Masha Gessen is wrong to call Russia a totalitarian state

Strutting his stuff

The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. By Masha Gessen. Riverhead Books; 528 pages; $28. Granta; £20.

HANNAH ARENDT, in “The Origins of Totalitarianism”, cautioned against the glib application of the T-word. The distinction between totalitarianism and authoritarianism in political theory is not one of degree—with totalitarianism at the top of an ascending scale of evil—but one of kind. Totalitarianism combines a system of terror, single-party rule, a centrally planned economy, command over the army and the media, and an all-encompassing ideology. Such states exercise total control of their citizens’ lives, whereas authoritarian ones stipulate the observance of certain rules and allow limited liberty as long as it does not challenge political power. Where totalitarianism mobilises the people, authoritarianism breeds passivity.

Despite quoting Arendt extensively, Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist, seems not…Continue reading

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