There are varying definitions of authoritarianism and totalitarianism on Wikipedia alone. For something more lasting, here is what the Encyclopedia Britannica online says. Authoritarianism is …
[a or the] principle of blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action. In government, authoritarianism denotes any political system that concentrates power in the hands of a leader or a small elite that is not constitutionally responsible to the body of the people. Authoritarian leaders often exercise power arbitrarily and without regard to existing bodies of law, and they usually cannot be replaced by citizens choosing freely among various competitors in elections. The freedom to create opposition political parties or other alternative political groupings with which to compete for power with the ruling group is either limited or nonexistent in authoritarian regimes.
Authoritarianism thus stands in fundamental contrast to democracy.
The same entry contains a few words about totalitarianism:
It [i. e. authoritarianism - JR] also differs from totalitarianism, however, since authoritarian governments usually have no highly developed guiding ideology, tolerate some pluralism in social organization, lack the power to mobilize the entire population in pursuit of national goals, and exercise that power within relatively predictable limits. Examples of authoritarian regimes, according to some scholars, include the pro-Western military dictatorships that existed in Latin America and elsewhere in the second half of the 20th century.
During the past two or three weeks I had several discussions about the difference between the two, on this blog and elsewhere. There were different views, but no tries to back them up with definitions. I’m sure that people can come up with definitions differing from the ones quoted above, and who will have different opinions about the nature of Chinese government and society, be it while using Britannica’s definition as a standard, be it by using other definitions.
As any regular reader of this blog might be able to tell, my view of China is that it is totalitarian. On the other hand, a website which I’d expect to see it the same way – underminingdemocracy.org – refers to China’s political system as authoritarian, rather than totalitarian. Undermining Democracy contains the principal findings of workshops convened by Freedom House, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia (RFA) in 2008 and 2009. The country reports there include China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and Venezuela.
Is China ruled by totalitarianism or by authoritarianism? Or is it ruled by something else?
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