©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.
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.
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.
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