Inverted totalitarianism

Inverted totalitarianism is a term coined by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin in 2003 to describe the emerging form of government of the United States. Wolin believed that the United States is increasingly turning into an illiberal democracy, and uses the term "inverted totalitarianism" to illustrate similarities and differences between the United States governmental system and totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.[1][2][3][4] In Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, inverted totalitarianism is described as a system where corporations have corrupted and subverted democracy and where economics trumps politics.[5] In inverted totalitarianism, every natural resource and every living being is commodified and exploited to collapse as the citizenry is lulled and manipulated into surrendering their liberties and their participation in government through excess consumerism and sensationalism.[6][7]

Inverted totalitarianism and managed democracy

Wolin holds that the United States has increasingly adopted totalitarian tendencies as a result of transformations undergone during the military mobilization required to fight the Axis powers in the 1940s, and the subsequent campaign to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.[2] In the quotation below, Wolin refers to the United States as "Superpower", to emphasize its current position as the only global superpower.

While the versions of totalitarianism represented by Nazism and Fascism consolidated power by suppressing liberal political practices that had sunk only shallow cultural roots, Superpower represents a drive towards totality that draws from the setting where liberalism and democracy have been established for more than two centuries. It is Nazism turned upside-down, “inverted totalitarianism.” While it is a system that aspires to totality, it is driven by an ideology of the cost-effective rather than of a “master race” (Herrenvolk), by the material rather than the “ideal.”[8]

According to Wolin, there are three main ways in which inverted totalitarianism is the inverted form of classical totalitarianism.

Inverted totalitarianism reverses things. It is all politics all of the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.[12]

Managed democracy

Wolin believes the democracy of the United States is sanitized of political participation, and describes it as managed democracy: "a political form in which governments are legitimated by elections that they have learned to control".[13] Under managed democracy, the electorate is prevented from having a significant impact on policies adopted by the state through the continuous employment of public relations techniques.[14]

Wolin believes the United States resembles Nazi Germany in one major way without an inversion: the essential role propaganda plays in the system. According to Wolin, whereas the production of propaganda was crudely centralized in Nazi Germany, in the United States it is left to highly concentrated media corporations, thus maintaining the illusion of a "free press".[15] According to this model, dissent is allowed, though the corporate media serve as a filter, allowing most people, with limited time available to keep themselves apprised of current events, to hear only points of view that the corporate media deem "serious".[16][4][17]

According to Wolin, the United States has two main totalizing dynamics:


Sheldon Wolin's book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism received a Lannan Literary Award for an Especially Notable Book in 2008.[21]

Political scientist and author Chalmers Johnson, in a review of Wolin's Democracy Incorporated in Truthdig, wrote that the book is a "devastating critique" of the contemporary government of the United States — including the way it has changed in recent years and the actions that "must" be undertaken "if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Bolshevik Russia."[6] In Johnson's view, Wolin’s is one of the best analyses of why presidential elections are unlikely to be effective in mitigating the detrimental effects of inverted totalitarianism. Johnson writes that Wolin’s work is "fully accessible" and that understanding Wolin's argument "does not depend on possessing any specialized knowledge."[6] Johnson believes Wolin's analysis is more of an explanation of the problems of the United States than a description of how to solve these problems, "particularly since Wolin believes that the U.S. political system is corrupt[6] and heavily influenced by financial contributions primarily from wealthy and corporate donors, but that nonetheless Wolin’s analysis is still one of the best discourses on where the U.S. went wrong."[6]

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers expressed the view that:[7]

We are living in a time of Inverted Totalitarianism, in which the tools used to maintain the status quo are much more subtle and technologically advanced ... These include propaganda and major media outlets that hide the real news about conditions at home and our activities around the world behind distractions ... Another tool is to create insecurity in the population so that people are unwilling to speak out and take risks for fear of losing their jobs ... Changes in college education also silence dissent ... Adjunct professors ... are less willing to teach topics that are viewed as controversial. This, combined with massive student debt, are tools to silence the student population, once the center of transformative action.[7]

See also


  1. Wolin 2008.
  2. 1 2 Hedges, Chris, Death of the Liberal Class, pp. 14, 23–24, 25–26, 196, 200–1.
  3. Hedges, Chris (April 2011), The World As It Is, Nation Books, pp. 3–7, ISBN 978-1-56858-640-3.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Hedges, Chris (2010-01-24), Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction, Truth Dig.
  5. Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco (2012). Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. Nation Books. ISBN 1568586434 p. 238
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Johnson, Chalmers, "Chalmers Johnson on Our 'Managed Democracy'", Truthdig
  7. 1 2 3 Margaret Flowers, and Kevin Zeese (February 2013), "Lifting the Veil of Mirage Democracy in the United States", Truthout (article)
  8. Wolin 2004, p. 591.
  9. Wolin 2008, pp. 51,140.
  10. Wolin 2008, p. 64.
  11. Wolin 2008, p. 52.
  12. Wolin 2008, p. 66.
  13. Wolin 2008, p. 47.
  14. Wolin 2008, p. 60.
  15. Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty.
  16. Wolin 2004, p. 594.
  17. 1 2 3 Hedges, Chris (2012-10-03), US Elections: Pick Your Poison (interview), The Real News Network.
  18. Wolin 2008, pp. 8288.
  19. Wolin 2008, pp. 27, 6465.
  20. Wolin 2008, p. 195.
  21. Sheldon Wolin - 2008 Lannan Literary Award for An Especially Notable Book. "This Lannan Notable Book Award recognizes Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Sheldon Wolin." From the official website of the Lannan Foundation.


External links

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