For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The Origins of Totalitarianism: A Reply"

by Arendt, Hannah (1953)


Much as I appreciate the unusual kindness of the editors of the Review of Politics who asked me to answer Prof. Eric Voegelin's criticism of my book, I am not quite sure that I decided wisely when I accepted their offer. I certainly would not, and should not, have accepted if his review were of the usual friendly or unfriendly kind. Such replies, by their very nature, all too easily tempt the author either to review his own book or to write a review of the review. In order to avoid such temptations, I have refrained as much as I could, even on the level of personal conversation, to take issue with any reviewer of my book, no matter how much I agreed or disagreed with him.

Key Passage

Let us suppose - to take one among many possible examples -that the historian is confronted with excessive poverty in a society of great wealth, such-as the poverty of the British working classes during the early stages of the industrial revolution. The natural human reaction to such conditions is one of anger and indignation because these conditions are against the dignity of man. If I describe these conditions without permitting my indignation to interfere, I have lifted this particular phenomenon out of its context in human society and have thereby robbed it of part of its nature, deprived it of one of its important inherent qualities. For to arouse indignation is one of the qualities of excessive poverty insofar as poverty occurs among human beings. I therefore can not agree with Professor Voegelin that the "morally abhorrent and the emotionally existing will overshadow the essential," because I believe them to form an integral part of it. This has nothing to do with sentimentality or moralizing  although, of course, either can become a pitfall for the author. If I moralized or became sentimental, I simply did not do well what I was supposed to do, namely to describe the totalitarian phenomenon as occurring, not on the moon, but in the midst of human society. (p.78)


Arendt, History, Historical Theory, Historical Method, Method, Analysis


The Origins of Totalitarianism [1951], Arendt Citations

Links to Reference



How to contribute.