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The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah…

The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

by Hannah Arendt

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This book has three parts: (1) Antisemitism, (2) Imperialism and (3) Totalitarianism. Part three is a lot better than the first two parts. In part three the author provides a fascinating and deep analysis of the totalitarian state, its ideology and lack of government. She argues that totalitarianism is a political system all its own, incomparable even to tyranny or dictactorship.

The author's main aim is to reveal the multifaceted irrationality and anti-rationality of totalitarian systems. She convincingly shows that utilitarian explanations of the "logic" behind totalitarianism are not valid. Totalitarianism aims only to destroy the civil rights of everyone, foreigners and compatriots alike. All other goals are secondary. The author's discussion of the key role that concentration camps play in this horrifying system is probably the best part of this book. The general conclusions she draws from Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia are pretty much applicable word for word to the one totalitarian state of today, North Korea. I therefore doubt that any other analysis of totalitarianism could equal this one.

Parts one and two, on the other hand, are a strange mixture of historical narrative, biography and arbitrary stream-of-thought. Almost half of book one is spent on a biographical portrait of Benjamin Disraeli and on a discussion of the Dreyfus affair, neither of which yields any interesting conclusions about antisemitism. In book two the author is even further off the mark. Among other excursions she launches into a prolonged discussion of Hobbes' philosophy because he supposedly gives an "almost complete picture (...) of the bourgeois man" (p.134). I'm not sure what her intentions were when she wrote parts one or two, but they are both poorly structured and seem to have been written without much planning or editing.

In any case, my misgivings about the earlier parts do not detract any value from the chapter on totalitarianism. Read part three and feel free to skip the rest in good conscience.
1 vote thcson | Apr 28, 2015 |
This book should have been better but it was pretty dry and barely held my interest. ( )
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
I am on the fence about much of this book, but I keep coming back to "The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man" as so useful, so I can't deny the four. ( )
  behemothing | Oct 25, 2014 |
It is apparently one of the great books of the 20th Century, and the subject matter is deserving of thought. I lost interest when the author began to analyze economics through Marxist theory. Too pointless for my liking, given the track record of Marxist theory... ( )
  RobertP | Dec 28, 2013 |
fondamentale (e monumentale) saggio per capire uno dei fenomeni più importanti del secolo breve. Non è affatto scorrevole o semplice ma vale la pena di essere letto. Presenta un'accurata analisi e confronto dei regimi totalitari degli anni '30, indagandone le origini e le ideologie comuni. ( )
  Zeruhur | May 26, 2012 |
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Hannah Arendtprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Power, SamanthaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156701537, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:33 -0400)

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"In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt sought to provide a historical account of the forces that crystallized into totalitarianism: The ebb and flow of nineteenth-century anti-Semitism (she deemed the Dreyfus Affair a dress rehearsal for the Final Solution) and the rise of European imperialism, accompanied by the invention of racism as the only possible rationalization for it. For Arendt, totalitarianism was a form of governance that eliminated the very possibility of political action. Totalitarian leaders attract both mobs and elites, take advantage of the unthinkability of their atrocities, target "objective enemies" (classes of people who are liquidated simply because of their group membership), use terror to create total loyalty, rely on concentration camps, and are obsessive in their pursuit of global primacy. But even more presciently, Arendt understood that totalitarian solutions could well survive the demise of totalitarian regimes."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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