To the Editor:
In “Totalitarianism, Dead and Alive” [August 1989], Stephen Miller gives a definition of totalitarianism which is not very accurate. What is essential for a “classic” totalitarian regime, he writes, is “an omnipotent leader, someone whose interpretation of the ideology is infallible.”
But this definition cannot be considered a serious one since an omnipotent leader is also a characteristic of authoritarian regimes. Moreover, in a totalitarian regime total control over the people can be exercised by a dead leader as well as a living one; in the Soviet Union, after all, the cult of Stalin rested on the earlier Lenin cult, and the Lenin cult was a more effective stabilizer of the regime. It is no accident that in George Orwell’s 1984, a portrait of the ideal totalitarian regime, nobody knows whether Big Brother is dead or alive, imaginary or real. For Orwell, it did not seem to matter, though for Mr. Miller it seems to be the main criterion. . . .
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