East, such as the UkraineLithuaniaLatvia, and Estonia might make their own demands for more liberal policies. After much debate, the Communist Party leadership in Moscow decided to intervene to establish a more conservative and pro-Soviet government in Prague.

The Warsaw Pact invasion of August 20-21 caught Czechoslovakia and much of the Western world by surprise. In anticipation of the invasion, the Soviet Union had moved troops from the Soviet Union, along with limited numbers of troops from HungaryPolandEast Germany and Bulgaria into place by announcing Warsaw Pact military exercises. When these forces did invade, they swiftly took control of Prague, other major cities, and communication and transportation links. Given the escalating U.S. involvement in the conflict in Vietnam as well as past U.S. pronouncements on non-intervention in the East Bloc, the Soviets guessed correctly that the United States would condemn the invasion but refrain from intervening. Although the Soviet crackdown on Czechoslovakia was swift and successful, small-scale resistance continued throughout early 1969 while the Soviets struggled to install a stable government. Finally, in April of 1969, the Soviets forced Dubcek from power in favor of a more conservative administrator. In the years that followed, the new leadership reestablished government censorship and controls preventing freedom of movement, but it also improved economic conditions, eliminating one of the sources for revolutionary fervor. Czechoslovakia once again became a cooperative member of the Warsaw Pact.

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was significant in the sense that it delayed the splintering of Eastern European Communism and was concluded without provoking any direct intervention from the West. Repeated efforts in the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the attacks met with opposition from the Soviet Union, and the effort finally died away. The invasion did, however, temporarily derail progress toward détente between the Soviet Union and the United States. The NATO allies valued the idea of a lessening of tensions, and as a result they were determined not to intervene. Still, the invasion forced U.S. PresidentLyndon B. Johnson to cancel a summit meeting with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Although Brezhnev knew this was the most likely outcome of the invasion, he considered maintaining Soviet control in the East Bloc a higher priority in the short-term than pursuing détente with the West. As it turned out, the progress on arms control agreements were only delayed by a few years in the aftermath of the Prague Spring.

There were also long-term consequences. After the invasion, the Soviet leadership justified the use of force in Prague under what would become known as the Brezhnev Doctrine, which stated that Moscow had the right to intervene in any country where a communist government had been threatened. This doctrine, established to justify Soviet action in Czechoslovakia, also became the primary justification for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and even before that it helped to finalize the Sino-Soviet split, as Beijing feared that the Soviet Union would use the doctrine as a justification to invade or interfere with Chinese communism. Because the United States interpreted the Brezhnev Doctrine and the history of Soviet interventions in Europe as defending established territory, not expanding Soviet power, the aftermath of the Czech crisis also lent support to voices in the U.S. Congress calling for a reduction in U.S. military forces in Europe.

Self-Check Questions:

1. Why did Russia not invade earlier? 

2. What was it's motivation to invade? Was it successful? 

3. What were three consequences of the invasion for Czechoslovakia, Russia, and Europe? 


Question to Answer:

2. Summarize the causes and effects of the Russian invasion.

Part 2: The Prague Spring


The Prague Spring of 1968


The Prague Spring of 1968 is the term used for the brief period of time when the government of Czechoslovakia led by Alexander Dubček seemingly wanted to democratise the nation and lessen the stranglehold Moscow had on the nation’s affairs. The Prague Spring ended with a Soviet invasion, the removal of Alexander Dubček as party leader and an end to reform within Czechoslovakia.


The first signs that all was not well in Czechoslovakia occurred in May 1966 when there were complaints that theSoviet Union was exploiting the people. This developed when people in Slovakia complained about the government in Prague imposing its rules on the Slovaks and overriding local autonomy. A weak economy exacerbated the situation and none of the reforms that were introduced worked. The workers remained in poor housing and led the most basic of lifestyles. The same occurred in rural Czechoslovakia where farmers had to follow Party lines with regards to cultivation and innovation was frowned on.


In June 1967, there was open criticism of Antonin Novotný, Party Leader, at the Writers’ Union Congress. In October 1967, students demonstrated against Novotný and early in 1968 he was replaced as First Secretary of the Party by Alexander Dubček. He had not courted leadership of the anti-Novotný movement but as the man who had handed in a long list of complaints against him (September 1967), Dubček was the obvious choice.


On April 5th 1968, Dubček embarked on a programme of reform that included amendments to the constitution of Czechoslovakia that would have brought back a degree of political democracy and greater personal freedom.


Dubček announced that he wanted the Czech Communist Party to remain the predominant party in Czechoslovakia, but that he wanted the totalitarian aspects of the party to be reduced. Communist Party members in Czechoslovakia were given the right to challenge party policy as opposed to the traditional acceptance of all government policy. Party members were given the right to act “according to their conscience”. In what became known as the ‘Prague Spring’, he also announced the end of censorship and the right of Czech citizens to criticise the government. Newspapers took the opportunity to produce scathing reports about government incompetence and corruption. The state of housing for the workers became a very common theme.


Dubček also announced that farmers would have the right to form independent co-operatives so that they themselves would direct the work that they did as opposed to orders coming from a centralised authority.


Trade unions were given increased rights to bargain for their members.


Dubček assured Moscow that Czechoslovakia would remain in the Warsaw Pact and that they had nothing to worry about with regards to the reforms.


This did nothing to reassure Soviet leader Brezhnev and on the night of August 20th/21st troops from the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia to reassert the authority of Moscow. The bulk of these troops were from the Soviet Union but to give the impression that they represented the whole of the Warsaw Pact who were united in disapproval of what Dubček had done, there were contingents of Polish, East German, Hungarian and Bulgarian troops involved.


