kortina.nyc / notes
30 Dec 2020 | by kortina

Arendt // Origins of Totalitarianism

I think maybe I first read this just after graduating college (if ever), but it felt like a timely moment to (re)read this text – and it was. I’ve always been fascinated how Germany / Austria devolved so quickly from what you might argue was the pinnacle of the Enlightenment into a totalitarian regime perpetrating genocide. A chilling reminder that “this can happen here…”

Notes and quotes:

The road to hell may be just as well paved with no intentions…

It has often been said that the British acquired their empire in a lit of absent-mindedness, as consequence of automatic trends, yielding to what seemed possible and what was tempting, rather than as a result of deliberate policy. If this is true, then the road to hell may just as well be paved with no intentions as with the proverbial good ones. And the objective facts that invite a return to imperialist policies are indeed so strong today that one is inclined to believe at least in the half-truth of the statement, the hollow assurances of good intentions on both sides-American “commitments” to the nonviable status quo of corruption and incompetence on one side, Russian pseudo-revolutionary talk about wars of national liberation on the other-notwithstanding. The processes of nation-building in backward areas where lack of all prerequisites for national independence is in exact proportion to a rampant, sterile chauvinism have resulted in enormous power vacuums, for which the competition between the superpowers is all the fiercer, as with the development of nuclear weapons a direct confrontation of their means of violence as a last resort to “solve” all conflicts seems to be definitely ruled out. Not only does every conflict between the small, undeveloped countries in these vast areas, be it a civil war in Vietnam or a national conflict in the Middle East, immediately attract the potential or actual intervention of the superpowers, but their very conflicts, or at least the timing of their outbreaks, are suspect of having been manipulated or directly caused by interests and maneuvers that have nothing whatsoever to do with the conflicts and interests at stake in the region itself. Nothing was so characteristic of power politics in the imperialist era than this shift from localized, limited and therefore predictable goals of national interest to the limitless pursuit of power after power that could roam and lay waste the whole globe with no certain nationally and territorially prescribed purpose and hence with no predictable direction. This backsliding has become apparent also on the ideological level, for the famous domino-theory, according to which American foreign policy feels committed to wage war in one country for the sake of the integrity of others that are not even its neighbors, is clearly but a new version of the old “Great Game” whose rules permitted and even dictated the consideration of whole nations as stepping-stones, or as pawns, in today’s terminology, for the riches and the rule over a third country, which in turn became a mere stepping-stone in the unending process of power expansion and accumulation. It was this chain reaction, inherent in imperialist power politics and best represented on the human level by the figure of the secret agent, of which Kipling said (in Kim), “When every one is dead the Great Game is finished. Not before.”

An interesting sort of admission that power dynamics are are form of structure, and what is worse is wealth that remains “aloof” – the generous read of this is not necessarily an apology for power, but a condemnation of power without accepting the responsibility that it entails:

Persecution of powerless or power-losing groups may not be a very pleasant spectacle, but it does not spring from human meanness alone. What makes men obey or tolerate real power and, on the other hand, hate people who have wealth without power, is the rational instinct that power has a certain function and is of some general use. Even exploitation and oppression still make society work and establish some kind of order. Only wealth without power or aloofness without a policy are felt to be parasitical, useless, revolting, because such conditions cut all the threads which tie men together. Wealth which does not exploit lacks even the relationship which exists between exploiter and exploited; aloofness without policy does not imply even the minimum concern of the oppressor for the oppressed.

All the déclassés of capitalist society were finally ready to unite and establish mob organizations of their own ; their propaganda and their attraction rested on the assumption that a society which had shown its willingness to incorporate crime in the form of vice into its very structure would by now be ready to cleanse itself of viciousness by openly admitting criminals and by publicly committing crimes.

This is a crucial bit, esp the note about absolving the individual of responsibility:

It is significant that modern believers in power are in complete accord with the philosophy of the only great thinker who ever attempted to derive public good from private interest and who, for the sake of private good, conceived and outlined a Commonwealth whose basis and ultimate end is accumulation of power. Hobbes, indeed, is the only great philosopher to whom the bourgeoisie can rightly and exclusively lay claim, even if his principles were not recognized by the bourgeois class for a long time. Hobbes’s Leviathan exposed the only political theory according to which the state is based not on some kind of constituting law–whether divine law, the law of nature, or the law of social contract–which determines the rights and wrongs of the individual’s interest with respect to public affairs, but on the individual interests themselves, so that “the private interest is the same with the publique.” There is hardly a single bourgeois moral standard which has not been anticipated by the unequaled magnificence of Hobbes’s logic. He gives an almost complete picture, not of Man but of the bourgeois man, an analysis which in three hundred years has neither been outdated nor excelled. “Reason . . . is nothing but Reckoning”; “a free Subject, a free Will . . . [are] words . . . without meaning; that is to say, Absurd.” A being without reason, without the capacity for truth, and without free will–that is, without the capacity for responsibility–man is essentially a function of society and judged therefore according to his “value or worth . . . his price; that is to say so much as would be given for the use of his power. This price is constantly evaluated and re-evaluated by society, the “esteem of others,” depending upon the law of supply and demand. Power, according to Hobbes, is the accumulated control that permits the individual to fix prices and regulate supply and demand in such a way that they contribute to his own advantage. The individual will consider his advantage in complete isolation, from the point of view of an absolute minority, so to speak; he will then realize that he can pursue and achieve his interest only with the help of some kind of majority. Therefore, if man is actually driven by nothing but his individual interests, desire for power must be the fundamental passion of man. It regulates the relations between individual and society, and all other ambitions as well, for riches, knowledge, and honor follow from it. All quotes in the following if not annotated are from the Leviathan. The coincidence of this identification with the totalitarian pretense of having abolished the contradictions between individual and public interests is significant enough (see chapter xii). However, one should not overlook the fact that Hobbes wanted most of all to protect private interests by pretending that, rightly understood, they were the interests of the body politic as well, while on the contrary totalitarian regimes proclaim the nonexistence of privacy.

