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Title: Presuppositions of theories of totalitarianism : a critical examination
Author: Tormey, S. F.
Awarding Body: University College of Swansea
Current Institution: Swansea University
Date of Award: 1991
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The theory of totalitarianism has been attacked consistently and virulently since its inception. Many commentators have commented on its lack of appreciation for the differences between the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, i.e. those regimes to which it has most often been applied. Other commentators have questioned the analytical basis of the theory, arguing that the form of domination it describes is one that would be impossible to realize in practice. Building on these criticisms, the question addressed in this thesis is how theorists from a variety of intellectual positions arrive at their understanding of totalitarianism. What is it, in other words, that gives rise to a form of description whose sense, let alone whose historical accuracy appears to be in question? In chapters on some of the best known theorists of totalitarianism - Carl J. Friedrich, Leonard Schapiro, Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse and Agnes Heller - I show that the origins of the problems evident in discussion of these systems are to be found in the philosophical and theoretical presuppositions of the theorists concerned. It is argued that the reason why accounts of totalitarian systems are deficient is because these presuppositions are allowed to determine the manner in which such systems are described. Instead of describing what can be observed, the attempt to convey the fate of the individual subject within such regimes leads them to employ moral and ethical notions about rational behaviour and 'the good life' in order to substantiate their understanding of totalitarianism. This, it is argued, is the source of the difficulty with theories of totalitarianism. They are less the product of reasoned reflection on the character of such systems than of the application of implicitly moral assumptions about how people should behave and about how societies should be organized.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available