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Anne-Marie Roviello The Hidden Violence of Totalitarianism: The Loss of the Groundwork of the World IN THE ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM, HANNAH ARENDT MAKES THE following unexpected statement: totalitarian violence “is expressed much more frighteningly in the organization of its followers than in the physical liquidation of its opponents”(Arendt, 1979: 364). We under­ stand at once that totalitarian organization is far more than just on the outside, no matter how systematic. It is the organization of chaos, both outside and inside individuals. Of course, Arendt’s intention is not to deny the radical physical violence of totalitarianism. Her aim is to understand the distinctive features of totalitarian terror: the terrifying component specific to totali­ tarianism is the terror engendered by the radical metamorphosis of a habitable world into a fictitious world: a world of stable shapelessness and established instability (“movement for movement’s sake”), a world unhinged, turned upside down where the monstrous and the absurd are the rule; a world characterized not just by arbitrariness, but by absolute coherence within this arbitrariness. The real world no longer obeys its own elementary laws, and correlatively, the human beings encountered in this world also seem to have cut themselves off from elementary common sense concern­ ing the distinction between truth and falsehood, and good and evil; they even seem to have lost the ability to wonder about the meaning of these distinctions. Instead of sharing with one another their experience social research Vol 74 : No 3 : Fall 2007 923 of the radical meaninglessness of the “functioning reality,” instead of making it an inter-est, they themselves participate in the enterprise of covering up this no-sense with an ideo-logical Super-sense. The collapse ofthe groundwork ofthe world at the same time as the radical attack on the human bond that accompanies it, the withdrawal of other human beings beyond the reach of human communication, lead to the indi­ vidual’s inner collapse. Radical alienation from the world and radical alienation from oneself go hand in hand. In order to fully understand the importance of what Arendt is describing, we should compare this first moment of the analysis with another assertion that seems just as paradoxical and that is also in The Origins of Totalitarianism: noting totalitarianism’s contempt for facts and reality, Arendt remarks that the propaganda of totalitarian movements is “invariably asfrank as it is mendacious” (Arendt, 1979: 307). Totalitarian propaganda is mendacious by its very frankness. Not even seeking to hide the realities that refute it, it is ineffective from the standpoint of the obvious; on the other hand, it is formidably efficient from the very fact of that ineffectiveness, for it destabilizes judgment and clouds all the issues that would make for an assured, sensible judgment. Totalitarian propaganda does not just lie about the aims and real actions of totalitarian movements or regimes: it also gives itself the organization required to change the real world and make it “true” to its assertions, though they be utterly absurd and utterly monstrous. The formidable effectiveness of the violence of the totalitarian lie is at least twofold: the totalitarian lie is no longer there to hide a reality that remains intact behind it, it is a kind of “factual lie” that “rests precisely on the elimination of that reality which either unmasks the liar or forces him to live up to his pretense” (Arendt, 1979: 384). By means of this basic, radical violence, and the immediate translation of propaganda lies into a functioning reality (Arendt, 1979: 364), propa­ ganda and organization force people into acting according to the rules of a fictitious world, and thereby actively denying themselves, by denying their spontaneous opening to the world. 924 social research Through totalitarian organization the natural bonds of solidar­ ity and communication are broken; they are replaced by distrust and informing. Thus certain social or national categories of people are only partially destroyed, as occurred under Stalinism, for the objective is not so much to wipe out a specific category—even if some categories are the first to be ostracized and wiped out—by exterminating its every member, but to destroy the spontaneous human bonds that make up the cohesion of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 923-930
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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