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Totalitarian and Authoritarian Dictators: A Comparison of Fidel Castro and Alfredo Stroessner PAUL C. SONDROL
Personal dictators remain a key feature of contemporary regimes termed 'authoritarian' or 'totalitarian', particularly in their early consolidating phases. But there is still disagreement over the seemingly ideological, polemical and indiscriminate use of the term totalitarian dictatorship as an analytic concept and tool to guide foreign policy formulation.1 Jeane Kirkpatrick elevated the taxonomy to a vociferous level of debate with a article. Entitled 'Dictatorships and Double Standards', 1979 Commentary the work raised anew semantic hairsplitting concerning the qualitative differences between all previous tyrannies and those bearing organisational similarities with the Nazi, Fascist or Stalinist prototypes.2 Some have sought to do away with the totalitarian construct as merely a product of the Cold War. Others argue against the comparability of right- and left-wing regimes. Still others argue that totalitarianism is a concept applicable only to the epoch between Mussolini's assumption of power in
and Stalin's death in 195 3.3 More seriously, Kirkpatrick's
thesis implied the immutable nature of totalitarianism, an assertion belied by recent events in Eastern Europe. Despite the general validity of some of these objections, and even if one harbours doubts about the universal explanatory power of this schema, I suggest that the totalitarian/ authoritarian dichotomy remains a powerful and effective tool to highlight and compare distinctive features of Castro's Cuba and Stroessner's Paraguay.4 1See Robert C. Tucker, 'The Dictator and Totalitarianism', World Politics, vol. 7, no. 4 (I965), pp. 555-82. For a review of the scholarly debate concerning the concept of
totalitarianism, see Carl J. Friedrich et al., Totalitarianism in Perspective (New York, I969). Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Dictatorships and Double Standards (New York, 1982). Menze (ed.), Totalitarianism Reconsidered (Port Washington, NY, I981), pp. II-34.
See Karl Dietrich Bracher,'The Disputed Concept of Totalitarianism',in Ernest A.
My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for reminding the author of this caveat. The article was revised with these and other comments in mind. Paul C. Sondrol is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political...