To acknowledge the power of the irrational. A kind of spiritual revolt of unhappy souls who in a negative sense become overwhelmed with the powers of ideology and terror, producing the perfect recipe for what Hannah Arendt defined as the essence of totalitarianism where the use of complete terror scares and traumatizes the individual into a new reality, a neurotic manufactured reality.
This seemed integral to her ideas of populist movements arising from the ideological core of the worst fanatics giving the crush and weight of numbers that could act as a catalyst for imperialist movements. It’s Arendt’s great legacy to us which combined the phenomenon of totalitarianism with the role of romanticism and the emergence of race thinking. The result of course was a predictable polarization followed by an amalgamation and complicity. The fault lines in her thought ran along the incorporation of mythical and folkloric elements leaning into the sway of European existentialist patterns of thought, which was an impossibility.
This style of Arendt can be compared to taking old histories and refashioning them , something comparative to reproductions of art. You can get a sense of what was transpiring from the writing, like a print of work of art but we can’t really understand the period and its dynamics any more than one could comprehend a Rodin sculpture from a cheap plastic miniature. In terms of value, it is true, some people are moved by reproductions and will seek and search for the original to try to un-fathom the secrets of why it is so great. Most people though, tend to swallow simple satisfaction and its delusions that they have been awarded or have earned a non-challenging and unsuffering revelation of artistic depth. To the extent that Arendt lead people to think they were getting an authentic understanding of the mechanics and flesh and blood of the totalitarian nature, without having to learn from its source or real exposure, her influence was not constructive.Intellectually acceptable and well written, even well intentioned, but only conducive to advancing her own agenda and ideology.
Correctly, Arendt perceived an absence of moral backbone, or rather the seduction of moral relativity along with cynicism and lack of faith in the system as a kind of conduit, or conductor which permits fanatical movements, fringe personalities, to attract supporters from broad cross-sections of the population who in turn do the heavy lifting by sublimating the ideological message and giving a veneer of respectability to a movement.
David Satter ( see link at end): In her discussion of ideology, Arendt defines a word that is widely used but little understood. The search for truth is a dialogic process in which a person must always be ready to test his conclusions against a changing reality. Ideology interrupts this process. It takes a single proposition and applies it to all aspects of reality. It is, as Arendt wrote, the “logic of an idea” but a logic which is never tested against empirical reality but, on the contrary, re-envisages reality in accordance with its own internal requirements….
I think that Arendt’s notion of totalitarianism as the combination of ideology and terror and her understanding of ideology as a substitute for empirical reality is very important to us today. The totalitarian worldview is deeply counter-intuitive. There is a tendency to treat it as a joke and to underestimate its murderous potential. We therefore need to understand, as Arendt shows us, that what is at stake is an attempt to destroy what is human under the overwhelming pressure of a deluded view of reality.
Arendt’s work, along with that of George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Czeslaw Milosz, and many others helped to turn the West against communism and against the Soviet Union. But this should be seen as their great achievement. We excluded a consideration of Islamic fanaticism from our discussion but the relevance of Arendt’s definitions for an understanding of radical Islam is striking. A man made ideology is again trying to impose itself with the help of unlimited terror. The West can and will make many mistakes in its struggle with totalitarianism but we have the means to understand what it is that threatens us. For this, we owe a great deal – despite its shortcomings – to the work of Hannah Arendt.Read More: