The Origins of Totalitarianism

  • by Hannah Arendt
  • Narrated by Nadia May
  • 23 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

This classic, definitive account of totalitarianism traces the emergence of modern racism as an "ideological weapon for imperialism", beginning with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in the 19th century and continuing through the New Imperialism period from 1884 to World War I.

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Customer Reviews

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Vast and intricate analysis of horror

Arendt uses Marxist economics, combined with a Hobbesian outlook, to evaluate the rise of Hitler and Stalin. Her thesis is that their totalitarian regimes were qualitatively different from other despotisms, both inwardly and outwardly, because their aim was not self or national aggrandizement, but pursuit of a blinding ideology, leading ultimately to total destruction.

She describes totalitarianism arising out of anti-Semitism and global imperialism. There are some wonderful insights here, such as the change in anti-Semitism from anti-Judaism to anti-Jewishness and the change in the concept of nation from one of geography to one of ethnicity or race. The pattern of anti-Semitism and imperialism leading to totalitarianism seems to fit the German model better than the Russian, however. In addition, her discussion of racism suffers from ignoring New World slavery. She acknowledges the irony of the US as a land of liberty founded on slavery, but she does not consider the totalitarian nature of American slavery.

Arendt is at her best evaluating the nature of totalitarian regimes. She describes the ability of Stalin and Hitler to destroy the connections of individuals with others in society and eventually self-identity. She also explains how the focus of a totalitarian regime on ideology isolates it from reality and makes it so much harder for the non-totalitarian world to understand or deal with regimes focused on goals other than self or national interest. This incomprehension also makes it harder for the rest of the world to grasp the reality of the Radical Evil adopted in pursuit of totalitarian ideology. She describes in academic terms much of what Orwell illustrated in 1984.

Arendt also gives ominous warnings about the need for the separation of law and power, meaning that those charged with executing the law should not be the ones deciding what the law is, as well as the assault on civil society that results from constant or unending war.
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- Roger

Very Heady Look at Theory of Totalitarianism

This was not at all what I was expecting. I was thinking this would be more of a history of the early stages of Totalitarianism governments such as in USSR and Germany. Those are the two governments that Arendt focuses on but this really isn't that sort of book. This is a theory book; meaning it focuses more on psyche and philosophy and behavior theory than facts, anecdotes, and events. There was a totally superfluous digression concerning Benjamin Disraeli that was quite lengthy, and that was actually one of the more interesting parts of the book for me. The reason I gave it 4 stars overall is that I think if you're looking for a theory book, this is an excellent one. It just wasn't what I was looking for. I don't want that to influence people who might be thinking of buying this though. And Nadia May is brilliant as always as narrator. In fact, if not for May, I probably would have checked out more than I did. She makes even the driest theory ramblings seem sort of interesting. More than that, she always convinces me 100% that she herself believes what she's reading and that what she's reading is absolutely true.
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- Douglas

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-27-2007
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.