The phenomenon of totalitarianism, once particular to theoretical issues of political science, can be traced in ontological viewpoints and methodologies as well as ideological and political discussions aiming to identify and discover the absolute truth. Totalitarianism in its external aspects leads to dictatorship and totalitarian systems and governments; however, it is fundamentally based on the illusion of finding the single absolute truth. Likewise, the former classification of the world into socialism and capitalism was more a matter of ideology and differences between doctrines of liberalism and socialism rather than a kind of political and economic classification. Totalitarianism has some manifestations in much smaller echelons like that of totalitarian political trends and cults. According to Lifton, totalitarianism is closely related to the issue of dispensing of existence. It means that as cult members are captured in the realm of the totalitarian leadership of cult leaders in the internal cultic relations, the same relationship exists between cults and the world outside.
Although totalitarianism is an inherent feature of almost all cults and political systems and tends to invites the outside world to total submission and surrender regardless of the differences in practical mechanisms in various cults. As most cults exploit thought reform and psychological techniques for the cause of persuasion, in the same way totalitarian systems grab at political, economic, and military power and pressure. Here, the aim is to trace the roots of totalitarianism in cults and review its mechanisms inside and outside cultic relations. In this regard, some factors that pose a challenge for totalitarianism are to be understood theoretically. Lifton refers to dispensing of existence as one of the eight psychological themes that are central to totalistic environments and writes:
Dispensing of existence; The cult’s totalistic environment clearly emphasizes that the members are part of an elitist movement and are the select of the world. Nonmembers are unworthy, lesser beings. Most cults teach their members that "we are the best and only one," saying, in one way or another, "We are the governors of enlightenment and all outsiders are lower beings." 1
In fact, this statement depicts a clear picture of theoretical foundation of totalitarianism in micro as well as macro levels. A totalitarian individual or trend, before abusing power or other levers for stabilizing its standing, prepares some theoretical and fundamental grounds to justify its relationship with the world outside. If we agree to Dr. Singer’s idea about cult leaders’ tending to exercise their will and power over the world, the issue of totalitarianism may be considered as an inevitable consequence of this inclination. As she puts into words:
Cults tend to be totalistic, or all-encompassing, in controlling their members’ behavior and also ideologically totalistic, exhibiting zealotry and extremism in their worldview. 2
This statement may better clarify what we mean by making a relationship between the concepts of totalitarianism, absolutism, ideology and worldview. It is evident that in order to depict a clear picture of the phenomenon of totalitarianism, it is necessary to take other concepts like ideological dogmatism, chauvinism, fascism, and even Darwin theories into consideration. Considered a political cult of personality, Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO, MEK, PMOI) is infected by totalitarian tendencies of its leader, Rajavi, who has long expanded his grip over the organization and its members who have been denied of their rights and freedom.
1. Margaret Thaler Singer, Cults in our midst, Jossy-Bass A Wiley Imprint, 2003, p.74.
2. ibid, p.10.