Inverted Totalitarianism and the State

Inverted Totalitarianism and the State

Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism

by Sheldon S. Wolin


Inverted Totalitarianism

A term coined by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin to describe the emerging form of government of the United States. Wolin believes that the United States is increasingly turning into an illiberal democracy, and he uses the term “inverted totalitarianism” to illustrate the similarities and differences between the United States governmental system and totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union. By Inverted Totalitarianism “Superpower” corporations dominate the State, with government acting as the servant of large corporations.

There are five main characteristics by which inverted Totalitarianism may be recognized, as the inverse of classic totalitarianism:

1. Inverted Totalitarianism implies that the banking and financial sectors drive government policy; whereas in Nazi Germany the State dominated banking and economic policy. [Examples: Sarbanes Oxley, Gramm–Leach–Bliley]

2. Corporations set government policy and write legislation in lieu of due political process, where Corporate lobbyists enable and write legislation to be enacted by state or Central Government legislatures. [Example: ALEC]

3. In this model the Military Industrial complex enables the Warfare State and initiates conflict; instead of a charismatic head of state or dictator initiating the conflict as typical of Nazi fascism. [Example: invasion and occupation of Iraq]

4. In the Inverted Totalitarian State the mass of the population is dumbed-down and forced to exist in a persistent state of political apathy; whereas the Nazi regime invoked constant political mobilization and agitation of the population.

5. While Stalinist and Nazi regimes openly mocked democracy, the Superpower maintains its conceit that only its model of Managed Democracy is a viable template for global political will.

Amazon Review of Wolin’s work:
“Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive, where Elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a “managed democracy” where the public is shepherded, and not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today’s America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies. Wolin examines the myths and mythmaking that justify today’s politics, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, and the perverse attractions of an endless war on terror. He argues passionately that democracy’s best hope lies in citizens themselves learning anew to exercise power at the local level.”

From the Wikipedia:
Inverted totalitarianism reverses things. It is all politics all of the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash.


Illiberal democracy
Totalitarian democracy
Police state
Mafia state
Third Positionism


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