In This Review

Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War
Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War
By Abbott Gleason
Oxford University Press, 1995, 307 pp

A thoughtful examination of the idea of the radically intrusive "total state"--and the closely affiliated concept of totalitarianism--from the 1930s to the present day. Gleason, a professor at Brown, notes that a number of European and American observers saw in the 1930s the uncanny resemblance between Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia; only in the aftermath of the Second World War, however, did the linkage between fascism and communism become widely understood, providing a powerful impetus to the construction of a Western security system. The work is at its best in dissecting the intellectual controversies that swirled about the term--with insightful reviews of the work of Hannah Arendt, Jacob Talmon, and Raymond Aron, among many others--but it is less successful in establishing the connection to policy that the subtitle implies. Though always lucid, Gleason writes in a manner sufficiently dispassionate as to give the impression of tiptoeing around ideological minefields. A most valuable feature of the concept of totalitarianism, not really taken up here, was how it awakened in its more profound analysts an appreciation of the lineaments of a free society. However totalitarianism fares in reality--on this point Gleason entertains a healthy skepticism that the world is truly rid of the beast--the concept deserves a long occupancy in the mind as symbolizing a set of political characteristics and aspirations that we should wish least to exemplify.