The Origins of Totalitarianism: A Surfeit of Superfluousness

  • Marilyn LaFay
Part of the Critical Political Theory and Radical Practice book series (CPTRP)


The Origins of Totalitarianism lays out the varieties of ways in which people become superfluous in the modern world, with the culmination of the generation of superfluousness being the totalitarian impulse. By tracing out these lineages of superfluousness, Arendt implicates that the course of modern politics—that is, politics since the French Revolution—leads directly into the totalitarian maw. Indeed, her analysis suggests that totalitarianism, as a form of government, as a psychological condition, is the current against which all further political discussion begins. What is original in her analysis is that totalitarianism is the culmination of humans made superfluous: totalitarianism is the politics of those who have lost their connection to the world. And with this, Arendt warns that the symbiotic nature between humanity and the world is in danger of being permanently ruptured. When humanity becomes superfluous, it is not just we who are in danger: the world itself becomes “unfit for human habitation,” and all people thereby may be made superfluous. Reading Totalitarianism as Arendt intending to outline the determinants that put totalitarianism into power is an error.


Political Life Good Society French Revolution Reasonable Individual Political Tradition 
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© Marilyn LaFay 2014

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  • Marilyn LaFay

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