"So spake the Fiend, and with necessity,
The tyrant's plea, excus'd his devilish deeds."
—Milton, Paradise Lost
The locus classicus of all informed discussion on the subject of the political essence of totalitarianism is the following passage from Plato's Republic:
If you are caught committing any of these crimes on a small scale, you are punished and disgraced; they call it sacrilege, kidnapping, burglary, theft and brigandage. But if, besides taking their property, you turn all your countrymen into slaves, you will hear no more of those ugly names; your countrymen themselves will call you the happiest of men and bless your name.
Anyone who has studied the history of the 20th century will accept the truth of this observation as axiomatic. The confusion comes from those who—despite having accepted the axiom as a matter of political truth—go on to pile up volumes of tenuous and unconvincing conjecture about the psychology of the unfortunate nations in question.
Roll some archival footage of a Nuremberg rally, and you will surely hear them talk of mass hysteria. Zoom in on a giant poster of Mussolini, and their commentary will reverberate with words like "hypnosis." Move on to Red Square in November, and as sure as there are tanks on parade, they will prattle...