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The Origins of Totalitarianism: A Surfeit of Superfluousness

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Political Life Good Society French Revolution Reasonable Individual Political Tradition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Margaret Canovan, Hannah Arendt: A Reinterpretation of Her Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Dana Villa, Public Freedom, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008, p. 251.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, New York, London, and San Diego: Harcourt, 1968, pp. 478–79.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Lisa Jane Disch, Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy, Ithaca and Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1994, p. 29.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Stan Spyros Draenos, “Thinking Without a Ground: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Situation of Understanding,” in Hannah Arendt: The Recovery of the Public World, ed. Melvyn A. Hill, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979, p. 212.Google Scholar
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    Dana Villa, Arendt and Heidegger: The Fate of the Political, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996, p. 10.Google Scholar
  7. 37.
    Stephen Eric Bronner, Reclaiming the Enlightenment: Toward a Politics of Radical Engagement, New York: Columbia University Press, 2004, p. 113.Google Scholar
  8. 42.
    George Kateb, “Fiction as Poison,” in Thinking in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt on Ethics and Politics, ed. Roger Berkowitz et al., New York: Fordham University Press, 2010, p. 30.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Marilyn LaFay 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marilyn LaFay

There are no affiliations available

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