Hobbes points out that in the struggle for power, as in their native capacities for power, all men are equal; for the equality of men is based on the fact that each has by nature enough power to kill another. Weakness can be compensated for by guile. Their equality as potential murderers places all men in the same insecurity, from which arises the need for a state. The raison d’étre of the state is the need for some security of the individual, who feels himself menaced by all his fellow-men. The crucial feature in Hobbes’s picture of man is not at all the realistic pessimism for which it has been praised in recent times. For if it were true that man is a being such as Hobbes would have him, he would be unable to found any body politic at all. Hobbes, indeed, does not succeed, and does not even want to succeed, in incorporating this being definitely into a political community. Hobbes’s Man owes no loyalty to his country if it has been defeated and he is excused for every treachery if he happens to be taken prisoner. Those who live outside the Commonwealth (for instance, slaves) have no further obligation toward their fellow-men but are permitted to kill as many as they can; while, on the contrary, “to resist the Sword of the Commonwealth in defence of another man, guilty or innocent, no man hath Liberty,” which means that there is neither fellowship nor responsibility between man and man. What holds them together is a common interest which may be “some Capitall crime, for which every one of them expecteth death; in this case they have the right to “resist the Sword of the Commonwealth, to “joyn together, and assist, and defend one another. . . . For they but defend their 1ives.” Thus membership in any form of community is for Hobbes a temporary and limited affair which essentially does not change the solitary and private character of the individual (who has “no pleasure, but on the contrary a great deale of griefe in keeping company, where there is no power to over- awe them all”) or create permanent bonds between him and his fellow-men. It seems as though Hobbes’s picture of man defeats his purpose of providing the basis for a Commonwealth and gives instead a consistent pattern of attitudes through which every genuine community can easily be destroyed. This results in the inherent and admitted instability of Hobbes’s Commonwealth, whose very conception includes its own dissolution–“when in a warre (forraign, or intestine,) the enemies get a final Victory . . . then is the Commonwealth dissolved, and every man at liberty to protect himselfe”–an instability that is all the more striking as Hobbes’s primary and frequently repeated aim was to secure a maximum of safety and stability. It would be a grave injustice to Hobbes and his dignity as a philosopher to consider this picture of man an attempt at psychological realism or philosophical truth. The fact is that Hobbes is interested in neither, but concerned exclusively with the political structure itself, and he depicts the features of man according to the needs of the Leviathan. For argument’s and conviction’s sake, he presents his political outline as though he started from a realistic insight into man, a being that “desires power after power,” and as though he proceeded from this insight to a plan for a body politic best fitted for this power-thirsty animal. The actual process, i.e., the only process in which his concept of man makes sense and goes beyond the obvious banality of an assumed human wickedness, is precisely the opposite. This new body politic was conceived for the benefit of the new bourgeois society as it emerged in the seventeenth century and this picture of man is a sketch for the new type of Man who would fit into it. The Commonwealth is based on the delegation of power, and not of rights. It acquires a monopoly on killing and provides in exchange a conditional guarantee against being killed. Security is provided by the law, which is a direct emanation from the power monopoly of the state (and is not established by man according to human standards of right and wrong). And as this law flows directly from absolute power, it represents absolute necessity in the eyes of the individual who lives under it. In regard to the law of the state–that is, the accumulated power of society as monopolized by the state–there is no question of right or wrong, but only absolute obedience, the blind conformism of bourgeois Deprived of political rights, the individual, to whom public and official life manifests itself in the guise of necessity, acquires a new and increased interest in his private life and his personal fate. Excluded from participation in the management of public affairs that involve all citizens, the individual loses his rightful place in society and his natural connection with his fellow-men. He can now judge his individual private life only by comparing it with that of others, and his relations with his fellow-men inside society take the form of competition. Once public affairs are regulated by the state under the guise of necessity, the social or public careers of the competitors come under the sway of chance. In a society of individuals, all equipped by nature with equal capacity for power and equally protected from one another by the state, only chance can decide who will succeed. According to bourgeois standards, those who are completely unlucky and unsuccessful are automatically barred from competition, which is the life of society. Good fortune is identified with honor, and bad luck with shame. By assigning his political rights to the state the individual also delegates his social responsibilities to it: he asks the state to relieve him of the burden of caring for the poor precisely as he asks for protection against criminals. The difference between pauper and criminal disappears–both stand outside society. The unsuccessful are robbed of the virtue that classical civilization left them; the unfortunate can no longer appeal to Christian charity. Hobbes liberates those who are excluded from society–the unsuccessful, the unfortunate, the criminal–from every obligation toward society and state if the state does not take care of them. They may give free rein to their desire for power and are told to take advantage of their elemental ability to kill, thus restoring that natural equality which society conceals only for the sake of expediency. Hobbes foresees and justifies the social outcasts’ organization into a gang of murderers as a logical outcome of the bourgeoisie’s moral philosophy. Since power is essentially only a means to an end a community based solely on power must decay in the calm of order and stability; its complete security reveals that it is built on sand. Only by acquiring more power can it guarantee the status quo; only by constantly extending its authority and only through the process of power accumulation can it remain stable. Hobbes’s Commonwealth is a vacillating structure and must always provide itself with new props from the outside; otherwise it would collapse overnight into the aimless, senseless chaos of the private interests from which it sprang. Hobbes embodies the necessity of power accumulation in the theory of the state of nature, the “condition of perpetual war” of all against all, in which the various single states still remain vis-ia-vis each other like their individual subjects before they submitted to the authority of a Commonwealth.” This ever-present possibility of war guarantees the Commonwealth a prospect of permanence because it makes it possible for the state to increase its power at the expense of other states. It would be erroneous to take at its face value the obvious inconsistency between Hobbes’s plea for security of the individual and the inherent instability of his Commonwealth. Here again he tries to persuade, to appeal to certain basic instincts for security which he knew well enough could survive in the subjects of the Leviathan only in the form of absolute submission to the power which “over-awes them all, that is, in an all-pervading, overwhelming fear–not exactly the basic sentiment of a safe man. What Hobbes actually starts from is an unmatched insight into the political needs of the new social body of the rising bourgeoisie, whose fundamental belief in an unending process of property accumulation was about to eliminate all individual safety. Hobbes drew the necessary conclusions from social and economic behavior patterns when he proposed his revolutionary changes in political constitution. He outlined the only new body politic which could correspond to the new needs and interests of a new class. What he actually achieved was a picture of man as he ought to become and ought to behave if he wanted to lit into the coming bourgeois society. Hobbes’s insistence on power as the motor of all things human and divine (even God’s reign over men is “derived not from Creating them . . . but from the Irresistible Power”) sprang’ from the theoretically indisputable proposition t.l1at a never-ending accumulation of property must be based on a never-ending accumulation of power. The philosophical correlative of the inherent instability of a community founded on power is the image of an endless process of history which, in order to be consistent with the constant growth of power, inexorably catches up with individuals, peoples, and finally all mankind. The limitless process of capital accumulation needs the political structure of so “unlimited a Power that it can protect growing property by constantly growing more powerful. Granted the fundamental dynamism of the new social class, it is perfectly true that “he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath at present, without the acquisition of more.” The consistency of this conclusion is in no way altered by the remarkable fact that for some three hundred years there was neither a sovereign who would “convert this Truth of Speculation into the Utility of Practice,” nor a bourgeoisie politically conscious and economically mature enough openly to adopt Hobbes’s philosophy of power. This process of never-ending accumulation of power necessary for the protection of a never-ending accumulation of capital determined the “progressive ideology of the late nineteenth century and foreshadowed the rise of imperialism. Not the naive delusion of a limitless growth of property, but the realization that power accumulation was the only guarantee for the stability of so-called economic laws, made progress irresistible. The eighteenth-century notion of progress, as conceived in pre-revolutionary France, intended criticism of the past to be a means of mastering the present and controlling the future; progress culminated in the emancipation of man. But this notion had little to do with the endless progress of bourgeois society, which not only did not want the liberty and autonomy of man, but was ready to sacrifice everything and everybody to supposedly superhuman laws of history. “What we call progress is [the] wind . . . [that] drives [the angel of history] irresistibly into the future to which he turns his back while the pile of ruins before him towers to the skies. Only in Marx’s dream of a classless society which, in Joyce’s words, was to awaken mankind from the nightmare of history, does a last, though utopian, trace of the eighteenth-century concept appear.

