Hannah Arendt, Jews, and Politics Essay

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The economy of the totalitarian state must be effectively directed with only so much control that the system can be directed effectively; it must obtain growth and combat economic problems to the best of its ability so as to ensure political, social and economic stability.

Conversely, Arendt argues that "the totalitarian dictator regards the natural and industrial riches of each country & #8230; as a source of loot and a means of preparing the next step of aggressive expansion."

Arendt thus labels the totalitarian economy as a war economy, but it is not necessary for a totalitarian leader to adopt such an economy as such economies finance expansionistic foreign policies and totalitarianism does not have to have an international focus; rather it must have a national focus. Arendt is too specific on this point and is once again directly attacking Hitler rather than discussing the realities of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism does not require "state ownership of all the means of production and distribution but, rather, a central control and direction of the economy"

; with only so much control so as to ensure central direction. A totalitarian state refers to the structure of the state, and not necessarily the aspirations of the leader. Similarly, the economy does need to be centrally directed, but it does not have to be directed so as to be a war economy.

No matter what economic system the state chooses to facilitate, there needs to be a "monopoly of the means of effective mass communication"

so as to ensure that economic, social and political goals can be obtained and the people can be informed of such successes. Contrary to Brzezinski's criterion, a totalitarian state does not need to control every method of mass communication, rather there is only a requirement to strongly regulate, influence or control a majority of all the major methods of mass communication subject to the discretion of the leader. Infant totalitarian states need to control what the public hears to a greater degree than a matured totalitarian state and as such, in Nazi Germany laws were enacted that forbade the public listening to any foreign radio; the national radio station was to be on at all times. To ensure that people listened to the national radio, the Nazis mass produced cheap 'peoples' radios, called Volkssempfanger, to such an extent that 70% of all German households contained one.

It was written as part of the Reich Press Law that newspaper editors must "keep out of the papers anything which… tends to weaken the strength of the German Reich."

The cinema was similarly regulated and only allowed movies created or approved by Gobbels and his Ministry and Chamber of Films (MCF), established in 1933. While it was under direct public control, the MCF did not simply produce propaganda.

Gobbels avoided this by attaching contextual storylines, 'Nazified' storylines, which reinforced the values of the Nazi party and managed to keep overt propaganda films to low levels of approximately 5%.

Perhaps the final primary method of mass communication was the Church, which the Nazis did not censor unless the religion "endangered the German race."

This freedom of religion, as promised in the Nazi's 25-point plan, was further strengthened when Hitler agreed to grant the Catholic Church autonomy in Germany and in return the Vatican would not involve itself in politics.

This agreement did not last long, and by 1937 priests were forced to apply for licenses and religious holidays no longer applied to the German people.

It follows that major censorship and government regulation of the methods of mass communication are necessary for a totalitarian state to survive; it is to what extent it is adopted or required that varies.

Such censorship was enforced by the law. The law enforcement of Nazi Germany is universally recognized as a "terroristic police force"

owing to their brazenly brutal enforcement tactics. With the establishment of the Gestapo in 1933, Hitler ensured that the public would not oppose him as he had them publicly execute their brutal tactics. This was never more obvious than in 1934 Hitler purged his party with the help of the SS and the Gestapo, who acted under the
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guise of Article 48 of the German Constitution which stated that the government could legally push civil liberties beyond the usual limits of the constitution for the "protection of the people and the State."

When this order was decreed in 1933, no restrictions were set down on the actions of the state; this was the first time no restrictions were specified.

This was extremely dangerous for anyone who was politically against the Nazis, as they could now arrest without warrant, hold suspects indefinitely and refuse legal counsel.

"In the background there lurked the terror of the Gestapo and the fear of the concentration camp for those that got out of line or who had been [against Nazism]."

Total terror breeds total loneliness; total loneliness enables total power.

While a totalitarian state requires simply that dissenters fear being discovered, Arendt approaches the aspect of terror from a totally different angle. She suggests that the system of terror works not singularly through the assumption that dissenters will be killed, but that the entire population sees themselves as superfluous. According to Arendt "totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men, but toward a system to which men are superfluous."

In any such system, the fear of being expendable for the good of the system results in a state of subordination. Thus the system of terror not only 'encourages' near fanatical loyalty and support, but encourages competition among people the entire population to ensure their respective 'superiors'. This is the very fear that Hitler instilled in the echelons of the party; it is also why many of the policy decisions were undermined, complicated and ineffectual.

This system should not be mistaken for as simple a concept as an autocracy, dictatorship or monarchy; it is a far harder stage to reach than any of them. Through analysis of the sources it is obvious that the perception of totalitarianism has changed, or rather it has been complicated and become far too specific. It is clear that Arendt's book is a point of reference for Brzezinski and Friedrich's book but it is not based solely on her work alone, it offers new ideals which are "newly pertinent to the historian's own time"

, and all the biases that go with it. The concepts put forward were obviously carried contextual biases that stand to taint all future histories written on the subject and as such any definition put forward must reflect the versatility and the all pervasive legitimacy of the political spectrum. The use of generic terms to describe political systems means that such terms cannot be used comparatively; rather the usefulness of generic terms is limited to general and extremely basic understanding. Totalitarianism is one such term, as the usefulness of it as a tool for classifying historical and contemporary political systems is undermined by the inability to use it as a comparative term owing to the flexibilities of every political system including totalitarianism itself. If it must be loosely used as a comparative term then, to protect historical objectivity, it must be understood that totalitarianism is not a dirty word; it is a real political option.


Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. London: Andre Deutsch, 1951.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew, and Carl Friedrich. Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965.

Dennett, Bruce, and Stephen Dixon. Key Features of Modern History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

McCallum, Anne. Germany: 1918-1945 . Port Melbourne: Rigby Heinemann, 1992.

Phillips, Peter. The Tragedy of Nazi Germany. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970.

Shirer, Willam L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Pan Books Ltd., 1959; 1981; 1990.

The lack of a mass media limited the influence of rulers, and the social hierarchy in place limited the visibility of the ruling class or at least the higher echelons of the ruling class.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew and Friedrich, Carl -- Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, (Harvard University Press, 1965) p22.

This is due to the fact that Hitler did not immediately decree the 'final solution'. If he hated the Jews as much as party members must have, he would have decreed it immediately. He didn't. It was a gradual process of escalating violence which was ordered by the cabinet rather than Hitler himself.

Arendt, Hannah -- The Origins of Totalitarianism (Andre Deutsch, 1951) p465.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew and Friedrich, Carl -- ob cit p22.

McCallum, Anne -- Germany: 1918-1945 (Rigby Heinemann, 1992) p73.

Dennett, Bruce and Dixon, Stephen -- Key Features of…

Sources Used in Documents:


Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. London: Andre Deutsch, 1951.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew, and Carl Friedrich. Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965.

Dennett, Bruce, and Stephen Dixon. Key Features of Modern History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

McCallum, Anne. Germany: 1918-1945 . Port Melbourne: Rigby Heinemann, 1992.

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