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Hannah Arendt's definitive work on totalitarianism and an essential component of any study of twentieth century political history The Origins of Totalitarianism begins with the rise of anti Semitism in central and western Europe in the 1800s and continues with an examination of European colonial imperialism from 1884 to the outbreak of World War I Arendt explores the institutions and operations of totalitarian movements focusing on the two genuine forms of totalitarian government in our time—Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia—which she adroitly recognizes were two sides of the same coin rather than opposing philosophies of Right and Left From this vantage point she discusses the evolution of classes into masses the role of propaganda in dealing with the nontotalitarian world the use of terror and the nature of isolation and loneliness as preconditions for total domination


10 thoughts on “The Origins of Totalitarianism

  1. says:

    Some Tips For The Reader To Be Having just finished this monster of a book in just under three months not sure if any book has taken me so long to finish perhaps Infinite Jest might surpass? I can safely say that I feel like I've just gone through ninety days of mental kick boxing with Arendt As such I've had plenty of time to conduct a criticism in my head that I feel adds to the already crammed Goodreads review page on here It takes the form of three bits of advise as I truly believe ALL should read this book but many may need some guidance from a fellow average joe and not a History Major who's reached the finish line It goes as follows1 Style Unless you have experience in understanding the language of Political Science or any complex subject or you are very well read with in depth politics or you just so happen to be able to process complex ideas and writings from paper to brain in perfect unity then you may find that the first 100 pages of this book will hit you like a clean round house kick to the head I found this text HARD to process If you don't believe me check the reader A and it's definitely the first non fiction that I've really had to churn through It took a good month of reading for me to fully get into gear with Arendt's writing style and what makes it so hard at least for me leads to my second point2 What Arendt is setting out to inform the reader ofIt was only after having a minor freak out finishing part II of this book Imperialism in a computer room late at night that I fully grasped what Arendt was attempting to convey to readers when forming this book This book doesn't read as a series of historical events told in a traditionally chronological order neither does it read as a study of the inner workings of the leaders political body of said movements Instead The Origins of Totalitarianism reads like a slow motion dread fest that builds in momentum as the reader learns about the collective thoughts of the population at the time Arendt goes from informing us about the various peoples of pre WWII Europe and the hatred pumped into their consciousness which found a voice in anti Semitism; Racism; the eventual Pan Movements and finally exposing how Imperialism nurtured it all All as the pre reuisites for what gave birth to the Nightmare Ideologies of Hitler and Stalin So what makes it different in its explanation of these events? Simply put Arendt attempts to show the reader the mindset of western society at the time Not of an individual but of the subconscious unuestioning attitude toward the world the elite and in power peoples of Europe such as Britain and Germany held and how they ended up seeing reality in this warped divorced way This is what makes for a difficult read Arendt attempted to create a book that weaves human thought together when we are assembled together en masse no easy feat and display the inner workings of those who inhabited an Imperialistic world full of expansion and domination I won't attempt to go into how she manages to actually make sense of the deliberately illogical irrational and insane endgame society that came next Hint it begins with a T But what follows is the bone chilling chronicling of how men became convinced they were servants to the never changing always forward moving cogs of history as viewed through the eyes of imperialists Everything is laid bare as the reader is guided and shown how the foundations of a society based on terror as it's core function and an enemy always in need of extermination was born3 How the reader should tackle the book Attack this book pro actively I had a pen on me at all times and I constantly marked passages that stood out and made notes in case I returned I'm sure I will Most importantly be humble when reading this book and realise this is one of those texts that reuires time and thought to read Millions died in ways that as Arendt would say Saw the impossible made possible thanks to this sickening ideology that made history explainable to those who couldn't understand their misery in one giant consumable pill labelled 'RACE' in the case of Nazi Germany and in a terrifying twist of Marx's philosophy 'CLASS' in the case of Stalin's Russia for the masses to swallow It is the least we can do to mentally arm ourselves against this carcass of a thought trail and arm those around us alsoThere's a reason I have this shelved under Horror and when we're told that reading can change one's brain structure then I feel this book did exactly that I won't see things in uite the same wayI feel I can sum this subject up in one final paragraph Humans being the organically grown creatures of mother earth that we are are not separate from the laws of nature that all other creatures must obey When we don't nourish our bodies physically; we catch a flu or grow fat and weak from lack of exercise When we don't nourish our minds properly or keep our mental health in check; we become melancholy or depressed The exact same can be said of societies for what are societies if not humans expressing their desires and aims into a physical collective I believe Totalitarianism is a modern societal disease A sickness that appears from a collective that has had it's heart ripped out and its people left with no future prospect A society that has failed to nourish itself with all the needs and basic reuirements for humans to flourish will decay It's the mutation of decayed Imperialism and modern Empire that gives birth to Death Camps and Gulags which ultimately if allowed to continue would have seen the movement cannibalise it's population and destroy itself see 'The German Health Bill' for what Hitler had planned for those who were ill or had a disability I believe previous societies have had their own version of this mutation when they have collapsed but due to the manner of the modern world nothing could have reflected a society's fall as horrifically as Totalitarianism and no one seems to have chronicalled it better than Hannah Arendt