The imperialist-minded businessman, whom the stars annoyed because he could not annex them, realized that power organized for its own sake would beget more power. When the accumulation of capital had reached its natural, national limits, the bourgeoisie understood that only with an “expansion is everything” ideology, and only with a corresponding power-accumulating process, would it be possible to set the old motor into motion again. At the same moment, however, when it seemed as though the true principle of perpetual motion had been discovered, the specifically optimistic mood of the progress ideology was shaken. Not that anybody began to doubt the irresistibility of the process itself, but many people began to see what had frightened Cecil Rhodes: that the human condition and the limitations of the globe were a serious obstacle to a process that was unable to stop and to stabilize, and could therefore only begin a series of destructive catastrophes once it had reached these limits. In the imperialistic epoch a philosophy of power became the philosophy of the elite, who quickly discovered and were quite ready to admit that the thirst for power could be quenched only through destruction. This was the essential cause of their nihilism (especially conspicuous in France at the tum, and in Germany in the twenties, of this century) which replaced the superstition of progress with the equally vulgar superstition of doom, and preached automatic annihilation with the same enthusiasm that the fanatics of automatic progress had preached the irresistibility of economic laws. It had taken Hobbes, the great idolator of Success, three centuries to succeed. This was partly because the French Revolution, with its conception of man as lawmaker and ciloyen, had almost succeeded in preventing the bourgeoisie from fully developing its notion of history as a necessary process. But it was also partly because of the revolutionary implications of the Commonwealth, its fearless breach with Western tradition, which Hobbes did not fail to point out. Every man and every thought which does not serve and does not conform to the ultimate purpose of a machine whose only purpose is the generation and accumulation of power is a dangerous nuisance. Hobbes judged that the books of the “ancient Greeks and Romans” were as “prejudicial” as the teaching of a Christian “Summum bonum . _ . as [it] is spoken of in the Books of the old Morall Philosophers or the doctrine that “whatsoever a man does against his Conscience, is Sinne” and that “Lawes are the Rules of Just and Unjust.” Hobbes’s deep distrust of the whole Western tradition of political thought will not surprise us if we remember that he wanted nothing more nor less than the justification of Tyranny which, though it has occurred many times in Western history, has never been honored with a philosophical foundation. That the Leviathan actually amounts to a permanent government of tyranny, Hobbes is proud to admit….

….. The presently popular liberal notion of a World Government is based, like all liberal notions of political power, on the same concept of individuals submitting to a central authority which “overawes them all,” except that nations are now taking the place of individuals. The World Government is to overcome and eliminate authentic politics, that is, different peoples getting along with each other in the full force of their power.

The elevation of chance to the position of final arbiter over the whole of life was to reach its full development in the nineteenth century. With it came a new genre of literature, the novel, and the decline of the drama. For the drama became meaningless in a world without action, while the novel could deal adequately with the destinies of human beings who were either the victims of necessity or the favorites of luck. Balzac showed the full range of the new genre and even presented human passions as man’s fate, containing neither virtue nor vice, neither reason nor free will. Only the novel in its full maturity, having interpreted and re-interpreted the entire scale of human matters, could preach the new gospel of infatuation with one‘s own fate that has played such a great role among nineteenth-century intellectuals. By means of such infatuation the artist and intellectual tried to draw a line between themselves and the philistines, to protect themselves against the inhumanity of good or bad luck, and they developed all the gifts of modem sensitivity–for suffering, for understanding, for playing a prescribed role–which are so desperately needed by human dignity, which demands of a man that he at least be a willing victim if nothing else.

On tribalism, nationalism, and tribal nationalism:

Politically speaking, tribal nationalism always insists that its own people is surrounded by “a world of enemies,” “one against all, that a fundamental difference exists between this people and all others. It claims its people to be unique, individual, incompatible with all others, and denies theoretically the very possibility of a common mankind long before it is used to destroy the humanity of man. 1: Tribal Nationalism JUST AS continental imperialism sprang from the frustrated ambitions of countries which did not get their share in the sudden expansion of the eighties, so tribalism appeared as the nationalism of those peoples who had not participated in national emancipation and had not achieved the sov- ereignty of a nation-state. Wherever the two frustrations were combined, as in multinational Austria-Hungary and Russia, the pan-movements naturally found their most fertile soil.


Tribal nationalism, the driving force behind continental imperialism, had little in common with the nationalism of the fully developed Western nation- state. The nation-state, with its claim to popular representation and national sovereignty, as it had developed since the French Revolution through the nineteenth century, was the result of a combination of two factors that were still separate in the eighteenth century and remained separate in Russia and Austria-Hungary: nationality and state. Nations entered the scene of history and were emancipated when peoples had acquired a consciousness of them- selves as cultural and historical entities, and of their territory as a permanent home, where history had left its visible traces, whose cultivation was the product of the common labor of their ancestors and whose future would de- pend upon the course of a common civilization. Wherever nation-states came into being, migrations came to an end, while, on the other hand, in the Eastern and Southern European regions the establishment of nation-states failed because they could not fall back upon firmly rooted peasant classes.” Sociologically the nation-state was the body politic of the European emancipated peasant classes, and this is the reason why national armies could keep their permanent position within these states only up to the end of the last century, that is, only as long as they were truly representative of the rural class. “The Army, as Marx has pointed out, “was the ‘point of honor’ with the allotment farmers: it was themselves turned into masters, defending abroad their newly established property …. The uniform was their state costume, war was their poetry; the allotment was the fatherland, and patriot- ism became the ideal form of property.”


While consciousness of nationality is a comparatively recent development, the structure of the state was derived from centuries of monarchy and enlightened despotism. Whether in the form of a new republic or of a reformed constitutional monarchy, the state inherited as its supreme function the protection of all inhabitants in its territory no matter what their nationality, and was supposed to act as a supreme legal institution. The tragedy of the nation-state was that the people‘s rising national consciousness interfered with these functions. In the name of the will of the people the state was forced to recognize only “nationals” as citizens, to grant full civil and political rights only to those who belonged to the national community by right of origin and fact of birth. This meant that the state was partly transformed from an instrument of the law into an instrument of the nation. The conquest of the state by the nation was greatly facilitated by the downfall of the absolute monarchy and the subsequent new development of classes. The absolute monarch was supposed to serve the interests of the nation as a whole, to be the visible exponent and proof of the existence of such a common interest. The enlightened despotism was based on Rohan‘s “kings command the peoples and interest commands the king; “with the abolition of the king and sovereignty of the people, this common interest was in constant danger of being replaced by a permanent conflict among class interests and struggle for control of the state machinery, that is, by a permanent civil war. The only remaining bond between the citizens of a nation-state without a monarch to symbolize their essential community, seemed to be national, that is, common origin. So that in a century when every class and section in the population was dominated by class or group interest, the interest of the nation as a whole was supposedly guaranteed in a common origin, which sentimentally expressed itself in nationalism. The secret conflict between state and nation came to light at the very birth of the modern nation-state, when the French Revolution combined the declaration of the Rights of Man with the demand for national sovereignty. The same essential rights were at once claimed as the inalienable heritage of all human beings and as the specific heritage of specific nations, the same nation was at once declared to be subject to laws, which supposedly would flow from the Rights of Man, and sovereign, that is, bound by no universal law and acknowledging nothing superior to itself.” The practical outcome of this contradiction was that from then on human rights were protected and enforced only as national rights and that the very institution of a state, whose supreme task was to protect and guarantee man his rights as man, as citizen.


