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The Origins Of Totalitarianism

By Hannah Arendt
The Origins Of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt digital book - Fable

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Publisher Description

Hannah Arendt's definitive work on totalitarianism—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.

12 Reviews

“The two examples of totalitarianism Earth has on record are the only ones from which we can generalize. While I'm wary of the accuracy of a 2-data point trend line, Hannah Arendt has some interesting observations that serve as warning signs for our society today. Rather than fixating on words labeling ideas, such as "socialism" or "nationalist," Arendt analyzes societal trends that seem to incubate totalitarianism: racism, absolutism, single-party political environments. Interestingly, totalitarianism doesn't formally replace the previous system in which it metastasized. This book makes me simultaneously realize I need to read more fundamental political theory (Hobbes, Marx) and grow skeptical that any ideologically driven system has all the answers. Nazi leadership believed: "The more accurately we recognize and observe the laws of nature and life, ... so much the more do we conform to the will of the Almighty. The more insight we have into the will of the Almighty, the greater will be our successes." The idea was adapted by Stalin in support of dialectical materialism, and the regime practiced the theory that the masses ignore the facts before their eyes, and follow only their imaginations, the best of which are the most consistent. So consistency of ideology wins out over facts. This sounds disturbingly familiar to me, living in the USA today, with the perceived tension between evidence-based approaches and "it will all work out if we just double down on this idea." Finally, totalitarianism was only possible after the people were insulated from non-sympathizers by the complete politicization of every area of live. Things previously not considered "political" became arms of the ruling party. The party explicitly duplicated Civic and Professional groups in order to undermine and replace the originals, then pushed the idea that "Everything outside the movement is dying," and the only way forward is through the party. All of this is easily attained through Facebook and our filter bubbles now. While we're still missing a single party system, the US is not far removed from the ideal growth requirements for totalitarianism. It's a reminder to stay vigilant: - seek out friends with viewpoints different from my own, and engage thoughtfully with them, - consume information with an active attention to how it can be manipulated and skewed, and - evaluate the actions that seem necessary from my most solidly held ideals in the light of whether they dehumanize others.”
“The book is an important 20th century classic of political theory broken into three parts exploring (I) antisemitism, (II) imperialism and colonialism, and (III) the rise of and functioning of totalitarian government. The first two parts provide background on racist views and attitudes at the time, which contributed to the conditions that allowed the rise and success of extremist mass movements. The best part of the book is part (III), where the focus shifts to totalitarianism. It can be read on its own, or out of order, first before returning to the other sections. Within section (III), the best material is about how extremist movements can arise when large parts of the population are feeling isolated and excluded, and about truth vs lies, propaganda and mobilizing the masses. Many observations and arguments seem as relevant today as they were when the book was written. It is absolutely worth reading. Or, rather, part (III) is worth reading. Or, more specifically, parts of part (III) constitute must read material. Like a lot of academic writing, the book could have benefited by an editor with a heavier hand to push the author or tighten up some of the discussion, ensure logical consistency across different parts of the discussion, and pushing back on some of the most unsubstantiated arguments. While the book pushes many arguments that make a lot of sense, I am more skeptical of some of the other arguments and speculation. The best parts of the book are not even really about totalitarianism. They are about conditions for mass extremist movements that take over government. It remains unclear which aspects of these conditions are special for totalitarianism, and which also facilitate the rise of authoritarianism more generally. There is very little discussion of which aspects of the environment were common with other authoritarian rises for context. It’s when the author tries to push the theory into being a predictor, not of authoritarian shifts generally, but totalitarian shifts specifically, that the arguments start feeling less tight. Good book. Important book. Not perfect. Hard to read in its entirety. Better to read in parts. Then return to other parts as time and interest permits. I highly recommend the Folio Society edition of this book to anyone who wants to have a copy of the book on their shelf. High quality (sewn bindings, acid free paper), lots of pictures, maps, etc., and beautifully designed.”
“If I could give Hannah Arendt's Magnum Opus ten stars I would. As much of a neophyte as I am to the terms and happenings surrounding Dr. Arendt's body of work, particularly her area of expertise, namely, political theory, I have come to love and show a greater appreciation for forms of governments, the people who led them, the social movements that influenced them, and their catastrophic demise. From antisemitism to colonialism, racism, nationalism, irredentism, revanchism, imperialism, and lastly, totalitarianism, Hannah has shattered my ignorance on these issues, topics, social and political movements to the extent in which I can see, albeit through fogged lenses and senses, how influential her work has been on modern minds and just how susceptible our society is to the regeneration of totalitarian rule. I wish I could leave behind every single quote I loved from this expansive and extensive body of work but if I did I would leave behind an entire book length comment and that would be unwise and unkind of me. If you have an interest in how antisemitism played and still plays a great deal of influence in world politics and social ideas, consider anything Hannah has written about the topic. Antisemitism, like racism, and humanity's capacity for evil, just don't go away. They always resurface under a different name, in a different name, behind a new movement, or perhaps the regurgitation of an old and more overt one. The Origins of Totalitarianism is and should be a life long book. One worthy of thoughtful revisits that are more prophetic than historic. 10/10.”

About Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) is considered one of the most important and influential thinkers of the twentieth century. A political theorist and philosopher, she is also the author of Crises of the Republic, On Violence, The Life of the Mind, and Men in Dark Times. The Origins of Totalitarianism was first published in 1951.

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