Hannah Arendt on the Subject of Totalitarianism

Posted on May 10, 2022
Raleigh, NC

Hannah Arendt, in the Origins of Totalitarianism, wrote:

The compulsion of total terror on one side, which with its iron band presses masses of isolated men together and supports them in a world which has become a wilderness for them, and the self coercive force of logical deduction on the other, which prepares each individual in his lonely isolation against all others, correspond to each other and need each other in order to set the terror-ruled movement into motion and keep it moving. Just as terror, even in its pre-total, merely tyrannical, form ruins all relationships between men, so the self compulsion of ideological thinking ruins all relationships with reality. The preparation has succeeded when people have lost contact with their fellow men as well as the reality around them, for together with these contacts, men lose the capacity for both experience and thought. The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, that is the reality of experience, and the distinction between true and false, that is the standards of thought, no longer exist.

If one of the primary problems in the US right now is not the inability of large amounts of people to make the distinction between fact and fiction then I’m not sure what is. Ideology has triumphed over the standards of thought and people believe first and foremost what the thought leaders in their ideological movements tell them is true. Less ideology and more skepticism of political and cultural leaders would engender a healthier society.