HCJ – Hannah Arendt – The Origins of Totalitarianism
Totalitarianism – An imposing government exercises absolute control over all aspects of life in a State, with an aim to eventually dominate the World. There will be zero opposition to a totalitarian ruler. (Hitler, Stalin etc.)
Arendt begins by explaining how she feels totalitarianism differs from other forms of political expression such as tyranny or dictatorship. However the totalitarian state rises to power it will immediately destroy all social, legal and political traditions. It will have its own ideology and it will use the means of terror to pursue this ideology. The way I can understand this is with the example of Hitler in Nazi Germany, with his ideology to get rid of all Jews and make the Germans a superior race, and by doing this he would kill the Jews and take away their citizenship, or even that Hitler’s ‘ideal’ German, would be a blonde haired, blue eyed strong male (much unlike himself).
Arendt goes on to question what totalitarianism is in comparison to these other form of political oppression. ‘We are tempted at once to interpret totalitarianism as some modern form of tyranny, that is a lawless government where power is wielded by one man’. She explains that ‘fear’ of the ruler by the people, is a sort of hallmark of tyranny throughout the years. Is then totalitarianism a legal form of political ruling, or is it an arbitrary power? A totalitarian rule doesn’t claim to be arbitrary, but it rather claims to be living in the laws of ‘nature’ – They will go back to how the World was originally supposed to be run, this is the only law they have to abide by, and by abiding by these laws it makes it impossible for the totalitarian state in question to become arbitrary, as they are going against what they describe as ‘petty legality’. So 2000 years ago, it would not have been illegal to kill another human, whereas in the present day it obviously is. In order to achieve it’s ideology, the totalitarian state will go back to the natural law, which therefore makes what they do legal. It is their state, and they can enforce which rules they choose.
Consensus iuris – A totalitarian state does not establish its own consensus iuris. So it promises to remove the ‘law’ itself from the will of any man, but rather make mankind the ‘embodiment of the law’ – What I believe this means is that Arendt thinks a totalitarian state wants away with any sort of international or common law, and instead bring the law into the beholder. This will force the ideology of a strong, competitive state, and eventually lead to national satisfaction, and ultimately World domination for the totalitarian state.
A totalitarian government will strive for excellence and will have their set ideology to destroy or eliminate everything that is weak or harmful. Arendt believes that if you take part in this ‘elimination’, then it is in fact destroying nature itself. During a class struggle the lower classes would ‘wither away’, meaning that the higher classes would then become subject to the legality of killing, ‘even if they succeeded in making all of humanity subject to their rule.’ I think this ties in with what certain philosophers believe about the weaker people in life. If someone is in a wheel-chair, or is disabled in some way, it is in the eyes of certain people, that in fact this person in question has in fact ‘tricked’ everyone in to caring for them, and that they are in fact ruling us for this reason. What these people then believe is that we should in fact leave the person to die without any help. If this is done however, nature will begin to die out, the weakest will die, the strongest of the weak will die, then the weakest of the strongest, and so on until there is nobody left for the totalitarian state to kill.
‘Terror becomes total when it becomes independent of all opposition; it rules supreme when nobody any longer stands in its way. If lawfulness is the essence of non-tyrannical government and lawlessness is the essence of tyranny, then terror is the essence of totalitarian domination.’ Here Ardent clearly expresses her feelings of what a totalitarian government is, and how they go about their ideologies. There are no questions asked, it is a straightforward statement, presenting how terror is nothing less than imperative.
Isolation is described as the breeding ground for terror, and that isolation of a man makes him powerless. Power always seems to come from men acting together as a force (‘acting in concert’ – Burke). Within a tyrannical government, their first aim is to bring this isolation about, so it then begs the question, is a tyrannical government the same as a totalitarian one, when it comes to terror, and how they achieve their goals? A totalitarian state thrives on terror, as a major weapon to achieve its ideologies, as does a tyrannical one, therefore you would have to say yes, they are very similar. This being said it is apparent that in a tyrannical government, the private life of men does not get isolated, and that although all public forms of uprising and human capacities are severed, the private sphere is left. In a totalitarian state, this is not the case. All walks of life and ALL forms of human capacity for action are destroyed. It can be said that this is then the true exertion of full terror, and is in this case more than what can be experienced under a tyrannical rule.
Throughout the book ‘the origins of totalitarianism’ Arendt expresses how she believes that the success of the movements are predominantly the cause of the individuals involvement. So she did not see it as Hitler, hypnotising people, but more that mass submission to the rulers, was the reason behind the rulers’ ‘success’. She believes that people should think before they obey, and that everyone has a mind of their own. This can be linked back to the original lecture and the Stanley Milgram experiment.