The Unusual Connection Between Optimism and Dictatorships

Lauren Reiff
3 min readAug 4, 2019

At first glance, the idea that dictatorships and optimism go possibly go hand in hand seems a jarring idea. Isn’t totalitarian control dark and gloomy and iron-fisted? Well, yes. But such systems are based on the premise that utopia looms on the horizon — a paradise of efficiency and purity and cooperative comradeship (or whatever particular ideal that dictatorship favors)!

For a dictatorship to work, it is paramount that the citizenry be pliable, and to a certain extent, obedient to the demands (whether physical or mental in nature) made upon them. It is this obedience that is the ultimate, overlooked glue to the entire formidable enterprise. A deceptively helpful quality, optimism itself has long been a tool of the world’s most notorious dictators because tying people to positive myths engenders compliance and uncomplicated acceptance of present circumstances.

That said, dictatorships masterfully co-opt optimism as a form of societal regulation.

Hitlerarian Germany was doused in the infectious confidence of National Socialism, the tenants of which bellowed from the mouth of Hitler himself. Domestic propaganda in Nazi Germany was quaint and cheerful and resoundingly upbeat, peppered with images of happy families dedicating themselves to Party activities. Germany was to take over the world!

And yet, underneath this thin, civilized facade lay, as we know, contradictions of horrifying proportions. Nazi Germany was wed to a cult of optimism which prevented its inhabitants from engaging in sufficient healthy skepticism that might’ve, theoretically, had a chance at toppling the whole colossal project of it all.

The Soviet Empire shares some striking parallels. Megalomania-laced ambition and the sprightly ideal of work done in the name of national duty are obvious examples. And even modern-day North Korea is rife with internal propaganda that colorfully projects circumstances as better than they are.

This slavishness to optimism is an interesting feature of most totalitarian societies, in that it also is complicit in squashing criticism and in nurturing romanticized ideals of a supposedly idyllic future. Because of its morally respectable sheen, what you might call “enforced positive thinking” is also…

Lauren Reiff

Writer of economics, psychology, and lots in between. / I moved! Find me here: