Friday, June 10, 2011

Hannah Arendt: Total Domination

Okay, first draft of a summary of a section from Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism. Feel free to send me feedback (

Hannah Arendt Summary of Total Domination.


Hannah Arendt, in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, wrote about the concentration and extermination camps of the Nazi’s and Soviets, in a section called Total Domination.  The most brutal, disquieting —and she would claim fundamental—aspects of Totalitarianism, these camps were laboratories to verity the fundamental belief of totalitarianism that everything is possible.  Totalitarian domination's goal is to create, “a kind of human species resembling other animal species whose only ‘freedom’ would consist in ‘preserving the species’.  To achieve its goal—elimination of “human nature,”—and turn humans into mere things a fundamental threat of a totalitarians regimes power had would be eradicated..  That fundamental threat was human spontaneity and personal identify.  The camps purpose was to create sealed off “unrealities” in which a process of total domination could take place.

                A prerequisite of total domination of someone was destroying a persons “rights” as a man, “killing the juridicial person in him”(p. 581).  Next the “moral person” in man had to be eliminated, “[t]hrough the creation of conditions under which conscience ceases to be adequate” and the ability to do good becomes impossible (583).  Finally, an individuals unique identity must be destroyed, transforming them into, “a specimen of animal,”—merely organic compounds of flesh.  By destroying individuality “mans power to bring something new out of his own resources,” is removed from the equation thus solidifying the totalitarian regime by taking what were once human beings who lived lives at odds with the belief that everything is or should be possible; turning human beings into “marionettes with human faces” (586).

                Arendt believed that the concentration and extermination camps were the most essential institution of a totalitarian regime because they solidified the regimes power by removing the single biggest threat to its existence—the spontaneity of individuals; transforming human nature itself proving that everything is possible, even crimes “which man can neither punish nor forgive. (591).”

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