The Origins of Totalitarianism

The same thought trajectory that brought me to Le Bon’s work on crowds has led me to something I should’ve read a long time ago: Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The Origins of Totalitarianism is Arendt’s thoughtful and relentlessly critical dissection of totalitarian movements and nations. In a later chapter called “Totalitarianism in Power,” Arendt argues that the ultimate goal of totalitarian governments is “to conquer the globe and bring all countries on earth under their domination.”

As a result, Arendt argues, a totalitarian government rules as if it were only a matter of time until the world is in fact under its control. Totalitarian regimes, Arendt writes,

conduct their foreign policy on the consistent assumption that they will eventually achieve this ultimate goal, and never lose sight of it no matter how distant it may appear or how seriously its “ideal” demands may conflict with the necessity of the moment. They therefore consider no country as permanently foreign, but, on the contrary, every country as their potential territory. (p. 415)

Let me be clear here: Arendt is specifically talking about Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. She’s not talking about any other nation. And I don’t mean to imply–as one might infer from my politics–that Arendt’s argument can be applied to today’s powerful nations.

The United States is not Nazi Germany. Bush is not Hitler.

Yet Arendt’s remark is nonetheless highly illuminating for the present situation, if only because it underscores how power now operates in the world.

For all the bombs’ bursting red glare and all the talk of bunker busters, the new regimes operate in a fundamentally non-dominational spirit. Or at least (in most cases) the domination assumes a form more alluring than the military occupation that Arendt wrote about. The most striking difference between a totalitarian government like the Nazis and imperial powers today is that the new Empire does not seek to conquer the globe by force, but rather, by a hegemonic false sense of consensus.

In the end, it’s much easier to convince people they want to do something (through powerful media strategies, educational policies, religious orthodoxy) than to hold a gun to their head and force them to do it. That is, essentially, the definition of hegemony.

And the hegemony that has been most wildly successful, the hegemony that is the cockroach of all ideologies, the hegemony that not only convinces people they want to do something, but more importantly convinces them they want to buy something, is global capitalism.

Globalization is the new totalitarianism.