  2. says:

    It is often necessary to re read the books of yesterday to make some sense of current affairs The Origins of Totalitarianism is possibly one of these books a massive 600 pages dense volume on political philosophy written in the aftermath of World War II by a German born woman of Jewish descent Oddly enough she had a one time affair with Martin Heidegger one of the most prominent metaphysicists of the twentieth century and uite notably an early member of the Nazi partyHannah Arendt witnessed the rise of antisemitism in Germany in the early 1930s and even got arrested by the Gestapo She fled to France and when the Wehrmacht invaded France fled again to America The Origins of Totalitarianism is Nietzschean in its approach cf The Birth of Tragedy or On the Genealogy of Morality It covers a vast amount of topics a Antisemitism and Jewish identity through its varied and palpable expressions and a focus on the divisive Dreyfus affair in late 19th century France b Imperialism the domination of the wealthy white bourgeoisie and of capitalistic expansionism over a Mob that seeks a big mouthfirm hand leader is ready to believe in plain ideology and willing to single out a scapegoat based on racism or such c Totalitarianism in its two central figures Nazism based on racism and Bolshevism based on communism not to be confused says Arendt with other regimes such as despotism tyranny or dictatorship inasmuch as totalitarianism proper is based on turning people into a commodity; the prohibition to dissent; and the utter control of each individual’s every move the end of private life — Internet and big data surveillance in this sense might well become a totalitarian’s dream in the context of 21th century capitalismYou can certainly skip the messy bulk of this book and read only the last chapter a very dynamic text titled Ideology and Terror A Novel Form of Government This chapter is a masterful analysis on ideology Ideology — often based on religion or pseudo science — considers itself as the sole and total truth Ideology aka “alternative facts” must always prevail over facts aka “fake news” Anything that doesn’t back up the ideology's belief system or final purpose should be suppressed In other words blind ready to roll beliefs comforting fantasies need to win over the complexities of reality and those who stand up for the facts only deserve to be called namesOkay let’s get a bit specific for a second With an ideology actual reality is a “hoax” climate change my foot outrageous wealth ineuality my ass sexual predator pull the other one; the end justifies the means because uite frankly you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs so let’s chuck say the Climate Accord or the Customs Union or the taxes on the 1% plutocrats or the Spanish Constitution or this abused woman's testimony if it all makes my cliue of crumbly oligarchs happy; conspiracy theories rule Mexicans Muslims and Chinese want to defeat us Reality has not happened ideology is truer and carries the day always However if ideology has a hard time because reality is a bit too chaotic to handle have a scapegoat ready and heap abuse on them again Mexicans Muslims Chinese Democrats Women Jews Gays Blacks Atheists the EU and so onIn short ideology needs people who cannot make the difference between fiction and reality any and consent to be led like lemmings In Arendt's own words The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ie the reality of experience and the distinction between true and false ie the standards of thought no longer exist Penguin paperback edition p 622 Moreover this ideal subject of totalitarian rule is best brewed when people mope around in isolation loneliness impotence uprootedness and superfluousness let's add unemployment poverty and distress an all too common experience in our postmodern condition Under a rule of terror a madhouse or prison like society no one is ever floundering or left alone anyArendt’s examples are mainly Nazism and Bolshevism However her book can be used to decipher other political regimes For instance in fiction — think of Kafka’s world in The Trial Orwell's Oceania in 1984 or Atwood’s Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale But importantly it can help us think of today’s regimes in China and North Korea or in some Middle Eastern countries where the sharia is enforced fully and violently or possibly in Putin’s Russia Also it is an invitation to reflect on the disturbing tendencies of the populistnationalist movements Right or Left wherever they take shape and they do take shape everywhere in Western countries in our present day which with their reckless attitude run the risk of becoming the germs of a future form of totalitarianism Let us keep our eyes wide open


