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Caper, R.A. (1975). Psychological Forces Supporting Totalitarian Systems. Contemp. Psychoanal., 11:161-174.

(1975). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 11:161-174

Psychological Forces Supporting Totalitarian Systems

Robert A. Caper, M.D.

THIS PAPER IS AN ATTEMPT to show a parallel between many of the puzzling and horrifying phenomena of totalitarian systems and some recent clinical findings in the study of group processes. It also shows a way of conceptualizing totalitarian systems that distinguishes them from other forms of mass organization.

The essential nature of totalitarianism has been graphically described by Orwell (1971), and it is necessary here only to emphasize the distinction between totalitarianism and the other social system with which it is most often confused, namely authoritarianism. In the latter, the system is content with control of the actions of its members. The former also aims to control thought independent of action. In fact, totalitarianism differs fundamentally from all other systems of human organization in that it is not a political system at all, but rather an attempt to destroy the political nature of man.

For data on the history and phenomenology of totalitarianism, as it flourished in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union under Stalin, I have relied heavily on Hannah Arendt's (1966) well documented historical analysis. Most of the clinical data and models used in this paper are based on W. R. Bion's (1961) work with small therapeutic groups.

There is surprisingly little in the psychiatric literature on the subject of totalitarianism per se, as distinct from authoritarianism. One of the most thorough analyses is by Waelder (1960), who properly says that "totalitarianism … insists on every subject's duty and soul " (his italics).

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