Americans will be celebrating Memorial Day this weekend, to honor those who fought and died for the values they have traditionally cherished the most as a nation: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The world has changed dramatically in recent decades. The geopolitical situation is much more complex, with rising powers challenging America’s supremacy. The intractable war on terror seems interminable. Old foes appear to spring back to life even more powerful than before. And things at home look dicey in terms of politics and economics.
As we reflect upon the ultimate sacrifice that others have made, it is an opportune moment to consider a very important question: is the US winning the fight for freedom?
More than other dictatorial regimes, “totalitarianism” represents the opposite of everything America is supposed to stand for. For most people it conjures images of a repressive leader and his minions having total control of a society with very limited freedoms. That’s not too far off from reality, but there’s more to it and a process to get there.
The term was first coined by Giovanni Amendola in 1923 to describe the emergence of Italian fascism (which was different from other dictatorships). However, it only gained traction in academic research during the 1960s largely based on the work of political scientists Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski. They reformulated the definition to account for the Soviet Union as well as the fascist regimes of the 20th century, where a totalitarian system featured the following mutually-supportive defining characteristics:
- An elaborate guiding ideology;
- A single mass party, typically led by a dictator;
- A system of terror, using such instruments as violence and secret police;
- A state monopoly on weapons;
- A state monopoly on the means of communication; and
- Central direction and control of the economy through state planning.