Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt in Her Book Origins Term Paper

  • Length: 8 pages
  • Subject: Government
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #2904348

Excerpt from Term Paper :


Hannah Arendt, in her book, "Origins of Totalitarianism," attributes the formation of a mass society in Europe in the first decades of the 20th century to "grassroots eruptions" from a number of collective groups. These were the Mob, the masses, the tribes and the starving multitude - all "mobilized for action" and powerful (Arendt 1973).

The first of these groups, the Mob, Arendt perceives to have proceeded from the anti-Semitic riots that flared during the Dreyfus events in France. This Mob, according to her, was recruited from all classes of society, the "residue" or the "refuse of all classes" that accumulated from those left behind by the economic cycles of capitalism. They were displaced by the class structure and resented ordered society, and quickly mobilized for violence by instigators. Arendt distinguishes the Mob from the People in that the Mob was outside the class structure and always attuned to public-spirited action, while the People was firmly placed within the class structure. She is careful to note that the Mob was not identical with, but only a caricature of, the People.

As this first wave of collectivities, the Mob reappeared in Arendt's section on "Imperialism" as joining the gold and diamond rush in South Africa in the late 19th century along with those in the site for the same objective. Arendt refers to the Mob as the "superfluous men who established a counter-society through which men could find their way back into a human world of fellowship and purpose." Others who dug for gold and diamond included the second wave of collectivities Arendt calls the masses as workers' movements and whom she considers the authentic People, as distinguished from the faceless and displaced none-People, such as the Mob. Those who had a human "world" belonged to the People and those who did not, she classed as the non-People.

She writes that those "superfluous men" (the Mob) who joined the workers' movements became part of the People and those who did not, got incorporated into the imperialist Mob. This imperialist Mob got thrown out of the "human world of fellowship and purpose" by having no place in a structured society, by getting physically uprooted and divested of normal expectations and constraints (Arendt). Hence, they were severed from civilization and forced into a ghostlike existence where they were devoid of a sense of responsibility for their actions and decisions. From this mold evolved the tribes as the third group or strain of collectivities, as Arendt views it. These tribes developed out of the imperialist Mob that struggled against or with a native population without themselves becoming part of the People, as they were without a foundation and structure. People had a world and histories, unlike the Mob and the tribes (Arendt), examples of which were the Boers and African tribes. They did not share a tangible territory and institutions with the People but only what they had internally.

And the starving multitude Arendt writes about accounted for the rest outside these three collectivities, which were displaced, struggling, incensed and lost for identity and a place of their own. It was this condition of world-less-ness that rendered the Mob inherently susceptible to influence and mobilization by movements. A movement, according to her, was a new way of holding these fragmented individuals, without providing them a stable world or existence. A movement could hold and get them to act in concert by introducing a racist ideology that made them feel "superior" by merely offering them a "definition" of themselves. This filling-in of their vacuum could incline them to commit violent acts in defeating or displacing another group.

II. She writes that a totalitarian government or movement used "tyrannical measures of force and violence" that threatened not only the subjects but the world-at-large. It differed from a tyrannical government. In a tyrannical government, the tyrant and the people were different, opposed and mutually threatening and only to each other. In a totalitarian government, the threat was in the form of a total "de-politicization" of all phases and aspects of life, wherein the whole of society was radically atomized (Arendt)! It did not pose one side against the other, rather the people or subjects were rendered inanimate or incapable of free action - which was the simple threat to a tyrannical government - as well as the very element of free action or innate human initiative itself. It dug deeper into the source of opposition in a human being. It annihilated spontaneity in thinking, aspiring and creative undertaking (Arendt) - the very basis of what was human. The totalitarian system destroyed all human potentiality, including solitude and any sense of isolation, which could rebuild that potentiality. Arendt writes that this form of government first appeared under Stalin after 1929 and under Hitler after 1938.

Human freedom in a totalitarian government was less than, or not even, an illusion. The omnipresence of fear was not comparable to suspicion as an emotion under a tyrannical government: in a totalitarian government, the principle of the tyrant's action and the people's inaction were that omnipresence itself. Furthermore, a tyrannical government was ultimately powerless because the tyrant and the people opposed each other, but a totalitarian government drew overwhelming power from its mechanism (Arendt). It was a totally new and exceeding sort, which derived that power from within the ruled, rather than from outside, as in a tyrannical government. It erased the delineation between life and death of those men and women, decimating their potentialities that alone could "renew and share with one another." It cancelled the very earth as a natural habitat for mortals and everything else that was positive.

As she understands it, Arendt states that totalitarianism combined the "essence of terror and its principle of logicality," wherein terror was not only total in suppressing dissent and exceeded all known forms of overwhelming resentment and vengeance. That "total terror" rationally and systematically replaced the positive laws in constitutional governments (Arendt) - which sought to realize higher universal laws - and aimed at translating into reality "the law of movement of history and nature" directly and by the whole of humankind. There was no mediation needed or wanted, and this translation must be executed immediately. This was Arendt's concept and mechanism of terror employed by totalitarian governments.

Adolph Hitler (and Joseph Stalin) realized that the unpredictability of the human mind and human affairs could be altered, manipulated or eradicated altogether in the most infamous setting of totalitarian organizational power and evil: the concentration camp. If the potentials of the human mind and will could be eliminated totally, opposition could be absolutely abolished (Arendt). This was the totalitarian government's and its regime's effective machinery. In these camps, the prisoners were deprived of all forms of rights, down to the very shred of ability to make conscious choices, so that there disappeared the contradiction between the legality of positive laws and the idea of justice, wherein the future depended. In these camps and through this rule of terror, human freedom became meaningless and a trifle in the tactical automatism (Arendt) of the system's processes. It more than undermined personhood: it deleted human diversity and put turned human beings into a mere mass of identical, interchangeable pieces "of the animal species man" and at an unbelievable rate of acceleration. By merging terror and logicality, totalitarianism governments, mainly Hitler's, were armed with unimaginable power to dominate the population. It inverted and perverted political life in subverting human conscience and crushed the very uniqueness of human beings.

In the concentration camp, Hitler actualized modernity's "contempt for reality" from the nihilist dogma that "everything was permitted" to the insane conviction that "everything was possible." The camp was a laboratory where experiments were continuously conducted to test and prove that insanity. It transformed a human being into a manipulated, predictable living corpse, what Arendt aptly describes as a body in the "permanent state of dying." He was reduced to the lowest organic form of life or interchangeable with organic life, and this Arendt describes as the sharpest, most accurate contrast to political equality. These laboratory findings underscored that "the omnipotence of man" could be bought at the price "of the superfluity of men."

In the ideal world, political equality meant (and means) an equality of peers and the achievement of a plurality of separate and distinct persons who willfully band together and generate the power to affect or establish the course of their lives and the world. But, in the concentration camp, these organisms did not have any kind of relation to anything, like a world. They moved only as superfluous "things" not belonging to the world at all.

Arendt sees human existence as partly conditioned and partly free. But the organism in the concentration camp was deprived of the free part. It was unlike the discernible and intelligible fear of an apprehended object in the world in that this terror (in the concentration camp) was within the human being. Arendt compared the concentration camp prisoner's inner…

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