The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
By the title, I might have gotten the impression that this might have been a full history and treatise on all Totalitarian regimes, but I'm not at all unhappy to see how the author narrowed it down to the full wealth of circumstances that gave rise to Nazi Germany and, to a lesser degree, Stalin's Russia.
More than that, Hannah Arendt proves to be an erudite master at breaking down huge subjects and many causes into easily digestible chunks.
The focus begins on the actual origins of racial targeting and the somewhat interesting disconnect between real grievances and a targeted terror movement starting early with the Rothschild banking, 19th century propaganda, and political climates including the Dreyfus account. (Very interesting stuff here.)
It leads, naturally enough, into MORE of the same charges and racially-charged Us/Them mentalities and exactly how the machinations of a few could inculcate a whole nation. The trick is to slowly, surely, make everyone guilty of the same kind of injustice, formalize it and redirect all culpability toward the Leader and wash your hands of the reality, and then hold on for dear life as everyone else you know is forced into looking over their shoulders to see if they might be next on the chopping block.
It's perfectly understandable. Totalitarianism is the utter eradication of self and self-destiny under the auspices of a single, irrepressible force. It runs on fear and distrust. Everyone under Hitler was in an untenable position and knew they could lose favor at any time.
Stalin worked the same way. The results were almost always similar as a whole. Many people died, and no one knew how to go on except by hanging on to the system that brought them there.
Ideology didn't really matter. Terror was the driving force, carried along by a fierce logical insistence that they were always right. Not even dissent mattered. The logical progression, taken to its extremes, was always used as the ultimate rationality.
This book showed us a wealth of information in every step. Starting out with imperialism and ending with totalitarianism, this book also gives us some other very important insights.
Believe it or not, they're insights that apply as equal now as they did then, and not as a pithy or ironic commentary on this or that politician we hate.
Mostly, it starts out as finding an Other to hate. It could just be any Us versus Them. Dehumanize them. Blame all your problems on them. And then make your supporters do something horrible. Turn your whole nation into people who are already guilty. Make sure they remain confused and uncertain. And then turn up the heat, making them all do worse things, progressively, until they see no way out but forward. Give them no other choice.
Who is next? Women versus men? Another Race s**tstorm? Blue Vs Red? Rich versus the poor?
Quite sobering to see how we're pushing ourselves closer and closer to Totalitarianism all the time. All we need is one single Leader who can blackmail us all into doing his bidding, and here we go!
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