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Totalitarianism is a term revide in the 1970s by neo-conservatives to justify continuing U.S. support for rightist, anti-communist authoritarian regimes. Jeane Kirkpatrick used the term in her 1978 essay for Commentary, "Dictatorships and Double Standards" to argue for that foreign policy. U.S. client militiary regimes in southern Europe, Latin America, across the Middle East, Africa, East Asia and Southeast Asia might have horrible human rights records, goes the neo-conservative argument, but they are anti-communist and communism is the ultimate enemy. The same argument demands U.S. support for the traditional monarchies in the Middle East.

The distinction is without merit. There was and is no threshold that is crossed from the "authoritarian" to the "totalitarian." Instead there are only degrees of tyranny. Some authoritarian regimes were simply more and some less tyrannical thab other regimes. Italian fascism was less tyrannical than German or Spanish fascism. Yugoslav communism was less tyrannical than Soviet communism. Monarchical rule in Kuwait was always less authoritarian than monarchical rule in Saudi Arabia.

More importantly, the distinction is without significance to the victims of tyranny. A jailed dissident who has been tortured is no better off in a rightist regime than a leftist regime. Oppression is oppression whatever its ideological coloring.

Liberals responded to the nonsensical distinction with a joke.

Question: How do you tell the difference between a totalitarian and an authoritarian regime?
Answer: In a totalitarian regime the state organizes fraudlent elections and tortures and kills its political opponents. In an authoritarian regime many of these services are performed by the private sector.
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