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The Origins of Totalitarianism [Hardcover]

Hannah Arendt
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 2004
The Origins of Totalitarianism is an indispensable book for understanding the frightful barbarity of the twentieth century. Suspicious of the inevitability so often imposed by hindsight, Hannah Arendt was not interested in detailing the causes that produced totalitarianism. Nothing in the nineteenth century—indeed, nothing in human history—could have prepared us for the idea of political domination achieved by organizing the infinite plurality and differentiation of human beings as if all humanity were just one individual. Arendt believed that such a development marked a grotesque departure from all that had come before.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt sought to provide an historical account of the forces that crystallized into totalitarianism: The ebb and flow of nineteenth-century anti-Semitism (she deemed the Dreyfus Affair a dress rehearsal for the Final Solution) and he rise of European imperialism, accompanied by the invention of racism as the only possible rationalization for it. For Arendt, totalitarianism was a form of governance that eliminated the very possibility of political action. Totalitarian leaders attract both mobs and elites, take advantage of the unthinkability of their atrocities, target “objective enemies” (classes of people who are liquidated simply because of their group membership), use terror to create loyalty, rely on concentration camps, and are obsessive in their pursuit of global primacy. But even more presciently, Arendt understood that totalitarian solutions could well survive the demise of totalitarian regimes.
The Origins of Totalitarianism remains as essential a book for understanding our times as it was when it first appeared more than fifty years ago.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken Books (1 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805242252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805242256
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.3 x 3.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 534,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive 26 Feb 1999
By A Customer
If you have a couple of months to spare and an interest not only in the Totalitarian regimes in the former Soviet Union and Germany, but also a desire to learn about antisemitism and imperialism then this is the book for you. If you just want to know about Totalitarianism, get the volume only containing that portion. This is an incredibly dense and comprehensive history that takes both patience and time to wade through. The journey is well worth it, though, as Hannah Arendt shows the incredibly destructive nature of all that makes one human under a totalitarian rule. It isn't a fun read, but definitely a rewarding one.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Arendt belongs to a class of scholars that only seem to appear intermittently throughout history. Her capacity for profound analysis is nowhere better displayed than in this volume. While scholarship has moved on, especially in connection with antisemitism and the social psychology of authoritarianism, her work on totalitarianism stands as one of the finest exegeses of its time. Her overriding concern to equate social progress with socialism and inter alia moral progress makes the book invaluable for those young people today who wonder what happened to faith in political ideologies. I first encountered this work over twenty years ago, and when I came across it again recently, it was still as magnetic and wonderfully refreshing as ever.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Discourse On Monsters Of Conceit 21 Nov 2010
By demola
TOOT is Arendt's heavily opinionated opus on Antisemitism, Imperialism and Totalitarianism. On Antisemitism, Arendt opines that Europe's Jews had an active hand to play in being victimized. They refused to integrate, becoming bankers to hated monarchies and ended up being easy targets for radical interests opposed to the aristocracy. She blames the Jews for their "chosenness" saying, "Whenever peoples have been separated from action and achievements ... they have been inclined to ... claim divinity and a mission to redeem the whole world". She doesn't give any other examples of such peoples. [The reviewer is not Jewish nor is he sympathetic as regards the Israeli government's political actions]. Arendt does stress though that the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" were a forgery.

I think that her analysis is magisterial and incisive and she was an academic at the top of her game. However not all her statements, like this one, have proved to be correct: "Hitler, who during his lifetime exercised a fascination to which allegedly no one was immune, and who after his defeat and death is today so thoroughly forgotten". This was written soon after WW2.

The challenge for Arendt is to keep her reader's interest as the material she presents is both extensive and dense. On that score I don't think she succeeds very well. It takes a herculean effort to complete this 480-page book especially as over 60% is, to be honest, off topic. Despite all, I think the final section on Totalitarianism is superb. She dissects Stalin and Hitler with a precision that chills the bones. How were these two monsters allowed by their people and others in power to get away with genocide on a scale unmatched before and since?
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Relevance 11 Aug 2007
There is not one paragraph in this book, particularly in the chapters on imperialism and totalitarianism, that does not apply in some way to the woes of our world today. Thus it is essential reading for understanding the historical process of secrecy, militias, gulags, secret services, military insensitivity, lying governments, false scientfic evidence, media corruption, racism, manipulation, police state politics, demonstrations and ideologies. She warned; we have not listened. The apathy Arendt wrote about is indeed much worse. A great woman; a great thinker. The introduction by Pulizer prize winner Samantha Power (A Problem from Hell) is a bonus.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 9 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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