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By Hannah Arendt (674 Pages)Publisher: Schocken Books, 1948/2004
The Origins of Totalitarianism is an indispensable book for understanding the frightful barbarity of the 20th century. Suspicious of the inevitability so often imposed by hindsight, Hannah Arendt was not interested in detailing the causes that produced totalitarianism. Nothing in the 19th century -- indeed, nothing in human history -- could have prepared us for the idea of political domination achieved by organizing the infinite plurality and differentiation of human beings as if all humanity were just one individual. Arendt believed that such a development marked a grotesque departure from all that had come before.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt sought to provide a historical account of the forces that crystallized into totalitarianism: the ebb and flow of 19th century anti-Semitism (she deemed the Dreyfus Affair a dress rehearsal for the Final Solution) and the rise of European imperialism, accompanied by the invention of racism as the only possible rationalization for it. For Arendt, totalitarianism was a form of governance that eliminated the very possibility of political action. Even more presciently, Arendt understood that totalitarian solutions could well survive the demise of totalitarian regimes.
The Origins of Totalitarianism remains as essential a book for understanding our times as it was when it first appeared more than fifty years ago. New introduction by Samantha Power.