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

To a certain extent, the Volksgemeinschaft was the Nazis' attempt to counter the Communist promise of a  classless society. The propaganda appeal of the one over the other seems obvious if we disregard all ideological implications. While both promised to level all social and property differences, the classless society had the obvious connotation that everybody would be leveled to the status of a  factory worker, while the Volksgemeinschaft, with its connotation of conspiracy for world conquest, held out a reasonable hope that every German could eventually become a factory owner.  (p.361)


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


The Origins of Totalitarianism [1951], Arendt Citations

Links to Reference



How to contribute.