Title

Totalitarianism in America? Robert Nisbet on the “Wilson war state” and beyond

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

The American Sociologist

Publication Date

3-2014

Volume

45

Issue

1

First Page

84

Last Page

102

Keywords

Hannah Arendt, Robert Nisbet, The social and the political, Totalitarianism, The United States, Woodrow Wilson

Abstract

This article examines Robert Nisbet’s claim that the first totalitarian experiment of the twentieth century occurred not in the Soviet Union or in Nazi Germany, but in the United States during the First World War. Totalitarianism appeared in the form of mass propaganda, surveillance and repression. It was accompanied by a messianic desire of Woodrow Wilson and his team to transform America into a “national community.” By 1920, American totalitarianism was effectively at an end but, claimed Nisbet, it left a legacy of centralization that, over successive Democratic and Republican administrations, has stripped the Republic’s citizens of social authority and independence; the political trumped the social. Nisbet’s depiction of American totalitarianism is contrasted with Hannah Arendt’s argument that totalitarianism, thus far in history, is restricted to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin.

DOI

10.1007/s12108-014-9202-4

Print ISSN

00031232

E-ISSN

19364784

Publisher Statement

Copyright © The American Sociologist

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Full-text Version

Publisher’s Version

Recommended Citation

Baehr, P. (2014). Totalitarianism in America? Robert Nisbet on the “Wilson war state” and beyond. The American Sociologist, 45(1), 84-102. doi: 10.1007/s12108-014-9202-4