It's fair to say that the disadvantages of totalitarianism greatly outweigh the advantages. With the horrors of the twentieth century still fresh in the mind, most people are all too aware of the disastrous consequences of totalitarian rule.
Despotic regimes such as the Third Reich and the USSR were responsible for the mass murder of tens of millions of innocent people, both at home and abroad. If anything, the People's Republic of China under Chairman Mao was even worse.
That being the case, if we're going to examine the supposed advantages of totalitarianism, we need to look at the theoretical justifications that have been offered in its support rather than attempt to defend the indefensible.
First of all, totalitarianism was hailed by its ideologues as the system best able to get things done and get them done quickly. Instead of the endless compromises and delays of democracy, totalitarianism offered speedy, decisive decisions on the most pressing of matters.
This leads us on to the second theoretical advantage of totalitarianism: its purported superiority in dealing with serious challenges such as war and economic crisis. As totalitarian regimes have no opposition, so the theory goes, they can act more decisively than a government in a democracy. This means that they can take bold, radical steps to deal with such challenges, instead of concerning themselves with public opinion or what political opponents might think.
Finally, totalitarianism is said by its few advocates to generate greater unity in society. Instead of society being fractured along various lines such as wealth and class, it can be seen as an organic unity whose every component is working towards a common goal.
The disadvantages of totalitarianism are not difficult to spot. First and foremost, there is the complete annihilation of freedom. Under totalitarian regimes, there is no freedom of thought, freedom of assembly, or freedom to voice one's own opinions. Indeed, there are no freedoms at all (or rights, come to that). In a totalitarian society, the state is everything, and the people must do as they're told.
As political leaders in a totalitarian system are not subject to removal or held to account in any way, they quickly become separated from the people. Though totalitarian rulers often use populist rhetoric, in actual fact there's a huge gap between themselves and the people they claim to represent.
Among other things, this fosters a climate of endemic corruption, in which government functionaries feel able to line their pockets at the people's expense, safe in the knowledge that they do not have to account to the people for their actions.
Totalitarianism can also be criticized on the grounds that is it economically inefficient. As economic, as well as political, power is concentrated at the center, this means that the state has to make the most important strategic decisions regarding the economy.
Opponents argue, however, that this makes for inefficiency on a massive scale, as the totalitarian state is unable to respond effectively to changes in the price mechanism,...
which tells firms what they can produce and in what quantities.