“Totalitarianism is not only hell, but all the dream of paradise—the age-old dream of a world where everybody would live in harmony, united by a single common will and faith, without secrets from one another. Andre Breton, too, dreamed of this paradise when he talked about the glass house in which he longed to live. If totalitarianism did not exploit these archetypes, which are deep inside us all and rooted deep in all religions, it could never attract so many people, especially during the early phases of its existence. Once the dream of paradise starts to turn into reality, however, here and there people begin to crop up who stand in its way. and so the rulers of paradise must build a little gulag on the side of Eden. In the course of time this gulag grows ever bigger and more perfect, while the adjoining paradise gets even smaller and poorer.”
― Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
Religious and secular extremists differ in most respects except one: their total commitment to their ideology and the historical narrative that informs it. Such a determined and inflexible view of things is part of what is is called totalitarian thinking. To say that such individuals are not open to any new ideas is to say the obvious.
Such people have no need for any new ideas, any new ways of viewing the world, any new ideas of personal identity. All of these human attributes have been taken care of and explained within a systematic and comprehensive world-view of their particular ideology. It provides such individuals, who see no need to explore the wide and deep world of thought, a level of comfort and meaning that might otherwise not easily be attained through sustained inquiry and interpretation. Totalitarianism always point to a future world—a paradise if you will—where everyone would think alike in harmony and peace.
I sense that totalitarian thinking will always be with us, as long as there are both leaders willing to seize the minds of willing acolytes and followers willing to give consent to stop being curious, thoughtful and inquisitive and explore the wider world. Totalitarian thinking generally operates by providing simple answers to complex human problems, and thus its appeal. For the followers who subscribes to the prevailing idea, it results in a loss of identity, which also leads to defensive (and sometimes offensive) measures, most notably the need to vociferously and often aggressively defend such ideas, given that the follower’s individual identity has become subsumed within the particular ideology that defines him or her.
In other words, there is no longer a real highly defined personal identity, but a collective mind operating within the many individuals who have adopted a totalitarian ideology. Cognitive dissonance comes into play, quite easily , which quickly throws out any rational idea that challenges the totalitarian ideology. This is because the ideology is so powerful and so entrenched that any counter view is seen as false, and a threat to the individual identity, be what it is.
An article, by Iwona-Baricka Tylek of Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, says the following about the appeal of such ideologies:
Totalitarianism offers a special kind of unity which is enclosed in its ideology. First of all it formulates strict criteria of affinities that need to be reinforced within the society. The group–the society–is yet to be made, and it means that every individual must turn into citizen on terms proposed by the authorities.So, the individual becomes a member of a group that has set ways of thinking and answers to all such questions.
In an article (“The Concept of Power”), by Pat Duffy Hutcheon, based on an interview with noted 20th century political philosophizer Hannah Arendt, we can find her defining concept of the ways and means of totalitarian thinking:
The defining characteristic of totalitarianism, according to Arendt, is the use of terror as the chief means of maintaining control. She explained that this is where such systems differ completely from mere authoritarian despotisms or typical closed institutions such as the army. All competing social and family ties must be destroyed, so "purges are conducted in such a way as to threaten with the same fate the defendant and ... all his connections." #14 Terror within a totalitarian state or organization takes the form of dominating human beings from within. Not only must one avoid expressing dissenting thoughts; merely possessing such thoughts is the ultimate crime. The spouse who overhears one's sleeping murmurs will feel compelled to inform in order to ensure personal safety -- or salvation, as the case may be.
Arendt explained that in its early stages the totalitarian regime establishes a volunteer espionage network and begins to ferret out those who have been known to oppose its ascendancy. The second stage involves the definition of the "objective" or "necessary" enemy -- one who, according to the governing ideology, might be expected to oppose the regime. And the identification of the "possible" crime -- what that person might have planned to do. After all these are disposed of the terror becomes purely arbitrary. In the case of governments, the concentration camp plays an indispensable role in the final stage.In other words, dissent is never allowed, since it would question the prevailing regime and all of its ideas and goals; small wonder, then, that any and all dissenters are considered enemies of the state. In theocratic states, where religion is the dominant ideology, dissenters have no less power to question. In places where religion is not the state religion, as is the case in many western democracies, particular extremist fundamentalist religious groups within Christianity, Islam and Judaism discourage questions and dissent from the prevailing traditional narrative; and dissenters, like those living in political totalitarian regimes are ostracized but not killed for their dissent.
Even so, the message is similar that dissent in any form is unwelcome and a threat to group unity and religious social cohesion. The end result of totalitarianism, in all forms, is that it destroys the individual and thus robs society of new, unexplored ideas.