Only in Austria did the revolutionary impetus find its natural outlet in the pan-movements. The (not very ably carried out) device of divide et impera did little to diminish the centrifugal tendencies of national sentiments, but it succeeded quite well in inducing superiority complexes and a general mood of disloyalty. Hostility to the state as an institution runs through the theories of all pan-movements. The Slavophiles’ opposition to the state has been rightly described as entirely different from anything to be found in the system of official nationalism; the state by its very nature was held to be alien to the people. Slav superiority was felt to lie in the Russian people’s indifference to the state, in their keeping themselves as a corpus separatum from their own government. This is what the Slavophiles meant when they called the Russians a “stateless people” and this made it possible for these “liberals” to reconcile themselves to despotism; it was in accord with the demand of despotism that the people not “interfere with state power,” that is, with the absoluteness of that power. The Pan-Germans, who were more articulate politically, always insisted on the priority of national over state interest and usually argued that “world politics transcends the framework of the state,” that the only permanent factor in the course of history was the people and not states; and that therefore national needs, changing with circumstances, should determine, at all times, the political acts of the state.

“through sheer violence an underprivileged group could create a class lower than itself, that for this purpose it did not even need a revolution but could band together with groups of the ruling classes, and that foreign or backward peoples offered the best opportunities for such illusion that the historical process is necessarily “progressive,”:

Less immediately significant but of greater importance for totalitarian govemments was the other experience in Africa’s race society, that profit motives are not ‘holy and can be overruled, that societies can function ac- cording to principles other than economic, and that such circumstances may favor those who under conditions of rationalized production and the capital- ist system would belong to the underprivileged. South Africa’s race society taught the mob the great lesson of which it had always had a confused premonition, that through sheer violence an underprivileged group could create a class lower than itself, that for this purpose it did not even need a revolution but could band together with groups of the ruling classes, and that foreign or backward peoples offered the best opportunities for such illusion that the historical process is necessarily “progressive,” for if it was the course of older colonization to trek to something, the “Dutchman trekked away from everything,” °“ and if “economic history once taught that man had developed by gradual steps from a life of hunting to pastoral pursuits and finally to a settled and agricultural life,” the story of the Boers clearly demonstrated that one could also come “from a land that had taken the lead in a thrifty and intensive cultivation . . . [and] gradually become a herds- man and a hunter.” These leaders understood very well that precisely because the Boers had sunk back to the level of savage tribes they remained their undisputed masters. They were perfectly willing to pay the price, to recede to the level of a race organization, if by so doing they could buy lordship over other “races.” And they knew from their experiences with people gathered from the four comers of the earth in South Africa that the whole mob of the Western civilized world would be with them.

The full impact of the African experience was first realized by leaders of the mob, like Carl Peters, who decided that they too had to belong to a master race. African colonial possessions became the most fertile soil for the flowering of what later was to become the Nazi elite. Here they had seen with their own eyes how peoples could be converted into races and how, simply by taking the initiative in this process, one might push one’s own people into the position of the master race. Here they were cured of the 57 More than 100,000 lndian coolies were imported to the sugar plantations of Natal in the nineteenth century. These were followed by Chinese laborers in the mines who numbered about 55,000 in 1907. In 1910, the British government ordered the repatria- tion of all Chinese mine laborers, and in 1913 it prohibited any further immigration from India or any other part of Asia. In 1931, 142,000 Asiatics were still in the Union and treated like African natives. (See also Schultze, ap. cit.)

The challenge of defining what is right…

A conception of law which identifies what is right with the notion of what is good for–for the individual, or the family, or the people, or the largest number–becomes inevitable once the absolute and transcendent measurements of religion or the law of nature have lost their authority. And this predicament is by no means solved if the unit to which the “good for applies is as large as mankind itself. For it is quite conceivable, and even within the realm of practical political possibilities, that one fine day a highly organized and mechanized humanity will conclude quite democratically–namely by majority decision–that for humanity as a whole it would be better to liquidate certain parts thereof. Here, in the problems of factual reality, we are confronted with one of the oldest perplexities of political philosophy, which could remain undetected only so long-as a stable Christian theology provided the framework for all political and philosophical problems, but which long ago caused Plato to say: “Not man, but a god, must be the measure of all things.”


Since the Greeks, we have known that highly developed political life breeds a deep-rooted suspicion of this private sphere, a deep resentment against the disturbing miracle contained in the fact that each of us is made as he is–single, unique, unchangeable. This whole sphere of the merely given, relegated to private life in civilized society, is a permanent threat to the public sphere, because the public sphere is as consistently based on the law of equality as the private sphere is based on the law of universal difference and differentiation. Equality, in contrast to all that is involved in mere existence, is not given us, but is the result of human organization insofar as it is guided by the principle of justice. We are not born equal; we become equal as members of a group on the strength of our decision to guarantee ourselves mutually equal rights. Our political life rests on the assumption that we can produce equality through organization, because man can act in and change and build a common world, together with his equals and only with his equals. The dark background of mere givenness, the background formed by our unchangeable and unique nature, breaks into the political scene as the alien which in its all too obvious difference reminds us of the limitations of human activity–which are identical with the limitations of human equality.

There is a certain attractiveness to viewing yourself as a cog in a machine – because it absolves you of responsibility:

War, with its constant murderous arbitrariness, became the symbol for death, the “great equalizer” and therefore the true father of a new world order. The passion for equality and justice, the longing to transcend narrow and meaningless class lines, to abandon stupid privileges and prejudices, seemed to find in war a way out of the old condescending attitudes of pity for the oppressed and disinherited. In times of growing misery and individual helplessness, it seems as difficult to resist pity when it grows into an all-devouring passion as it is not to resent its very boundlessness, which seems to kill human dignity with a more deadly certainty than misery itself. In the early years of his career, when a restoration of the European status quo was still the most serious threat to the ambitions of the mob, Hitler appealed almost exclusively to these sentiments of the front generation. The peculiar selflessness of the mass man appeared here as yearning for anonymity, for being just a number and functioning only as a cog, for every trans- formation, in brief, which would wipe out the spurious identifications with specific types or predetermined functions within society. War had been experienced as that “mightiest of all mass actions” which obliterated individual differences so that even suffering, which traditionally had marked off individuals through unique unexchangeable destinies, could now be interpreted as “an instrument of historical progress.”

