For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Origins of Totalitarianism

by Arendt, Hannah (1973)


The Origins of Totalitarianism begins with the rise of anti-Semitism in central and western Europe in the 1800s and continues with an examination of European colonial imperialism from 1884 to the outbreak of World War I. Arendt explores the institutions and operations of totalitarian movements, focusing on the two genuine forms of totalitarian government in our time—Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia—which she adroitly recognizes were two sides of the same coin, rather than opposing philosophies of Right and Left. From this vantage point, she discusses the evolution of classes into masses, the role of propaganda in dealing with the nontotalitarian world, the use of terror, and the nature of isolation and loneliness as preconditions for total domination.

Key Passage

That the Jew, Karl Marx, could write the same way these anti-Jewish radicals did is only proof of how little this kind of anti-Jewish argument had in common with full-fledged antisemitism. Marx as an individual Jew was as little embarrassed by these arguments against "Jewry" as, for instance, Nietzsche was by his arguments against Germany. Marx, it is true, in his later years never wrote or uttered an opinion on the Jewish question; but this is hardly due to any fundamental change of mind. His exclusive preoccupation with class struggle as a  phenomenon inside society, with the problems of capitalist production in which Jews were not involved as either buyers or sellers of labor, and his utter neglect of political questions, automatically prevented his further inspection of the state structure, and thereby of the role of the Jews. The strong influence of Marxism on the labor movement in Germany is among the chief reasons why German evolutionary movements showed so few signs of anti-Jewish sentiment. (p.34)


Arendt, Totalitarianism, Antisemitism, Nationalism, National Socialism, Nazi, Stalin, Stalinist, Propaganda


The Origins of Totalitarianism [1951], Arendt Citations

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