©1966 Hannah Arendt; (P)2007 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Arendt uses Marxist economics, combined with a Hobbesian outlook, to evaluate the rise of Hitler and Stalin. Her thesis is that their totalitarian regimes were qualitatively different from other despotisms, both inwardly and outwardly, because their aim was not self or national aggrandizement, but pursuit of a blinding ideology, leading ultimately to total destruction.
She describes totalitarianism arising out of anti-Semitism and global imperialism. There are some wonderful insights here, such as the change in anti-Semitism from anti-Judaism to anti-Jewishness and the change in the concept of nation from one of geography to one of ethnicity or race. The pattern of anti-Semitism and imperialism leading to totalitarianism seems to fit the German model better than the Russian, however. In addition, her discussion of racism suffers from ignoring New World slavery. She acknowledges the irony of the US as a land of liberty founded on slavery, but she does not consider the totalitarian nature of American slavery.
Arendt is at her best evaluating the nature of totalitarian regimes. She describes the ability of Stalin and Hitler to destroy the connections of individuals with others in society and eventually self-identity. She also explains how the focus of a totalitarian regime on ideology isolates it from reality and makes it so much harder for the non-totalitarian world to understand or deal with regimes focused on goals other than self or national interest. This incomprehension also makes it harder for the rest of the world to grasp the reality of the Radical Evil adopted in pursuit of totalitarian ideology. She describes in academic terms much of what Orwell illustrated in 1984.
Arendt also gives ominous warnings about the need for the separation of law and power, meaning that those charged with executing the law should not be the ones deciding what the law is, as well as the assault on civil society that results from constant or unending war.
I like to read but listening is better.
This was not at all what I was expecting. I was thinking this would be more of a history of the early stages of Totalitarianism governments such as in USSR and Germany. Those are the two governments that Arendt focuses on but this really isn't that sort of book. This is a theory book; meaning it focuses more on psyche and philosophy and behavior theory than facts, anecdotes, and events. There was a totally superfluous digression concerning Benjamin Disraeli that was quite lengthy, and that was actually one of the more interesting parts of the book for me. The reason I gave it 4 stars overall is that I think if you're looking for a theory book, this is an excellent one. It just wasn't what I was looking for. I don't want that to influence people who might be thinking of buying this though. And Nadia May is brilliant as always as narrator. In fact, if not for May, I probably would have checked out more than I did. She makes even the driest theory ramblings seem sort of interesting. More than that, she always convinces me 100% that she herself believes what she's reading and that what she's reading is absolutely true.
My review only applies to the audio version. Whatever the merits of the book itself. I found it very hard to follow as the mass of detail and the manner of writing was such that it was difficult to listen. For a work of this type you need to be able to go back and reread sentences and whole paragraphs. The narrator was good but the complexity of the subject matter was hard to keep up with. I found I had to stop and think about what was just said. I have listened to hundreds of audio books over the years and this was the most difficult book to listen to given the way the subject is presented and the not exactly clear presentation of it. Plus the fact that some of the material is dated particularly that on the Soviet Union and the characterization of Lenin.
Admitidly very long, but overall really interesting. The first 70-80% is slow, and contains long discussions of topics which later I couldn't remember why they were relevant, but the last 20-30% was packed with really insightful discussions on totalitarianism.
A well thought out and engaging work. She explains so much through the analysis of human history. I believe that much of Arendt is still relevant today. An excellent audiobook reproduction btw.
Totalitarianism is a human enterprise difficult to explain but possible to comprehend. This work of Hannah Arendt helps the reader in understanding this human "achievement". Pure and absolute evil doesn't appear suddenly, it has its roots in history. Arendt examines the genesis and the development of anti-Semitism and imperialism in the first two parts of this work. Its characteristics and history are well explained in order to relate them to totalitarianism. Arendt has a talent to relate the pivotal facts in history to ideas (concepts), its generation and development. Her writings increase the reader comprehension of the questions and, when confronted with human faults and failures, inspire the search of solutions. As the result of this well made work, the reader gets invaluable knowledge about totalitarianism and its manifestations in history and about how to overcome it.
This work from 1951 is as relevant today as it was at the transition between WW II and the cold war. From the point of view of recent events, Arendt's most relevant insight is how big lies can be told and repeated by those in power until they are "normalized". She clearly describes the anatomy and mechanics of an alternative worldview that had abandoned normal, fact-based standards of thought and discourse. It's a chilling reminder of how seemingly innocuous (or at least easily resistible) crackpot ideas can gain momentum and lead to something truly horrific.
The narration of this audiobook is excellent. The story only bogs down in the extensive descriptions of the workings of totalitarian states in the last third of the book. The first third, describing the history leading to the rise of totalitarianism, and the the second third, describing how ordinary people were swept up by an entirely new populism that discarded all of the old rules of public and political discourse, provide the key understandings for our world today.
This seems like a very interesting book, but I could not follow it because of the narration. Her accent is hard for me to understand, and she speaks fast and flat. There are a few other books I would like to purchase that are read by this narrator, but I won't due to the fact that I cannot follow her narration.
My advice is to skip this book. I knew it has been highly reviewed by the experts, but it is true an exercise in futility to read it for enlightment on the topic of Totalitarianism. The whole of Arendt's master piece could be condensed from some 700 pages to150 to 200 to be a justifiable read, and then you still would not have really learned anything of real insight. I have never read a book that rambles on and on as much as this one about only the most trivial of constituents of its topic. It is as if Arendt purposefully only choose the far most obtuse and trivial contributing factors to Totalitarianism, greatly blew them out of all sensible proportions, and ignored all the Social, Political, Psychological, Historical reasons for its creation. Itonly this way is it a true intellectual marvel.
"A must read, for people interested in history."
Hanna Arendt gives us great insight into European history, espesially the period 1800-1950. Why the first generation of educated young Jews, leaves the profession of their parents, and become revolutionaries, and end up in gulags and concentration camps. She also lists the differences and similarities, between Nazi-Germany and Soviet-Union.
"The Road to Serfdom" by F.A. Hayek
"In the Shadow of Satan" by Janusz Subczyski
Clear and easy listening.
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