It was no longer a matter of calculated policy which saw in terrorist acts the only means to eliminate certain outstanding personalities who, because of their policies or position, had become the symbol of oppression. What proved so attractive was that terrorism had become a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment, and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism which used bombs to express oneself, which watched delightedly the publicity given to resounding deeds and was absolutely willing to pay the price of life for having succeeded in forcing the recognition of one’s existence on the normal strata of society. It was still the same spirit and the same game which made Goebbels, long before the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany, announce with obvious delight that the Nazis, in case of defeat, would know how to slam the door behind them and not to be forgotten for centuries. Yet it is here if anywhere that a valid criterion may be found for distinguishing the elite from the mob in the pre-totalitarian atmosphere. What the mob wanted, and what Goebbels expressed with great precision, was access to history even at the price of destruction. Goebbels’ sincere conviction that “the greatest happiness that a contemporary can experience today is either to be a genius or to serve one,” was typical of the mob but neither of the masses nor the sympathizing elite. The latter, on the contrary, took anonymity seriously to the point of seriously denying the existence of genius; all the art theories of the twenties tried desperately to prove that the excellent is the product of skill, craftsmanship, logic, and the realization of the potentialities of the material. The mob, and not the elite, was charmed by the “radiant power of fame” (Stefan Zweig) and accepted enthusiastically the genius idolatry of the late bourgeois world. In this the mob of the twentieth century followed faithfully the pattern of earlier parvenus who also had discovered the fact that bourgeois society would rather open its doors to the fascinating “abnormal,” the genius, the homosexual, or the Jew, than to simple merit. The elite‘s contempt for the genius and its yearning for anonymity was still witness of a spirit which neither the masses nor the mob were in a position to understand, and which, in the words of Robespierre, strove to assert the grandeur of man against the pettiness of the great. This difference between the elite and the mob notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the elite was pleased whenever the underworld frightened respectable society into accepting it on an equal footing. The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it. They were not particularly outraged at the monstrous forgeries in historiography of which all totalitarian regimes are guilty and which announce themselves clearly enough in totalitarian propaganda. They had convinced themselves that traditional historiography was a forgery.

Himmler took advantage of “single-minded devotion to matters of family and career” and organized a populace who viewed themselves “first and foremost job holders and good family men” into the perpetrators of “the greatest mass crimes ever committed in history.”

The truth was that the transformation of classes into masses and the breakdown of the prestige and authority of political institutions had brought to Western European countries conditions which resembled those prevalent in Russia, so that it was no accident that their revolutionaries also began to take on the typically Russian revolutionary fanaticism which looked forward, not to change in social or political conditions, but to the radical destruction of every existing creed, value, and institution. The mob merely took advantage of this new mood and brought about a short-lived alliance of revolutionaries and criminals, which also had been present in many revolutionary sects in Czarist Russia but conspicuously absent from the European scene. The disturbing alliance between the mob and the elite, and the curious coincidence of their aspirations, had their origin in the fact that these strata had been the first to be eliminated from the structure of the nation-state and the framework of class society. They found each other so easily, if only temporarily, because they both sensed that they represented the fate of the time, that they were followed by unending masses, that sooner or later the majority of European peoples might be with them–as they thought, ready to make their revolution. It turned out that they were both mistaken. The mob, the underworld of the bourgeois class, hoped that the helpless masses would help them into power, would support them when they attempted to forward their private interests, that they would be able simply to replace the older strata of bourgeois society and to instill into it the more enterprising spirit of the underworld. Yet totalitarianism in power learned quickly that enterprising spirit was not restricted to the mob strata of the population and that, in any event, such initiative could only be a threat to the total domination of man. Absence of scruple, on the other hand, was not restricted to the mob either and, in any event, could be taught in a relatively short time. For the ruthless machines of domination and extermination, the masses of coordinated philistines provided much better material and were capable of even greater crimes than so-called professional criminals, provided only that these crimes were well organized and assumed the appearance of routine jobs. It is not fortuitous, then, that the few protests against the Nazis’ mass atrocities against the Jews and Eastern European peoples were voiced not by the military men nor by any other part of the coordinated masses of respectable philistines, but precisely by those early comrades of Hitler who were typical representatives of the mob. Nor was Himmler, the most powerful man in Germany after 1936, one of those “armed bohemians” (Heiden) whose features were distressingly similar to those of the intellectual elite. Himmler was himself “more normal,” that is, more of a philistine, than any of the original leaders of the Nazi movement.” He was not a bohemian like Goebbels, or a sex criminal like Streicher, or a crackpot like Rosenberg, or a fanatic like Hitler, or an adventurer like Goring. He proved his supreme ability for organizing the masses into total domination by assuming that most people are neither bohemians, fanatics, adventurers, sex maniacs, crackpots, nor social failures, but first and foremost job holders and good family men. The philistine’s retirement into private life, his single-minded devotion to matters of family and career was the last, and already degenerated, product of the bourgeoisie’s belief in the primacy of private interest. The philistine is the bourgeois isolated from his own class, the atomized individual who is produced by the breakdown of the bourgeois class itself. The mass man whom Himmler organized for the greatest mass crimes ever committed in history bore the features of the philistine rather than of the mob man, and was the bourgeois who in the midst of the ruins of his world worried about nothing so much as his private security, was ready to sacrifice everything–belief, honor, dignity–on the slightest provocation. Nothing proved easier to destroy than the privacy and private morality of people who thought of nothing but safeguarding their private lives.

The mixture of propaganda, gullibility, and cynicism here described is deeply concerning (because it sounds so apt today in the US):

The chief value, however, of the secret or conspiratory societies’ organizational structure and moral standards for purposes of mass organization does not even lie in the inherent guarantees of unconditional belonging and loyalty, and organizational manifestation of unquestioned hostility to the outside world, but in their unsurpassed capacity to establish and safeguard the fictitious world through consistent lying. The whole hierarchical structure of totalitarian movements, from naive fellow-travelers to party members, elite formations, the intimate circle around the Leader, and the Leader himself, could be described in terms of a curiously varying mixture of gullibility and cynicism with which each member, depending upon his rank and standing in the movement, is expected to react to the changing lying statements of the leaders and the central unchanging ideological fiction of the movement.

A mixture of gullibility and cynicism had been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality before it became an everyday phenomenon of masses. In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. The mixture itself was remarkable enough, because it spelled the end of the illusion that gullibility was a weakness of unsuspecting primitive souls and cynicism the vice of superior and refined minds. Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.

What had been a demonstrable reaction of mass audiences became an important hierarchical principle for mass organizations. A mixture of gullibility and cynicism is prevalent in all ranks of totalitarian movements, and the higher the rank the more cynicism weighs down gullibility. The essential conviction shared by all ranks, from fellow-traveler to leader, is that politics is a game of cheating and that the “first commandment” of the movement: “The Fuehrer is always right,” is as necessary for the purposes of world politics, i.e., world-wide cheating, as the rules of military discipline are for the purposes of war.

The machine that generates, organizes, and spreads the monstrous falsehoods of totalitarian movements depends again upon the position of the Leader. To the propaganda assertion that all happenings are scientifically predictable according to the laws of nature or economics, totalitarian organization adds the position of one man who has monopolized this knowledge and whose principal quality is that he “was always right and will always be right.” To a member of a totalitarian movement this knowledge has nothing to do with truth and this being right nothing to do with the objective truthfulness of the Leader’s statements which cannot be disproved by facts, but only by future success or failure. The Leader is always right in his actions and since these are planned for centuries to come, the ultimate test of what he does has been removed beyond the experience of his contemporaries.