  3. says:

    Detailed and sobering On the Origins of Totalitarianism charts the rise of the world’s most infamous form of government during the first half of the twentieth century In the first two parts Arendt traces the roots of totalitarianism to anti semitism and imperialism two of the most vicious conseuential ideologies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries In the third and final section she turns her attention to Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia arguing that terror and the loss of individuality lie at the heart of totalitarian government Arendt’s breadth of knowledge is breathtaking her work accessible and harrowing


  4. says:

    Totalitarianism is a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private lifeSome have said this should be reuired reading to prepare ourselves to face the changing political climate armed with information as we watch again the rise of nationalism the rise of antisemitism the rise to power of what could be a new demagogue 'a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason' We have every reason to be greatly worried On February 17 2017 Donald Trump called the news media the enemy of the American people in a tweet If that doesn't scare you nothing willThis book could be said to be uite dated having been first published in 1951 shortly after the end of WWII and during the midst of Stalin's Soviet regime This particular edition was updated in 1966 with a long introduction by the author detailing the many changes in the world at that time But of course so much has happened since then the breakup of the Soviet Union and rise to power of Putin in Russia to name just twoSo read this book for information on totalitarianism its origins and its elements and not so much for an up to date history lesson Once again as I freuently do with heavy material I'm planning to read this in small doses perhaps a chapter a day to try to digest the information Part One Antisemitism with chapters entitled An Outrage to Common Sense; The Jews the Nation State and the Birth of Antisemitism; and The Dreyfus Affair Part Two Imperialism with chapters entitled The Political Emancipation of the Bourgeoisie; Race thinking Before Racism; Race and Bureaucracy; Continental Imperialism The Pan Movements; and the Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of ManInteresting uote 'Expansion is everything' said Cecil Rhodes and fell into despair for every night he saw overhead 'these starsthese vast worlds which we can never reach I would annex the planets if I could' Imperialism was born when the ruling class in capitalist production came up against national limitations to its economic expansionPart Three Totalitarianism with chapters entitled A Classless Society; The Totalitarian Movement; and Totalitarianism in PowerThis section was the reason I wanted to read this book in the first place to understand what circumstances allow the rise of totalitarianism To understand the fascination exercised by HitlerSociety is always prone to accept a person offhand for what he pretends to be so that a crackpot posing as a genius always has a certain chance of being believed In modern society with its characteristic lack of discerning judgment this tendency is strengthened so that someone who not only holds opinions but also presents them in a tone of unshakable conviction will not so easily forfeit his prestige no matter how many times he has been demonstrably wrongtheir propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate itArendt wrote this book just a few short years after WWII had ended People were still in shock and there was a lot of disbelief surrounding what had gone on in the concentration camps Nazis have always known that men determined to commit crimes will find it expedient to organize them on the vastest most improbable scale Not only because this renders all punishments provided by the legal system inadeuate and absurd; but because the very immensity of the crimes guarantees that the murderers who proclaim their innocence with all manner of lies will be readily believed than the victims who tell the truth IncredibleConcentration camps can very aptly be divided into three types corresponding to three basic Western conceptions of life after deathHades relatively mild forms of camps for getting undesirable elements out of the way the forerunner of the Displaced Persons camps established after the warPurgatory chaotic forced labor camps such as utilized by the SovietsHell perfected by the Nazis and organized for the greatest possible torment All three types have one thing in common the human masses sealed off in them are treated as if they no longer existed as if what happened to them were no longer of any interest to anybody as if they were already dead and some evil spirit gone mad were amusing himself by stopping them for a while between life and death before admitting them to eternal death Chilling isn't it? I would give this book 2 stars for ease of reading and 5 stars for importance Hannah Arendt was obviously a brilliant scholar and her book is well worth the time it takes to read through all the historical background she provides I may not have retained much but the details were endlessly fascinating I would say that part three on totalitarianism could be read alone if one just wants information on that