Clearly the Czech military had no ability to stand up to such a force and the invasion was all but bloodless in stark contrast to the 1956 Hungarian Uprising.


The reforms of Dubček were abandoned. He was arrested and sent to Moscow. Here he was told what was expected of Czechoslovakia and he was released and sent back to Prague. Dubček announced that the talks in Moscow had been “comradely” and he returned still as First Secretary of the Party. Dubček did as was required and announced that all reforms were ending. However, his days were numbered and in April 1969, Dubček was removed from office.


The Prague Spring had proved that the Soviet Union was not willing to even contemplate any member of the Warsaw Pact leaving it. The tanks that rolled through the streets of Prague reaffirmed to the West that the people of Eastern Europe were oppressed and denied the democracy that existed in Western Europe. However, to the masters in Moscow what they had ordered ensured the maintenance of the Warsaw Pact – something that they considered was vital to the survival of communism in Europe as a whole. 


Self-Check Questions:

1. What precisely was announced in the "Prague Spring"?


Question to Answer

3. What was the end result of the movement? How does this parallel other similar (or perhaps dissimilar) movements that happened in post WWII Europe? 

Part 3: Totalitarianism



Totalitarianism refers to an authoritarian political system or state that regulates and controls nearly every aspect of the public and private sectors. Totalitarian regimes establish complete political, social, and cultural control over their subjects, and are usually headed by a charismatic leader. In general, Totalitarianism involves a single mass party, typically led by adictator; an attempt to mobilize the entire population in support of the official state ideology; and an intolerance of activities which are not directed towards the goals of the state, usually entailing repression and state control of business, labour unions, churches and political parties. A totalitarian regime is essentially a modern form of authoritarian state, requiring as it does an advanced technology of social control.

Totalitarian regimes or movements tend to offer the prospect of a glorious, yet imaginary, future to a frustrated population, and to portray Western democracies and their values as decadent, with people too soft, too pleasure-loving and too selfish to sacrifice for a higher cause. They maintain themselves in political power by various means, including secret police,propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, personality cults, the regulation and restriction of free speechsingle-party states, the use of mass surveillance and the widespread use of intimidation and terror tactics.

Totalitarianism is not necessarily the same as a dictatorship or autocracy, which are primarily interested in their own survival and, as such, may allow for varying degrees of autonomy within civil society, religious institutions, the courts and the press. A totalitarian regime, on the other hand, requires that no individual or institution is autonomous from the state's all-encompassing ideology. However, in practice, Totalitarianism and dictatorship often go hand in hand.

The term "Totalitarismo" was first employed by "the philosopher of Fascism" Giovanni Gentile (1875 - 1944) and Benito Mussolini (1883 - 1945) in mid-20th century Fascist Italy. It was originally intended to convey the comforting sense of an "all-embracing, total state", but it soon attracted critical connotations and unflattering comparisons with Liberalism anddemocracy.

Totalitarianism does not necessarily align itself politically with either the right or the left. Although most recogized totalitarian regimes have been Fascist and ultra-Nationalist, the degraded Communism of Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao Zedong's People's Republic of China were equally totalitarian in nature, and the phrase "Totalitarian Twins" has been used to link Communism and Fascism in this respect.

History of Totalitarianism  

It can be argued that Totalitarianism existed millennia ago in ancient China under the political leadership of Prime Minister Li Si (280 - 208 B.C.), who helped the Qin Dynasty unify China. Under the ruling Legalism philosophy, political activities were severely restricted, all literature destroyed, and scholars who did not support Legalism were summarily put to death.

Something very similar to Totalitarianism was also in force in Sparta, a warlike state in Ancient Greece, for several centuries before the rise of Alexander the Great in 336 B.C. Its “educational system” was part of the totalitarian military society and thestate machine dictated every aspect of life, down to the rearing of children.

The rigid caste-based society which Plato described in his "Republic" had many totalitarian traits, despite Plato's stated goal (the search for justice), and it was clear that the citizens served the state and not vice versa. In his "Leviathan" of 1651,Thomas Hobbes envisioned an absolute monarchy exercising both civil and religious power, in which the citizens are willing to cede most of their rights to the state in exchange for security and safety. Niccolò Machiavelli's "The Prince" touched on totalitarian themes, arguing that the state is merely an instrument for the benefit of the ruler, who should have no qualms at using whatever means are at his disposal to keep the citizenry suppressed.

Most commentators consider the first real totalitarian regimes to have been formed in the mid-20th Century, in the chaos following World War I, at which point the sophistication of modern weapons and communications enabled totalitarian movements to consolidate power in:

  • Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin (1878 - 1953), from 1928 to 1953.
  • Italy under Benito Mussolini (1883 - 1945), from 1922 to 1943.
  • Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945) from 1933 to 1945.
  • Spain under Francisco Franco (1892 - 1975), from 1936 to 1975.
  • Portugal under António de Oliveira Salazar (1889 - 1970), from 1932 to 1974.

Other more recent examples, to greater or lesser degrees, include: the People's Republic of China under Mao Zedong, North Korea under Kim Il Sung, Cuba under Fidel Castro, Cambodia under Pol Pot, Romania under Nicolae Ceau?escu, Syria under Hafez al-Assad, Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.


Self-Check Questions: 

1. How could you define Totalitarianism to a 10-year old?

or Define Totalitarianism in less than 20 words. 

2. Why do you think Totalitarianism became so much more possible in the 20th Century? 


Question to Answer

4. What are the main economic, social, and philosophical examples of Totalitarianism?