The only group supposed to believe loyally and textually in the Leader’s words are the sympathizers whose confidence surrounds the movement with an atmosphere of honesty and simple-mindedness, and helps the Leader to fulfill half his task, that is, to inspire confidence in the movement. The party members never believe public statements and are not supposed to, but are complimented by totalitarian propaganda on that superior intelligence which supposedly distinguishes them from the nontotalitarian outside world, which, in turn, they know only from the abnormal gullibility of sympathizers. Only Nazi sympathizers believed Hitler when he swore his famous legality oath before the supreme court of the Weimar Republic; members of the movement knew very well that he lied, and trusted him more than ever because he apparently was able to fool public opinion and the authorities. When in later years Hitler repeated the performance for the whole world, when he swore to his good intentions and at the same time most openly prepared his crimes, the admiration of the Nazi membership naturally was boundless. Similarly, only Bolshevik fellow-travelers believed in the dissolution of the Comintern, and only the nonorganized masses of the Russian people and the fellow-travelers abroad were meant to take at face value Stalin’s prodemocratic statements during the war. Bolshevik party members were explicitly warned not to be fooled by tactical maneuvers and were asked to admire their Leader’s shrewdness in betraying his allies.

Without the organizational division of the movement into elite formations, membership, and sympathizers, the lies of the Leader would not work.

Under totalitarian conditions, knowledge of the labyrinth of transmission belts equals supreme power, and every appointed successor who actually comes to know what is going on is automatically removed after a certain time. A valid and comparatively permanent appointment would indeed presuppose the existence of a clique whose members would share the Leader‘s monopoly of knowledge of what is going on, which the Leader must avoid by all means. Hitler once explained this in his own terms to the supreme commanders of the Wehrmacht, who in the midst of the turmoil of war were presumably racking their brains over this problem: “As the ultimate factor I must, in all modesty, name my own person: irreplaceable …. The destiny of the Reich depends on me alone.” There is no need to look for any irony in the word modesty; the totalitarian leader, in marked contrast to all former usurpers, despots and tyrants, seems to believe that the question of his succession is not overly important, that no special qualities or training are needed for the job, that the country will eventually obey anybody who happens to hold the appointment at the moment of his death, and that no power-thirsty rivals will dispute his legitimacy.” As techniques of government, the totalitarian devices appear simple and ingeniously effective. They assure not only an absolute power monopoly, but unparalleled certainty that all commands will always be carried out; the multiplicity of the transmission belts, the confusion of the hierarchy, secure the dictator’s complete independence of all his inferiors and make possible the swift and surprising changes in policy for which totalitarianism has become famous. The body politic of the country is shock-proof because of its shapelessness.

The reasons why such extraordinary efficiency was never tried before are as simple as the device itself. The multiplication of offices destroys all sense of responsibility and competence; it is not merely a tremendously burdensome and unproductive increase of administration, but actually hinders productivity because conflicting orders constantly delay real work until the order of the Leader has decided the matter. The fanaticism of the elite cadres, absolutely essential for the functioning of the movement, abolishes systematically all genuine interest in specific jobs and produces a mentality which sees every conceivable action as an instrument for something entirely different. And this mentality is not confined to the elite but gradually pervades the entire population, the most intimate details of whose life and death depend upon political decisions-that is, upon causes and ulterior motives which have nothing to do with performance. Constant removal, demotion, and promotion make reliable teamwork impossible and prevent the development of experience.

Under totalitarian conditions, knowledge of the labyrinth of transmission belts equals supreme power, and every appointed successor who actually comes to know what is going on is automatically removed after a certain time. A valid and comparatively permanent appointment would indeed presuppose the existence of a clique whose members would share the Leader‘s monopoly of knowledge of what is going on, which the Leader must avoid by all means. Hitler once explained this in his own terms to the supreme commanders of the Wehrmacht, who in the midst of the turmoil of war were presumably racking their brains over this problem: “As the ultimate factor I must, in all modesty, name my own person: irreplaceable …. The destiny of the Reich depends on me alone.” There is no need to look for any irony in the word modesty; the totalitarian leader, in marked contrast to all former usurpers, despots and tyrants, seems to believe that the question of his succession is not overly important, that no special qualities or training are needed for the job, that the country will eventually obey anybody who happens to hold the appointment at the moment of his death, and that no power-thirsty rivals will dispute his legitimacy.” As techniques of government, the totalitarian devices appear simple and ingeniously effective. They assure not only an absolute power monopoly, but unparalleled certainty that all commands will always be carried out; the multiplicity of the transmission belts, the confusion of the hierarchy, secure the dictator’s complete independence of all his inferiors and make possible the swift and surprising changes in policy for which totalitarianism has become famous. The body politic of the country is shock-proof because of its shapelessness.

The reasons why such extraordinary efficiency was never tried before are as simple as the device itself. The multiplication of offices destroys all sense of responsibility and competence; it is not merely a tremendously burdensome and unproductive increase of administration, but actually hinders productivity because conflicting orders constantly delay real work until the order of the Leader has decided the matter. The fanaticism of the elite cadres, absolutely essential for the functioning of the movement, abolishes systematically all genuine interest in specific jobs and produces a mentality which sees every conceivable action as an instrument for something entirely different. And this mentality is not confined to the elite but gradually pervades the entire population, the most intimate details of whose life and death depend upon political decisions-that is, upon causes and ulterior motives which have nothing to do with performance. Constant removal, demotion, and promotion make reliable teamwork impossible and prevent the development of experience.

There are no parallels to the life in the concentration camps. Its horror can never be fully embraced by the imagination for the very reason that it stands outside of life and death. It can never be fully reported for the very reason that the survivor returns to the world of the living, which makes it impossible for him to believe fully in his own past experiences. It is as though he had a story to tell of another planet, for the status of the inmates in the world of the living, where nobody is supposed to know if they are alive or dead, is such that it is as though they had never been born. Therefore all parallels create confusion and distract attention from what is essential. Forced labor in prisons and penal colonies, banishment, slavery, all seem for a moment to offer helpful comparisons, but on closer examination lead nowhere.

Forced labor as a punishment is limited as to time and intensity. The convict retains his rights over his body; he is not absolutely tortured and he is not absolutely dominated. Banishment banishes only from one part of the world to another part of the world, also inhabited by human beings; it does not exclude from the human world altogether. Throughout history slavery has been an institution within a social order; slaves were not, like concentration-camp inmates, withdrawn from the sight and hence the protection of their fellow-men; as instruments of labor they had a definite price and as property a definite value. The concentration-camp inmate has no price, because he can always be replaced; nobody knows to whom he belongs, because he is never seen. From the point of view of normal society he is absolutely superfluous, although in times of acute labor shortage, as in Russia and in Germany during the war, he is used for work.

The concentration camp as an institution was not established for the sake of any possible labor yield; the only permanent economic function of the camps has been the financing of their own supervisory apparatus; thus from the economic point of view the concentration camps exist mostly for their own sake. Any work that has been performed could have been done much better and more cheaply under different conditions. Especially Russia, whose concentration camps are mostly described as forced-labor camps because Soviet bureaucracy has chosen to dignify them with this name, reveals most clearly that forced labor is not the primary issue; forced labor is the normal condition of all Russian workers, who have no freedom of movement and can be arbitrarily drafted for work to any place at any time.

The incredibility of the horrors is closely bound up with their economic uselessness. The Nazis carried this uselessness to the point of open anti-utility when in the midst of the war, despite the shortage of building material and rolling stock, they set up enormous, costly extermination factories and transported millions of people back and forth. In the eyes of a strictly utilitarian world the obvious contradiction between these acts and military expediency gave the whole enterprise an air of mad unreality.