  5. says:

    Profound insight into totalitarian movements not just how they happen but why getting at the psychology behind their appeal and the social and psychological conditions that allow them to grow The writing is clear eyed penetrating and deeply unsettling


  6. says:

    I'd always assumed totalitarianism and dictatorship were the same thing But nope I learned about modern politics and power reading this masterpiece by Hannah Arendt than in the past 20 years of reading and studying I was shocked to find that certain baffling features of contemporary political movements suddenly make perfect terrifying sense when viewed from a totalitarian perspective Some fun things I learned about totalitarian movements Totalitarian movements deny objective reality and deliberately enclose themselves and their populations in a self manufactured world of ever changing fictions Totalitarian movements are not pro national movements A totalitarian movement's goal is ultimately to destroy the nation it inhabits Similarly totalitarianism doesn't use the law to control its population I'd always thought totalitarianism meant and harsher laws Totalitarian movements abandon all law and strive toward utter lawlessness In totalitarian movements the power of the military becomes second to the power of intelligence agencies Totalitarian movements always aspire to global dominationGood fun


  7. says:

    Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting begins by recounting “a crucial moment in Czech history” when Klement Gottwald emerged on a balcony in Prague to announce the birth of the Communist Czechoslovakia The image of him and Clementis who took off his fur hat and placed it on Gottwald’s cold head became as iconic for Czechs as the flag raising in Iwo Jima has become for Americans “Four years later” however “Clementis was charged with treason and hanged The propaganda section immediately airbrushed him out of history and obviously out of all the photographs as well Ever since Gottwald has stood on that balcony alone Where Clementis once stood there is only a bare palace wall All that remains of Clementis is the cap on Gottwald’s head”When I first read The Origins of Totalitarianism 33 years ago that scene had a strong hold on me I later used the passage for a final exam essay uestion when I taught high school government Yuri Andropov had just replaced Leonid Brezhnev as leader of the Soviet Union despots like Erich Honecker and Nicolae Ceauşesu ruled their subjects with impunity and in Poland Solidarność began an unstoppable revolution The Cold War was a stark reality; people throughout the world feared the prospect of nuclear annihilation As a child and young adult who traveled a great deal to East Germany in the 70s and early 80s it seemed important to neglect my studies and delve into this book because it might help me to understand what I experienced on both sides of the Iron CurtainYet rather than becoming an interesting historical intellectual exercise Arendt’s analysis is once again pertinent in of all places the United States in the 21st century even though I don’t think the US will become a totalitarian dictatorship even if the possible election of the 2016 Republican nominee for president causes many to think it might It is important to understand as Arendt concludes in her discussion of totalitarianism in power that “Totalitarian solutions may well survive the fall of totalitarian regimes in the form of strong temptations which will come up whenever it seems impossible to alleviate political social or economic misery in a manner worthy of man” Even though Arendt published her book in 1951 and revised it in the mid 60s it is still relevant These “strong temptations” are according to Arendt built on a foundation of human isolation—which is distinct from loneliness and solitude Isolation can be manipulated to create a mob as opposed to the organic concept of “the people” As Arendt explains with excruciating detail anti Semitism and imperialism were fundamental to fertilize the soil for the 20th century totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union But no such system including Mao’s China and Pol Pot’s Cambodia can completely be explained by these two ideas alone Arendt provides elastic examples to understand how totalitarian tendencies could be turned into political tactics This includes use of legends “which were needed precisely because history itself would hold man responsible for deeds he had not done and for conseuences he had not foreseen” Arendt sees similarities in tribal nationalism and the seemingly contradictory pan movements that crossed national boundaries both of which were born from “tremendous arrogance inherent in its self concentration which dares to measure a people its past and present by a yardstick of exalted inner ualities and inevitable rejects it visible existence tradition institutions and culture” Each leads to a historical ignorance which can be fabricated and manipulated and as the intellectual father of modern fascism Joseph de Maistre articulated a faith in irrationality in human affairs Taken together these concepts are “ways of