The Proto-totalitarian State
Punishment and Control in Absolutist Regimes
Totalitarian rule is commonly thought to derive from spe- cific ideologies that justify the complete control by the state of social, cultural, and political institutions. The major goal of this volume is to demonstrate that in some cases brutal forms of state control have been the only way to maintain basic social order.
Dmitry Shlapentokh seeks to show that totalitarian or semi-totalitarian regimes have their roots in a fear of disorder that may overtake both rulers and the society at large. Although ideology has played an important role in many totalitarian regimes, it has not always been the chief reason for repression. In many cases, the desire to establish order led to internal terror and intrusiveness in all aspects of human life.
Shlapentokh seeks the roots of this phenomenon in France in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, when asocial processes in the wake of the Hundred Years War led to the emergence of a brutal absolutist state whose features and policies bore a striking resemblance to totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and China. State punishment and control allowed for relentless drive to "normalize" society with the state actively engaged in the regulation of social life. There were attempts to regulate the economy and instances of social engineering, attempts to populate emerging colonial empires with exiles and produce "new men and women" through reeducation. This increased harshness in dealing with the populace, in fact, the emergence of a new sort of bondage, was combined with a twisted form of humanitarianism and the creation of a rudimentary safety net. Some of these elements can be found in the democratic societies of the modern West, although in their aggregation these attributes are essential features of totalitarian regimes of the modem era.