The concept was first developed in the 1920s by the Weimar German jurist and later Nazi academic Carl Schmitt as well as Italian fascists. According to Benito Mussolini, this system politicizes everything spiritual and human: "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state". Schmitt used the term Totalstaat in his influential work on the legal basis of an all-powerful state, The Concept of the Political (1927).
Totalitarian regimes are different from authoritarian ones. The latter denotes a state in which the single power holder – an individual "dictator", a committee or a junta or an otherwise small group of political elite – monopolizes political power. " authoritarian state is only concerned with political power and as long as that is not contested it gives society a certain degree of liberty". Authoritarianism "does not attempt to change the world and human nature". In contrast, a totalitarian regime attempts to control virtually all aspects of the social life, including the economy, education, art, science, private life and morals of citizens. "The officially proclaimed ideology penetrates into the deepest reaches of societal structure and the totalitarian government seeks to completely control the thoughts and actions of its citizens". It also mobilizes the whole population in pursuit of its goals. Carl Joachim Friedrich writes that "a totalist ideology, a party reinforced by a secret police, and monopoly control of industrial mass society" are the three features of totalitarian regimes that distinguish them from other autocracies.
The notion of totalitarianism as a "total" political power by the state was formulated in 1923 by Giovanni Amendola, who described Italian Fascism as a system fundamentally different from conventional dictatorships. The term was later assigned a positive meaning in the writings of Giovanni Gentile, Italy’s most prominent philosopher and leading theorist of fascism. He used the term totalitario to refer to the structure and goals of the new state, which were to provide the “"otal representation of the nation and total guidance of national goals". He described totalitarianism as a society in which the ideology of the state had influence, if not power, over most of its citizens. According to Benito Mussolini, this system politicizes everything spiritual and human: "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state". He further stated: "We must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. We must condemn once and for all the formula 'chess for the sake of chess', like the formula 'art for art's sake'. We must organize shockbrigades of chess-players, and begin immediate realization of a Five-Year Plan for chess".
One of the first to use the term "totalitarianism" in the English language was the Austrian writer Franz Borkenau in his 1938 book The Communist International, in which he commented that it united the Soviet and German dictatorships more than it divided them. The label "totalitarian" was twice affixed to the Hitler regime during Winston Churchill's speech of October 5, 1938 before the House of Commons in opposition to the Munich Agreement, by which France and Great Britain consented to Nazi Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland. Churchill was then a backbencher MP representing the Epping constituency. In a radio address two weeks later, Churchill again employed the term, this time applying the concept to "a Communist or a Nazi tyranny".
The leader of the historic Spanish reactionary conservative party called the Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right declared his intention to "give Spain a true unity, a new spirit, a totalitarian polity" and went on to say: "Democracy is not an end but a means to the conquest of the new state. When the time comes, either parliament submits or we will eliminate it".