escapingcommon responsibility” which is essential to lull isolated people into thinking and believing that they are part of a larger authentic culture or movementA mob of isolated individuals’ group identity is built on many fictions They are likely to accept rule by arbitrary decree because accepting “the carefully organized ignorance of specific circumstances which only an expert can know it detail” removes them from responsibility Moreover “What convinces” them “are not facts and not even invented facts but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably a part” and they would rather live in “a lying world of consistency” This is much easier than the hard work of civic education and engagement It is harder to explain to these individuals as Arendt says forcefully “We are not born eual; we become eual as members of a group on the strength of our decision to guarantee ourselves mutual rights”The 2016 Republican convention especially when viewed through the propagandistic lens of Fox News our friends outside of the US really would have a hard time understanding how this can exist and thrive in “the land of the free and the home of the brave” provided a Petri dish like environment to examine how leaders with totalitarian tendencies control their “fellow travelers” Compare some of her observations with what we witnessed in Cleveland; how the members of the movement with “a curiously varying mixture of gullibility and cynicism” are “expected to react to the changing lying statements of the leaders and the central unchanging ideological fiction of the movement” Or how the fellow travelers “had reached the point where they would at the same time believe everything or nothing think that everything was possible and that nothing was true” and “how its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst no matter how absurd”It is easy to dismiss linkages of current politics to Nazism and Stalinism because of their extreme experience with eliminating “objective enemies” through terror and death camps The current brand of American xenophobia won’t go that far—at least not in public It has unfortunately in Syria and Ira Some of these contemporary ideas share a fantasy of labeling some “whose past justifies suspicion” and are “‘carriers of tendencies’ like the carriers of a disease” and in order for the system to function it “constantly meets with new obstacles that have to be eliminated” Elimination doesn’t necessarily mean death; it also can be restriction confinement or deportation It can include “torture” which “in this context is only the desperate and eternally futile attempt to achieve what cannot be achieved” And it breeds “mutual suspicion” that “permeates all social relationships” and “provocationbecomes a method of dealing withneighbors” in “which everybody willing or unwilling is forced to follow” Sounds a lot like Trumpism to meOn the other hand the blind acceptance by the majority at the 2016 Democratic convention of the empty potentially dangerous rhetoric of “American exceptionalism” proves as Arendt makes clear that totalitarian tendencies are not a matter of right or left The idea of “American exceptionalism” embodies her arguments about the role of legend an almost delusional mysticism and a perverse redefining of pluralism to make it national rather than global Those who rightfully deride the course of the Republican Party should never fail to look into the mirror to see their own hypocrisiesPerversely mass media and the internet have rather than increase genuine human contact and spread information exacerbated many of the conditions that nurture totalitarian ideas It is now easier to find—and accept as valid—information that supports misconceptions and lies It is easier to find fellow travelers while still remaining isolated behind a keyboard and screen Just read any newspaper comments section for proof And the anonymity that comes with it has the ironic effect of making them feel part of a movement that can deny objective reality and rationalize the worst tendencies of humanity We are rapidly moving toward a world that Arendt foresaw but could never have imagined its scope The Origins of Totalitarianism provides useful intellectual measures and markers to better understand growing movements based on xenophobia racism fundamentalism—religious and otherwise— and frustration The seeming randomness of certain human events trends and reactions to them causes isolated individuals of all types to seek comfort and explanations that correspond to their personal Weltanschauung “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction ie the reality of experience and the distinction between true and false ie the standards of thought no longer exist” Sadly these trends will always be a part of our world Those who can recognize them are obligated to point them out and be constantly vigilant to explain why simple solutions to complex social and political issues do not exist We have to keep reminding others and explain why “all that remains of Clementis is the cap on Gottwald’s head” That is the only way to fight demagoguery that manipulates isolated individuals for political gain


