In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I AM aware that the title of my paper is presumptuous. The Origins of Totalitarianism is a book of 450 pages. The nuances of what is philosophically at stake in a study of that size cannot be handled within the limits of a short paper. Moreover, it could be objected immediately that Arendt herself did not seem to claim that her analysis was the work of a philosopher. Fifteen years after the first edition of The Origins, as she wrote in the 1966 introduction to the third edition, the task carried out in the book, whose manuscript had been completed four years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, was “to consider contemporary events with the retrospective look of the historian and the analytic zeal of the specialist in political science.” Therefore—so runs the objection—the attempt to point out philosophical stakes in her analysis runs the risk of mixing up distinct fields of research. However, I find the first intimation of a reply to that objection on the first page of the book, which opens with a quotation from an author who is neither a historian nor a political scientist but a philosopher—namely, Karl Jaspers, who provided the book’s motto: “To succumb neither to the past nor to the future. What matters is to be entirely present.” Not only are the book’s first words borrowed from a philosopher, but at closer examination it turns out that their meaning—that what matters is a right position between past and future—is going to be later at the core of other books by Arendt that obviously do not belong simply to historical SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Summer 2002) The Philosophical Stakes in Arendt’s Genealogy of Totalitarianism BY JACQUES TAMINIAUX science or to political science. As demonstrated by their very titles, The Human Condition and The Life of the Mind, they belong instead to the realm of philosophy. But the quotation from Jaspers does more than anticipate a further field of philosophical meditation in Arendt’s work; it also turns out to somehow condense her own intellectual background, by which I mean, in addition to her gratitude and admiration toward the director of her doctoral dissertation in Heidelberg, the early philosophical education she received from Martin Heidegger in Marburg as he was preparing Being and Time. I have argued in several publications in English and French that the books mentioned—The Human Condition and The Life of the Mind—presupposed a critical debate with that early philosophical education. I do not intend in any way to repeat here what I have previously written on that topic. As far as Heidegger is concerned, I will limit myself to a few brief remarks based on a short analysis of the text of the preface to the first edition of The Origins of Totalitarianism. I will then try to detect in the book itself the anticipation of several key topics articulated in The Human Condition. And finally, I will attempt to show the impact of the “Concluding Remarks” in the first edition of The Origins of Totalitarianism on Arendt’s notion of both active life and mental life and the impact of the later conclusion of the same book on the pages of “Ideology and Terror,” which was first published in 1953 and added to the second edition of Origins in 1958 and all subsequent editions. I The preface to the first edition, a text written in a period of fear before the threat of a third world war between the United States and the Soviet Union, underscores three themes that shape, as it were, the spirit of the book. The first is the emphasis Arendt puts on the global development of phenomena such as “homelessness on an unprecedented scale, rootlessness to an unprecedented 424 SOCIAL RESEARCH depth” (vi). Regarding those phenomena, she observes two opposite attitudes: “It is as though mankind had divided itself between those who believe in human omnipotence (who think everything is possible if one knows how to organize masses for it) and those for whom powerlessness has become the major experience of their lives” (vi). In other words, the same phenomena are approached either...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 423-446
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.