Jon-Erik's Reviews > The Origins of Totalitarianism

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
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's review
Aug 24, 2009

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bookshelves: Φιλοσοφία, history
Read in October, 2009

So far, I'm finding this interesting, though it suffers from many of the same defects that philosophers encounter when writing about history. For example, relying on portrayals in novels is not evidence. Not about popular history, not about the "zeitgeist" whatever that is.

It's things like that that make me nervous that the conclusions based on these weak propositions are false. Also, there is a powerful dose of Marxist philosophy of history here, which I don't reject because it's Marxist, but because it doesn't explain anything. For example, the nation-state is the "inevitable" consequence of the philosophical precept of "equality" and imperialism is its natural destructor? I don't think this kind of thinking gives enough credit to the power of cognitive difference or apathy.

Furthermore, I have a hard time crediting the idea that "race-thinking" originated in late-17th century France. Purity of blood laws and so forth originated in Spain, much, much earlier and race-thinking was a part of the Spanish and British Empires in the "New World" long before French nobility wanted to racially distinguish themselves from the underclasses.

I'll reserve judgment on the final thesis of the book until I'm done reading it, but if that thesis is that totalitarianism is a kind of positive feedback loop of purity demands regardless of truth, I'll accept that; if the thesis is that the unique conditions of that existed in a certain time in history, it will be hard to convince me on any basis other than techcological issues.
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Kyle Not really Marxist historicism. Marx's equality would arise out of the elimination of the state insofar as the state is the obstacle of human emancipation yet it is the pretext for political emancipation which you might be thinking of. She is looking at a much more fundamental aspect of the growth of rights as requiring a state to provide them. Small quibble, though.

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