  8. says:

    certainly in the running for the most disappointing book ever first it's on all these lists of the greatest books ever plus it's got a really high rating on goodreads plus i open it and the first few pages are breathtaking hannah is one killer sentencecrafter a vixen of prose some sentences 50 words long but you only need to read them once because they are both precise and action packed and oh the promise her intros seem to hold bold sweeping strokes that wipe out long held beliefs and foretell of new paradigms to come the great human cataclysms of our times will be analysed and the true causes forces at work through the centuries laid barebut the promise is completely unrealised i read 200 pages closely then skimmed through 100 it turns into an excrutiating brick of mass psychobabble jews felt this way so they acted this way so others felt this way about them so this made jews feel this way so they did thisimperialists had these intentions so they tried to do this but it made people feel this way so the imperialists changed to this methodology in order to make people feel this way every group is a monolith which thinks and acts like an archetypal individual which ok is sometimes a necessary simplification in history but the real killer is her EVIDENCE time and time and time again her evidence is a uote from another historian or even a uote from a contemporary NOVEL IF YOU WANT TO PROVE A THESIS ABOUT HISTORY YOU HAVE TO PROVE IT WITH HISTORY NOT BY UOTING THE CONCLUSIONS OF OTHERS i came away pretty sure that she didn't have much of a head for figures or economics almost no numbers at all are uoted as evidence even if i were convinced of her ideas if i espoused them to someone who then challenged me to defend them this book provides almost nothing i could use but then of course what makes the whole thing even worse is that i don't think she's correct at allthere is one tiny speck of possibility hannah had obviously read thousands of books and essays and letters on the subject i suppose it is possible that she assumed her audience would also be like her so that she only needed to point at her sources rather than reprise the events and people that are the subjects of history there are multiple footnotes on most pages and about 1000 items in the bibliographyif you want to learn how the world came to look like it does don't read this read Tragedy and Hope by carroll uigley


  9. says:

    Way back when I read this I recall being somewhat surprised at how few works she actually referenced in this tripartite tome especially in the latter two sections on Imperialism and Totalitarianism; and for the first of these the surprise turned to incredulity when it occurred to me that she appeared to be basing a considerable part of her argument—virtually the entirety regarding the interaction between Europe and Sub Saharan Africa IIRC—upon the most famous fictional work by Joseph Conrad Arendt is a brilliant woman and a deep thinker but that struck me as rather suspect At least this is what sticks with me in the here and now—it could very well be that I'm doing Arendt a disservice But fuck it When the memory banks are sketchy I riff away with whatever appears most recognizable upon the faded deposit slipsJohn Lukacs dismissed this book with contempt tagging Arendt's writing within as shrilly verbose and her method as unhistorical and flatly stating that her section on Totalitarianism had initially been crafted solely in regard to the Nazis but that—with the Cold War hot and suddenly on everybody's mind—she hastily worked in references to the Communist juggernaut in an effort to cash in on the burgeoning interest and score the big bucks Now that's just how Lukacs rolls— my remembrance is of finding the final part tough going but thought provoking Arendt is one of those writers who may reuire than one passage through in order to gleam the point in toto so dense with material does the prose prove to be Sadly the details have slipped away like the toxically heady aroma of a nigh liuid butter fart bugled forth in the waning glow of a summer barbecue At times I'm tempted to dig it out and give it another try—come on you know what I'm talking about—but I'm unfortunately far from convinced that it would prove to be worth fitting in ahead of so many other potentially brilliant books


  10. says:

    Like 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism is becoming all too relevant again Arendt spends her time on the conditions of Europe in the early 20th century be they political economic intellectual spiritual to show how the Nazi movement and the Bolsheviks used the violent racist undercurrents the rootlessness the sadistic impulses generated by imperialism and WWI to the formation of ideological movements bent on domination of civil society and individual If one looks to the text with current events in mind one can hear the echoes and warning signs in our present politics with the terrors of this period I am not saying history repeats but it likes to rhyme to borrow from Twain If you are worried about the present Orwell Atwood and Arendt are good guides on what to look out for and hopefully avoid