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HANNAH Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, first published in 1951, is a bewilderingly wide-ranging work, a book about much more than just totalitarianism and its immediate origins.1 In fact, it is not really about those immediate origins at all. The book’s peculiar organization creates a certain ambiguity regarding its intended subject-matter and scope.2 The first part, “Antisemitism ,” tells the story of the rise of modern, secular anti-Semitism (as distinct from what the author calls “religious Jew-hatred”) up to the turn of the twentieth century, and ends with the Dreyfus affair in France—a “dress rehearsal,” in Arendt’s words, for things still worse to come (10). The second part, “Imperialism,” surveys an assortment of pathologies in the world politics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, leading to (but not directly involving) the First World War. This part of the book examines the European powers’ rapacious expansionist policies in Africa and Asia—in which overseas investment became the pretext for raw, openly racist exploitation—and the concomitant emergence in Central and Eastern Europe of “tribalist” ethnic movements whose (failed) ambition was the replication of those SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Summer 2002) The Three Phases of Arendt’s Theory of Totalitarianism* BY ROY T. TSAO *Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the University of Virginia and at the conference commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of The Origins of Totalitarianism hosted by the Hannah Arendt-Zentrum at Carl Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, Germany . I am grateful to Joshua Dienstag and Antonia Grunenberg, respectively, for arranging these two occasions, and also to the members of the audience at each—especially Lawrie Balfour, Wolfgang Heuer, George Klosko, Allan Megill, Alfons Söllner, and Zoltan Szankay—for their helpful comments and criticisms. I would also like to thank Margaret Canovan, George Kateb, and Jerome Kohn for their advice and encouragement. imperialist policies on the European continent. Only in part III, “Totalitarianism,” does the author turn to the subject of totalitarianism itself. But here the diligent reader meets a surprise: this third part of the book makes remarkably little direct reference to the 300 pages that precede it, and confounds the expectation of a clear convergence of the tributary streams of historical narrative that flow through the first two parts. What the reader encounters instead in part III is an extended analysis of what Arendt insists is a wholly unprecedented kind of political organization, one embodied solely—and equally—in the regimes of Hitler and Stalin. Given the contents of the first two parts of the book, with their focus on anti-Semitism and tribalist racism, one obvious puzzle is the unexpected shift from what had seemed to be a story of Nazism’s sources to an analysis that accords equal standing to what she invariably calls Stalin’s “Bolshevism” as well. (Her reasons for preferring that term to “Stalinism” will be taken up in the second part of this essay.) But there is a similar lack of explicit continuity with the first two parts of the book in her actual treatment of the Nazi dictatorship itself. For instance, the argument of the third part never follows up on the seemingly anticipatory claim in part II that “African colonial possessions became the most fertile soil for the flowering of what later was to become the Nazi elite” (206). Such puzzles are compounded by the author’s own curious silence throughout the book—the title itself aside— concerning the intended structure of its overall argument. The three separate parts share only a short preface of less than three pages, which largely manages to avoid the question. Moreover, the text as we read it today omits the “Concluding Remarks” of the book’s original 1951 edition, which had at least gestured toward a comprehensive perspective on the whole (though without really resolving these puzzles). In place of those “Concluding Remarks,” the later editions of the book—starting with the 1955 German edition, and then the revised English-language edition of 1958—contain a new chapter on totalitarianism, “Ideology and 580 SOCIAL RESEARCH Terror.”3 Yet that new chapter only further compounds the reader’s disorientation, for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 579-619
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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