Totalitarian Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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From a pandemic that’s taken the lives of many to a war that’s done the same, there’s no denying that the last few years have been rough. 

As a result, many governments around the globe have tightened their laws and even introduced new ones. Some, however, may have gone a little too far with citizens fearing a totalitarian government. 

What does the word totalitarian (/toʊˌtæl.əˈter.i.ən/ /təʊˌtæl.ɪˈteə.ri.ən/) mean, you ask? Read on to find out. 

What Is the Definition of Totalitarian?

According to the Collins Dictionary, a totalitarian political system or totalitarian regime is one in which there’s only one political party or group that maintains complete control under a dictatorship and doesn’t allow any opposition parties. 

A totalitarian system of government is chiefly run by a dictator or autocrat and is always a one-party state — as in, one party has a monopoly over all political activity within the government.

Totalitarian can also be used as a noun that refers to a person adherent to a totalitarian system or totalitarian society, as well as totalitarian principles in general. There are only two nations in the world that are currently recognized as a totalitarian form of government — the East African state of Eritrea and North Korea. 

Examples of Totalitarianism

With this definition in mind, let’s take a look at a few notable examples of twentieth-century totalitarian states:

  • The Mauryan dynasty of India — Formed in 321 B.C.E as Alexander the Great began to lose power and lasted until 185 B.C.E. 
  • Italy under Benito Mussolini — Though Mussolini rose to power in 1922, it was not until 1935 that Italy was declared a totalitarian state via the Doctrine of Fascism and by 1936 joined Nazi Germany as one of the Axis Powers of World War II. 
  • The reign of Zulu chief Shaka — Shaka founded the Zulu Kingdom in 1816 and was the ruler until his death in 1828.
  • The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin — Born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, Stalin held power as early as 1922 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet union. While originally governing the country as part of a collective leadership, Joseph Stalin consolidated the power within the Soviet Union to become a dictator.
  • Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler — Nazi Germany’s armed forces, during the Holocaust between 1941 and 1945, along with Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen or mobile killing squads, murdered well over six million Jewish people, people with physical disabilities, and people with mental disabilities.
  • The People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong — commonly referred to as Chairman Mao, the Chinese communist Mao Zedong ruled from 1949 until his death in 1976. 
  • North Korea under the Kim Dynasty — Established in 1948 as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and is currently ruled by Kim Jong-un. 
  • Japan under Hideki Tojo — Tojo began his career in the Imperial Japenese Army (IJA) in 1902, and by 1940 Hideki rose to become the minister of War to the Japanese government.

What Is the Origin of the Word Totalitarian? 

The adjective totalitarian was formed in reference to Italian Fascism, noted first in 1926 deriving from the Italian totalitario, meaning complete or absolute.

What Are the Synonyms and Antonyms of Totalitarian?

Below you will find synonyms and antonyms of the word totalitarian, provided by the WordHippo Thesaurus.


  • All-powerful
  • Authoritarian 
  • Dictatorial
  • One party 
  • Pre-eminent 
  • Fascism 
  • Without limit 
  • Out and out 
  • Stalinist 
  • Illiberal
  • Dystopian
  • Totalistic
  • Imperious
  • Draconian 
  • Flat out
  • Oppressive
  • Autocratic 
  • No holds barred
  • All out
  • Omnipotent 
  • Straight out
  • Autocracy 
  • Most high 
  • Full-blown
  • Full scale
  • Deep dyed
  • Dyed in the wool
  • In-depth
  • Despotic 
  • Tyrannical 
  • Undemocratic 
  • Through and through
  • Big brother
  • Marxism 
  • Absolute
  • Autarchic
  • Repressive 
  • Absolutist 
  • Man on horseback
  • Neo fascist
  • Extreme right-winger
  • Far right-winger
  • Leninism 
  • Far rightist
  • Anti-democratic 


  • Of the people
  • Constitutional 
  • Autonomous 
  • Egalitarian 
  • Self-sufficient
  • Equitable
  • Limited 
  • Lax
  • Lenient
  • Kind
  • Considerate
  • Gentle
  • Sympathetic
  • Tolerant
  • Reasonable 
  • Freestanding
  • Elected
  • Autarchic
  • Fair 
  • Self-governing 
  • Liberal
  • Popular
  • Independent
  • Sovereign 
  • Easy going
  • Free
  • Sovran
  • Republican
  • Anti-totalitarian 
  • Separate 
  • Representative 
  • Just
  • Equitable
  • Parliamentary 
  • Unreliant 
  • Broad minded 
  • Democratic 
  • Liberalism 
  • Partial
  • Equal
  • Populist 

How Can You Use Totalitarian in a Sentence?

Wondering how to say our word of the day in a sentence? We’ve got you covered — here are a few example sentences for you to review below:

We learned a lot today about post-Cold War and Post World War II, mainly about the totalitarian dictatorships of that time.

Propaganda is almost always used to spread a government’s totalitarian ideologies, and unfortunately, it has worked time and time again throughout history.

If you ask me, it feels like our government is headed towards a totalitarian state.

What Are Translations of Totalitarian?

Now that you understand what totalitarian means, let’s take a look at how to say it in a different language! Here are some common translations of totalitarian:

  • Afrikaans — Totalitêre
  • Arabic — الشمولية
  • Croatian — Totalitarni
  • Czech — Totalitní
  • Danish — Totalitær
  • Korean — 전체주의
  • Russian — Тоталитарный
  • Thai — เกี่ยวกับระบบการปกครองแบบเผด็จการ
  • Turkish — Totaliter
  • Ukrainian — Тоталітарної
  • Vietnamese — Toàn trị
  • Spanish — Totalitario
  • Swedish — Totalitär
  • Norwegian — Totalitær
  • Polish — Totalitarny
  • Portuguese — Totalitário
  • French — Totalitaire
  • German — Totalitär
  • Greek — Ολοκληρωτικός
  • Italian — Totalitario
  • Japanese — 全体
  • Dutch — Totalitair
  • Finnish — Totalitaarinen
  • Bulgarian — Тоталитарна
  • Chinese (simplified) — 极权


In short, our word of the day refers to a type of government that exercises complete and total power over its people in all aspects of their life — often oppressive in nature. An easy way to remember this is by looking at the first part of the word itself: total. 


Totalitarian Synonyms | Collins English Thesaurus

What is the opposite of totalitarian? | WordHippo Thesaurus

Totalitarian definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary

totalitarianism | Definition, Characteristics, Examples, & Facts | Britannica