The effectiveness of despotic, or totalitarian, governments is established by the situation where they exist. The nature of this system of government establishes the situations in which it proves fit, and what actions lead to the strengthening of weakening of the government. To evaluate the appropriateness of a dictatorial government for a nation: social, economic, and military considerations must be examined. These factors existed worldwide in the time period occupied by the Second World War. The rise of fascism during this time period can be attributed directly to these conditions.

A specific social climate must exist, or be created, for a despotic government to thrive. Autocratic governments demand complete loyalty to the state and its absolute ruler. Often these aims are accomplished through a program of intense nationalism. One of the most effective ways of creating nationalistic pride is the concentration of dissent against a common enemy. This can lead to the ostracizing of minorities and, coupled with militarism, to aggressive foreign policies. While warfare is largely concerned with the military situation of a nation, the social environment within the nation must also be conducive to conflict in order for warfare to be effective. A perfect example of militarism in the establishment and continuance of a despotic system can be found in Germany at the time of the Second World War. The climate in Germany was created by the Treaty of Versailles and reinforced by Hitler. Hitler was able to redirect the shame and rage of the German people towards specific groups. Initially, this allowed his anti-Semitic policies to be effective. Later, it would provide the fighting spirit necessary for Germany to be effective at war. By exploiting the emotions of the populace, and by catering perfectly to what they needed in a ruler, Hitler was able to be extremely successful. In a time where Germany felt weak and beaten, he allowed people to feel strong and proud. In order to assure appropriate support from the populace, and maintain autocratic control the twin devices of propaganda and terror are used. Excellent examples of both of these procedures can be found in the Soviet Union under Stalin. The media was rigorously controlled: a propaganda machine of the state. Terror tactics were also widely employed, with citizens reporting one another to a mysterious and frightening secret police force. Disappearances were common, with politically unsafe individuals appearing sporadically in Gulags or within the concrete structure of dams.

For any system of government to operate, it must serve the economic needs of those who live within it; commerce is a founding pillar of civilization. Thus, the economic conditions that give rise to fascism must be examined. When a populace is wealthy, they wield their own power. When a populace is poor, they seek power in a strong leader who they believe serves their interests. Alternately, they appeal to the communist ideal. Hitler's fear of communism can be attributed to the fact that it appealed to the same general social group that fascism did, with the obvious exception of the wealthy.

An absolute necessity in a totalitarian state is military power. The entire system is based upon the threat of force and thus any totalitarian ruler must have the capacity to exert force. Hitler's SS and SA served this purpose elegantly. A strong military also allows a despotic state to exert power over neighboring states. This leads to patriotism and a further extension of militaristic doctrine. In a time when Germany had suffered a great military defeat, Hitler offered the irrational idea that they had been betrayed and back-stabbed. Coupled with greatly expanded military activity, in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler's domestic military policies, such as the re-militarization of the Rhineland, increased his popular support and also helped to prepare him for his eventual foreign goals of conquer.

Thus, in a state with an appropriate socio-economic and military environment, such as that which existed in many European nations prior to and during World War II, totalitarian governments can indeed excel at achieving foreign and domestic goals. Eventually, however, the lack of flexibility in the despotic system, and its inability to cope with a wide variety of social climates, lead to the general eradication of dictatorial regimes. An exception is nations where poverty and military might are still prevalent: most notably in dismal Africa.

Des"po*tism (?), n. [Cf. F. despotisme.]

1.

The power, spirit, or principles of a despot; absolute control over others; tyrannical sway; tyranny.

"The despotism of vice."

Byron.

2.

A government which is directed by a despot; a despotic monarchy; absolutism; autocracy.

Despotism . . . is the only form of government which may with safety to itself neglect the education of its infant poor.
Bp. Horsley.

 

© Webster 1913.

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