Posts Tagged ‘Hannah Arendt’

More Hannah Arendt

June 22, 2017

Although Hannah Arendt writes about events from 70 to 200 years ago in The Origins Of Totalitarianism (1951, 1958, 1966), something of today jumps out with almost every page. Contemporary political savants argue endlessly over how the party system is faring, who is winning/losing, why, and what the results of this spell out for the American people (as well as people of the world). In a paragraph referencing utilitarianism and governance (pg 347) she ends with:  ““Scientism” in politics still presupposes that human welfare is its object, a concept which is utterly alien to totalitarianism.” She footnotes this with: “William Ebenstein, The Nazi State, New York, 1943, in discussing the “Permanent War Economy” of the Nazi state is almost the only critic who has realized that “the endless discussion . . . as to the socialist or capitalist nature of the German economy under the Nazi regime is largely artificial . . . [because it] tends to overlook the vital fact that capitalism and socialism are categories which relate to Western welfare economics” (p.239)” She begins the next paragraph with: “It is precisely because the utilitarian core of ideologies was taken for granted that the anti-utilitarian behavior of totalitarian governments, their complete indifference to mass interest, has been such a shock.” On page 350 she writes “Totalitarian movements use socialism and racism by emptying them of their utilitarian content, the interest of a class or nation. The form of infallible prediction in which these concepts were presented has become more important than their content. The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error.” She elaborates this. On page 350 she writes “Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such.” Which she footnotes with “Konrad Heiden, Der Fuehrer: Hitler’s Rise to Power, Boston, 1944, underlines Hitler’s “phenomenal untruthfulness,” “the lack of demonstrable reality in nearly all his utterances,” his “indifference to facts which he does not regard as vitally important” (pp. 368, 374). –In almost identical terms, Khrushchev describes “Stalin’s reluctance to consider life’s realities” and his indifference to “the real state of affairs,” op. cit. Stalin’s opinion of the importance of facts is best expressed in his periodic revisions of Russian history.” She concludes this small foray into utilitarianism and objective interests in “traditional” Western forms of governance and what she believes occurs with totalitarian forms: “For masses, in contrast to classes, want victory and success as such, in their most abstract form; they are not bound together by those special collective interests which they feel to be essential to their survival as a group and which they therefore may assert even in the face of overwhelming odds. More important to them than the cause that may be victorious, or the particular enterprise that may be a success, is the victory of no matter what cause, and success in no matter what enterprise.” Tonight’s nightly national news covered the crowds lining up overnight for the apprentice president’s Iowa rally, very much like they used to do outside stores for Black Friday Sales. The camera panned to a little girl who yelled out “Build a wall!” No matter that at the recent (6-14-17) Columbus Metropolitan Club Forum Dr. Jim Johnson, in his talk on the Browning and Greying of America and its impact on business and the economy, carefully pointed out that the median age for whites is early forties, for immigrants and people of color upper twenties and early thirties. Who will help populate the workforce and consumer economy of tomorrow? No matter that the GAO, as well as others, describe self inflicted damage from much social legislation and executive action. (to paraphrase Arendt’s pg. 350 quote from the Nazi Primer “We shape the life of our people and our legislation according to the verdicts of economics” [original “genetics”]). No matter that “the jobs are never coming back,” and that the coal mining museum in Kentucky has solar panels on its roof. “More important . . . is the victory of no matter what cause, and success in no matter what enterprise.”

Analysis Goes Way Back In The Way Back Machine

June 18, 2017

“Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those large numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a party and hardly ever go to the polls.

It was characteristic of the rise of the Nazi movement in Germany and of the Communist movements in Europe after 1930 that they recruited their members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too apathetic or too stupid for their attention. The result was that the majority of their membership consisted of people who never before had appeared on the political scene. This permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents; these movements not only placed themselves outside and against the party system as a whole, they found a membership that had never been reached, never been “spoiled” by the party system. Therefore they did not need to refute opposing arguments and consistently preferred methods which ended in death rather than persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction. They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason. This would have been a shortcoming only if they had sincerely entered into competition with other parties; it was not if they were sure of dealing with people who had reason to be equally hostile to all parties.”

pg.311-312, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, 1951