This atmosphere of madness and unreality, created by an apparent lack of purpose, is the real iron curtain which hides all forms of concentration camps from the eyes of the world. Seen from outside, they and the things that happen in them can be described only in images drawn from a life after death, that is, a life removed from earthly purposes. Concentration camps can very aptly be divided into three types corresponding to three basic Western conceptions of a life after death: Hades, Purgatory, and Hell. To Hades correspond those relatively mild forms, once popular even in nontotalitarian countries, for getting undesirable elements of all sorts—refugees, Stateless persons, the asocial and the unemployed—out of the way; as DP camps, which are nothing other than camps for persons who have become superfluous and bothersome, they have survived the war. Purgatory is represented by the Soviet Union’s labor camps, where neglect is combined with chaotic forced labor. Hell in the most literal sense was embodied by those types of camp perfected by the Nazis, in which the whole of life was thoroughly and systematically organized with a view to the greatest possible torment.

All three types have one thing in common: the human masses sealed off in them are treated as if they no longer existed, as if what happened to them were no longer of any interest to anybody, as if they were already dead and some evil spirit gone mad were amusing himself by stopping them for a while between life and death before admitting them to eternal peace.

It is not so much the barbed wire as the skillfully manufactured unreality of those whom it fences in that provokes such enormous cruelties and ultimately makes extermination look like a perfectly normal measure. Everything that was done in the camps is known to us from the world of perverse, malignant fantasies. The difficult thing to understand is that, like such fantasies, these gruesome crimes took place in a phantom world, which, however, has materialized, as it were, into a world which is complete with all sensual data of reality but lacks that structure of consequence and responsibility without which reality remains for us a mass of incomprehensible data. The result is that a place has been established where men can be tortured and slaughtered, and yet neither the tormentors nor the tormented, and least of all the outsider, can be aware that what is happening is anything more than a cruel game or an absurd dream.

Actually the experience of the concentration camps does show that human beings can be transformed into specimens of the human animal, and that man’s “nature” is only “human insofar as it opens up to man the possibility of becoming something highly unnatural, that is, a man. After murder of the moral person and annihilation of the juridical person, the destruction of the individuality is almost always successful. Conceivably some laws of mass psychology may be found to explain why millions of human beings allowed themselves to be marched unresistingly into the gas chambers, although these laws would explain nothing else but the destruction of individuality. It is more significant that those individually condemned to death very seldom attempted to take one of their executioners with them, that there were scarcely any serious revolts, and that even in the moment of liberation there were very few spontaneous massacres of SS men. For to destroy individuality is to destroy spontaneity, man’s power to begin something new out of his own resources, something that cannot be explained on the basis of reactions to environment and events. Nothing then remains but ghastly marionettes with human faces, which all behave like the dog in Pavlov’s experiments, which all react with perfect reliability even when going to their own death, and which do nothing but react. This is the real triumph of the system: “The triumph of the SS demands that the tortured victim allow himself to be led to the noose without protesting, that he renounce and abandon himself to the point of ceasing to affirm his identity. And it is not for nothing. It is not gratuitously, out of sheer sadism, that the SS men desire his defeat. They know that the system which succeeds in destroying its victim before he mounts the scaffold . . . is incomparably the best for keeping a whole people in slavery. In submission. Nothing is more terrible than these processions of human beings going like dummies to their death. The man who sees this says to himself: ‘For them to be thus reduced, what power must be concealed in the hands of the masters,’ and he turns away, full of bitterness but defeated.

Pavlov’s dog, the human specimen reduced to the most elementary reactions, the bundle of reactions that can always be liquidated and replaced by other bundles of reactions that behave in exactly the same way, is the model “citizen” of a totalitarian state; and such a citizen can be produced only imperfectly outside of the camps. The uselessness of the camps, their cynically admitted anti-utility, is only apparent. In reality they are more essential to the preservation of the regime’s power than any of its other institutions. Without concentration camps, without the undefined fear they inspire and the very well-defined training they offer in totalitarian domination, which can nowhere else be fully tested with all of its most radical possibilities, a totalitarian state can neither inspire its nuclear troops with fanaticism nor maintain a whole people in complete apathy. The dominating and the dominated would only too quickly sink back into the “old bourgeois routine”; after early excesses, they would succumb to everyday life with its human laws; in short, they would develop in the direction which all observers counseled by common sense were so prone to predict. The tragic fallacy of all these prophecies,‘ originating in a world that was still safe, was to suppose that there was such a thing as one human nature established for all time, to identify this human nature with history, and thus to declare that the idea of total domination was not only inhuman but also unrealistic. Meanwhile we have learned that the power of man is so great that he really can be what he wishes to be.

On “the tyranny of logicality” – this passage is one of the BEST in the book:

The purely negative coercion of logic, the prohibition of contradictions, became “productive” so that a whole line of thought could be initiated, and forced upon the mind, by drawing conclusions in the manner of mere argumentation. This argumentative process could be interrupted neither by a new idea (which would have been another premise with a different set of consequences) nor by a new experience. Ideologies always assume that one idea is sufficient to explain everything in the development from the premise, and that no experience can teach anything because everything is comprehended in this consistent process of logical deduction. The danger in exchanging the necessary insecurity of philosophical thought for the total explanation of an ideology and its Weltanschauung, is not even so much the risk of falling for some usually vulgar, always uncritical assumption as of exchanging the freedom inherent in man’s capacity to think for the strait jacket of logic with which man can force himself almost as violently as he is forced by some outside The Weltanschauungen and ideologies of the nineteenth century are not in themselves totalitarian, and although racism and communism have become the decisive ideologies of the twentieth century they were not, in principle, any “more totalitarian” than the others; it happened because the elements of experience on which they were originally based–the struggle between the races for world domination, and the struggle between the classes for political power in the respective countries–turned out to be politically more important than those of other ideologies. In this sense the ideological victory of racism and communism over all other isms was decided before the totalitarian movements took hold of precisely these ideologies. On the other hand, all ideologies contain totalitarian elements, but these are fully developed only by totalitarian movements, and this creates the deceptive impression that only racism and communism are totalitarian in character.

The truth is, rather, that the real nature of all ideologies was revealed only in the role that the ideology plays in the apparatus of totalitarian domination. Seen from this aspect, there appear three specifically totalitarian elements that are peculiar to all ideological thinking.

First, in their claim to total explanation, ideologies have the tendency to explain not what is, but what becomes, what is born and passes away. They are in all cases concerned solely with the element of motion, that is, with history in the customary sense of the word. Ideologies are always oriented toward history, even when, as in the case of racism, they seemingly proceed from the premise of nature; here, nature serves merely to explain historical matters and reduce them to matters of nature. The claim to total explanation promises to explain all historical happenings, the total explanation of the past, the total knowledge of the present, and the reliable prediction of the future.

Secondly, in this capacity ideological thinking becomes independent of all experience from which it cannot learn anything new even if it is a question of something that has just come to pass. Hence ideological thinking becomes emancipated from the reality that we perceive with our live senses, and insists on a “truer” reality concealed behind all perceptible things, dominating them from this place of concealment and requiring a sixth sense that enables us to become aware of it. The sixth sense is provided by precisely the ideology, that particular ideological indoctrination which is taught by the educational institutions, established exclusively for this purpose, to train the “political soldiers” in the Ordensburgen of the Nazis or the schools of the Comintern and the Cominform. The propaganda of the totalitarian movement also serves to emancipate thought from experience and reality; it always strives to inject a secret meaning into every public, tangible event and to suspect a secret intent behind every public political act. Once the movements have come to power, they proceed to change reality in accordance with their ideological claims. The concept of enmity is replaced by that of conspiracy, and this produces a mentality in which reality–real enmity or real friendship–is no longer experienced and understood in its own terms but is automatically assumed to signify something else.

