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Hannah Arendt. 'The Origins of Totalitarianism'

Published onAug 24, 2021
Hannah Arendt. 'The Origins of Totalitarianism'

One of the merits of philosophy in general and political philosophy in particular is that it allows us to draw on insights of the past, to understand the present and change the future. Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism is an excellent example. Being of Jewish origin and a refugee fleeing Nazi Germany to Paris and New York thereafter, Arendt (1906- 1975) discusses in detail the historical conditions that enabled the horrors of the second world war. She masterfully describes the societal conditions on national and global levels for the rise of totalitarian rulers, as in the Nazi and Stalinist eras, to conclude that these provided fertile ground for and supported the rise of new forms of totalitarian regimes. The rise of such a regime however is not an inevitable outcome of history. Her message is that the end of dark times can mark a new beginning, in which political philosophy can sharpen one’s critical view as a citizen and human being. It can lead to a renewed questioning of one’s own thoughts, as well as of the Zeitgeist of the time, thereby contributing to the exploration of new beginnings and new directions. The Origins of Totalitarianism, as well as Arendt’s later work, testifies in a brilliant way to the important role that critical reflection can have in countering negligence, apathy and thoughtlessness, thereby actively shaping and changing societal structures. Political philosophy is not the only tool to do so, but it is a very powerful one, not only within the universities but also, and perhaps more importantly, beyond the walls of these academic institutions.

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