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LET us reopen that remarkable book, The Origins of Totalitarianism . After all the commentaries and Arendt’s subsequent works, can we still read it with a fresh eye? As we try, can we get away from the concerns of a dead Sovietology and a very much alive Holocaust cottage industry? Can we, as she always tried, refocus on the present and its politics? The angle of vision I selected is that of modern dictatorship. I do not know if we are destined to relive totalitarian nightmares. I do know that the challenge and problem of dictatorship will stay with us as long as we organize modern societies through sovereign or quasi-sovereign states, as long as we legitimate political rule through democracy and legality (Arato, 2000). For this reason alone, dictatorship is an Arendtian topic. Hannah Arendt herself repeatedly visited it, sporadically and uncritically in The Origins and, in the case of revolutionary dictatorship, in On Revolution, more critically and systematically though still inconclusively. Given the fame of The Origins, however, and the political importance of its leading concept, dictatorship—the far more universal genus—was buried in Arendtian studies in (the more exceptional species) totalitarianism.1 The burial had political as well as intellectual costs, but it could not claim the imprimatur of the author of On Revolution.2 Or even of the Arendt of The Origins. That is not to say that her work should satisfy us on the problem of dictatorship. Totally frustrate us would be more to the point. On the one side Arendt is surprisingly aware of the variety of autocratic forms of rule.3 She SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Summer 2002) Dictatorship Before and After Totalitarianism BY ANDREW ARATO juxtaposes totalitarianism not only to traditional autocracies (tyranny, despotism, absolutism) but to modern military and oneparty dictatorship as well. In terms of time and space, if not historical importance, even in the modern world totalitarianism is far less pervasive in her presentation than a variety of other dictatorial forms. In The Origins at least the concept of totalitarianism is said to strictly apply only to Germany between 1938 and 1945, and the Soviet Union between 1929 and 1941, and again between 1945 and 1953.4 Thus, whomever Juan Linz was trying to correct in his famous “Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes” (1975)— when he introduced a vast, systematic typology of modern autocratic forms of rule—it could not have been Hannah Arendt, who actually postulated a post-totalitarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union and Soviet-type societies about 30 years before Linz and Alfred Stepan got around to this particular step (Linz and Stepan, 1996). What is frustrating and even infuriating about Arendt’s treatment is not the often criticized analytical framework, but rather the evaluation of nontotalitarian dictatorship. While the absolute normative difference of totalitarianism from all other regime types is repeatedly insisted on, other dictatorships are integrated rather smoothly into (or treated as an unproblematic addition to) the traditional typology of forms of government. According to Arendt, “total domination is the only form of government with which coexistence is not possible” (1973: xvii-xviii). This statement is not equivalent of course to the celebrated or maligned Kirkpatrick thesis, since Arendt has in mind radically expansionist regimes that existed for brief periods, and not, for example, the post-Stalin, communist one-party dictatorships. Nevertheless, inherent in the claim is a clear tendency toward what could be called the “normalization” of nontotalitarian dictatorships. Unfortunately, in one important case this tendency turns into outright apologetics and even admiration. Consider her treatment of Lenin’s regime in The Origins. This regime is identified as a revo474 SOCIAL RESEARCH lutionary dictatorship whose intentions and trajectory are actually opposed to totalitarianism. Whereas totalitarian rulers carry out (Stalin) or build upon (Hitler) the atomization and massification of society, Lenin, the authoritarian, attempted to create differentiation and structure—that is, classes and nations—in a hitherto shapeless society. According to Arendt, Lenin “seemed convinced that in such stratification lay the salvation of the revolution.” Thus in this depiction, Lenin, through the land reform that immediately followed the seizure of power, began to create an independent peasantry; in the battle over...


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pp. 473-503
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