Thirdly, since the ideologies have no power to transform reality, they achieve this emancipation of thought from experience through certain methods of demonstration. Ideological thinking orders facts into an absolutely logical procedure which starts from an axiomatically accepted premise, deducing everything else from it; that is, it proceeds with a consistency that exists nowhere in the realm of reality. The deducing may proceed logically or dialectically, in either case it involves a consistent process of argumentation which, because it thinks in terms of a process, is supposed to be able to comprehend the movement of the suprahuman, natural or historical processes. Comprehension is achieved by the mind’s imitating, either logically or dialectically, the laws of “scientifically” established movements with which through the process of imitation it becomes integrated. Ideological argumentation, always a kind of logical deduction, corresponds to the two aforementioned elements of the ideologies–the element of movement and of emancipation from reality and experience–first, because its thought movement does not spring from experience but is self-generated, and, secondly, because it transforms the one and only point that is taken and accepted from experienced reality into an axiomatic premise, leaving from then on the subsequent argumentation process completely untouched from any further experience. Once it has established its premise, its point of departure, experiences no longer interfere with ideological thinking, nor can it be taught by reality.

The device both totalitarian rulers used to transform their respective ideologies into weapons with which each of their subjects could force himself into step with the terror movement was deceptively simple and inconspicuous: they took them dead seriously, took pride the one in his supreme gift for “ice cold reasoning” (Hitler) and the other in the mercilessness of his dialectics, and proceeded to drive ideological implications into extremes of logical consistency which, to the onlooker, looked preposterously primitive and absurd: a dying class consisted of people condemned to death; races that are unfit to live were to be exterminated. Whoever agreed that are such things as dying classes and did not draw the consequence of killing their members, or that the right to live had something to do with race and did not draw the consequence of killing unfit races, was plainly either stupid or a coward. This stringent logicality as a guide to action permeates the whole structure of totalitarian movements and governments. It is exclusively the work of Hitler and Stalin who, although they did not add a single new thought to the ideas and propaganda slogans of their movements, for this reason alone must be considered ideologists of the greatest importance. What distinguished these new totalitarian ideologists from their predecessors was that it was no longer primarily the idea of the ideology–the struggle of classes and the exploitation of the workers or the struggle of races and the care for Germanic peoples–which appealed to them, but the logical process which could be developed from it. According to Stalin, neither the idea nor the oratory but “the irresistible force of logic thoroughly overpowered [Lenin’s] audience.” The power, which Marx thought was born when the idea seized the masses, was discovered to reside, not in the idea itself, but in its logical process which “like a mighty tentacle seizes you on all sides as in a vise and from whose grip you are powerless to tear yourself away; you must either surrender or make up your mind to utter defeat.” Only when the realization of the ideological aims, the classless society or the master race, was at stake, could this force show itself. In the process of realization, the original substance upon which the ideologies based themselves as long as they had to appeal to the masses–the exploitation of the workers or the national aspirations of Germany–is gradually lost, devoured as it were by the process itself: in perfect accordance with “ice cold reasoning“ and the “irresistible force of logic,” the workers lost under Bolshevik rule even those rights they had been granted under Tsarist oppression and the German people suffered a kind of warfare which did not pay the slightest regard to the minimum requirements for survival of the German nation. It is in the nature of ideological politics–and is not simply a betrayal committed for the sake of self-interest or lust for power–that the real content of the ideology (the working class or the Germanic peoples), which originally had brought about the “idea” (the struggle of classes as the law of history or the struggle of races as the law of nature), is devoured by the logic with which the “idea” is carried out. The preparation of victims and executioners which totalitarianism requires in place of Montesquieu’s principle of action is not the ideology itself–racism or dialectical materialism–but its inherent logicality. The most persuasive argument in this respect, an argument of which Hitler like Stalin was very fond, is: You can’t say A without saying B and C and so on, down to the end of the murderous alphabet. Here, the coercive force of logicality Stalin`s speech of January 28. l924; quoted from Lenin. Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 33, Moscow. 1947.

It is interesting to note that Stalin’s logic is among the few qualities that Khrushchev praises in his devastating speech at the Twentieth Party Congress. seems to have its source; it springs from our fear of contradicting ourselves. To the extent that the Bolshevik purge succeeds in making its victims confess to crimes they never committed, it relies chiefly on this basic fear and argues as follows: We are all agreed on the premise that history is a struggle of classes and on the role of the Party in its conduct. You know therefore that, historically speaking, the Party is always right (in the words of Trotsky: “We can only be right with and by the Party, for history has provided no other way of being in the right.”). At this historical moment, that is in accordance with the law of history, certain crimes are due to be committed which the Party, knowing the law of history, must punish. For these crimes, the Party needs criminals; it may be that the Party, though knowing the crimes, does not quite know the criminals; more important than to be sure about the criminals is to punish the crimes, because without such punishment, History will not be advanced but may even be hindered in its course. You, therefore, either have committed the crimes or have been called by the Party to play the role of the criminal–in either case, you have objectively become an enemy of the Party. If you don’t confess, you cease to help History through the Party, and have become a real enemy. The coercive force of the argument is: if you refuse, you contradict yourself and, through this contradiction, render your whole life meaningless; the A which you said dominates your whole life through the consequences of B and C which it logically engenders.

Totalitarian rulers rely on the compulsion with which we can compel ourselves, for the limited mobilization of people which even they still need; this inner compulsion is the tyranny of logicality against which nothing stands but the great capacity of men to start something new. The tyranny of logicality begins with the mind’s submission to logic as a never-ending process, on which man relies in order to engender his thoughts. By this submission, he surrenders his inner freedom as he surrenders his freedom of movement when he bows down to an outward tyranny. Freedom as an inner capacity of man is identical with the capacity to begin, just as freedom as a political reality is identical with a space of movement between men. Over the beginning, no logic, no cogent deduction can have any power, because its chain presupposes, in the form of a premise, the beginning. As terror is needed lest with the birth of each new human being a new beginning arise and raise its voice in the world, so the self-coercive force of logicality is mobilized lest anybody ever start thinking-which as the freest and purest of all human activities is the very opposite of the compulsory process of deduction. Totalitarian government can be safe only to the extent that it can mobilize man’s own will power in order to force him into that gigantic movement of History or Nature which supposedly uses mankind as its material and knows neither birth nor death. 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 of 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 (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist. The question we raised at the start of these considerations and to which we now return is what kind of basic experience in the living-together of men permeates a form of government whose essence is terror and whose principle of action is the logicality of ideological thinking. That such a combination was never used before in the varied forms of political domination is obvious. Still, the basic experience on which it rests must be human and known to men, insofar as even this most “original of all political bodies has been devised by, and is somehow answering the needs of, men. It has frequently been observed that terror can rule absolutely only over men who are isolated against each other and that, therefore, one of the primary concerns of all tyrannical government is to bring this isolation about.

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