Political Myths and Totalitarianism: An Anthropological Analysis of Their Causal Interrelationship

Nikša Sviličić, Pero Maldini


This paper discusses the key political, anthropological and socio-cultural functions of political myths in the appearance and functioning of totalitarian regimes. A special emphasis is put on structural elements of the myth (mythemes) and the mythic content (narratives) in the processes of artificial construction of a new society (community) based on the myth-inspired ideological postulates. The paper argues that the establishment of totalitarianism marked a certain anthropological devolution. This devolution, in turn, proceeds through the deconstruction of civil society as an organic social sphere and the artificial construction of a new political community based on ideological postulates and political myths.In support of this assertion, it is first shown how the mythical narratives – transformed into political concepts and programs–were the basis of (re)interpretation of the world, society and individual, and essentially determined the nature and functioning of the totalitarian regimes. Then, the specific political myths are analyzed and compared, as well as their content and origin, and particularly their dual function. It in turn is analyzed in the framework of the classical society–community dichotomy, where the (civil) society is founded socio-politically on the social contract, and the (political) community socio-anthropologically on political myth. In a situation of identity and legitimacy crisis, anomie and the weakening of social cohesion – the characteristic conditions of the great economic and political crisis of the early twentieth century that enabled the emergence of totalitarianism – society as a contracting community does not work. A strong need for meaning (at the individual and societal level) affects the citizens' susceptibility to (political) concepts of (re)constitution of (political) community with which they can identify. Right there, totalitarian movements use the cohesive power of the political myth that replaces the rationally based constitution of society, and becomes a means of ideological mystification and political manipulation. Affecting the mind of the citizens, it moves their feelings and motivations and directs their behavior toward the goals of the totalitarian political power. Recent iterations of totalitarianism (Great-Serbian aggression), with the same tragic consequences, were a warning on the actuality of political myths and the danger of a resurgence of totalitarian tendencies.


anthropology, political anthropology, political myth, totalitarianism, mythemes, naratives

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