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The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)

by Hannah Arendt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Origins of Totalitarianism (1-3)

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3,662353,518 (4.17)50
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.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
DNF

I'd been looking forward to reading this book for years. I'd heard great things, and the reviews on here got me even more excited. Unfortunately I found this book not only boring as all get out but also very out of date.

My main beefs:

She gets imperialism and anarchism confused, which definitely isn't easy to do.

She refers to the American continent as a place that had no culture or history before white people showed up.

Eventually, halfway through the second of three parts, I skipped to the final part. In the first paragraph she talks about how fascist leaders are instantly forgotten, and uses the example of Hitler. She claims that Hitler is irrelevant to neo-nazi and neo-fascist groups, which is one of the most out of touch statements I've ever read.

I'm gonna put this book back on my shelf and listen to some podcasts about it ( )
  bookonion | Feb 23, 2024 |
Not quite the work I was expecting. The first third, a history of European anti-semitism deserves to be its own, separate study. The next third is a history of 19th century Imperialism through the First World War, and seems again to be loosely related, if at all, to what follows.

Finally, the final third addresses totalitarianism, and is a product of its time - the echoes of the second world war still ringing. Confusingly, some of it speaks of Stalin's USSR in the present tense, and some parts are edited later after his death.

What should have been the books strongest chapters instead ramble as poorly organized lecture notes. Four times in the final section Arendt describes the SS as the 'transmission belt' of the Nazis. Perhaps it is a translation issue. 'Driving force' or to stick with the analogy, simply 'ratchet' would make more sense. It really stood out to this reader as a loosely organized set of notes after the 2nd repetition, let alone the fourth.

Her closing argument that loneliness lies at the heart of totalitarianism seems indisputable. ( )
  kcshankd | Jan 24, 2024 |
Hannah Arendt was a brilliant philosopher, activist and writer. This book is very dense for one such as I who is a layman in this area, but by taking the time to retrace and reread it was understandable and impressive. I learned a lot of history, political ideas and anthropology, and found it a joy to read such a great thinker/writer describing and explaining difficult material. The book is great. ( )
  RickGeissal | Aug 16, 2023 |
I can only dream that I could write as well as Arendt. ( )
  jcvogan1 | Mar 23, 2023 |
the first two volumes have a host of problematic issues that make them difficult to consult or reference without quite a lot of filtering and external qualification. they make many arguments that r either dubious or unoriginal (or both)

the third volume, while somewhat flawed in various ways, is an essential masterpiece ( )
  sashame | Dec 7, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arendt, Hannahprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Applebaum, AnneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baldunčiks, JurisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blumbergs, IlmārsCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jakobsson, JimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Power, SamanthaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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.

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