The Origins of Totalitarianism Part 1: Introduction

The Origins of Totalitarianism is Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the rise of totalitarian governments, the Nazis under Hitler in Germany and the Communists under Stalin in Russia. It was published in 1951, though it was largely completed in 1945. In its original form it focused primarily on Nazism, and as more detail emerged about Stalinist Russia, the book was revised. There are three sections, Antisemitism, Imperialism and Totalitarianism. The book can be read here. Page numbers at this link correspond to the page cites I’ll be using.

Rationale

Why this book? Anyone following current US politics has seen references to a fascist turn in Republican politics, and in the crowds surrounding at least one of the candidates. Similar but much smaller outbreaks occurred at campaign appearances of Sarah Palin in 2008 and at other Republican and conservative gatherings. One early user of the term fascism was @billmon1 on the Twitter, also here. Arendt’s detailed exploration of the rise of fascism, particularly in Germany, is a tool to help us understand its genesis, and perhaps see certain parallels to today.

In Modernity on Endless Trial, Leszek Kolakowski says:

If we are to believe Hegel – or Collingwood – no age, no civilization, is capable of conceptually identifying itself. This can only be done after its demise, and even then, as we know too well, such an identification is never certain or universally accepted. Both the general morphology of civilizations and the descriptions of their constitutive characteristics are notoriously controversial and heavily loaded with ideological biases, whether they express a need for self-assertion by comparison with the past or a malaise in one’s own cultural environment and the resulting nostalgia for the good times of old. Collingwood suggests that each historical period has a number of basic (“absolute”) presuppositions which it is unable clearly to articulate and which provide a latent inspiration for its explicit values and beliefs, its typical reactions and aspirations. If so, we might try to uncover those presuppositions in the lives of our ancient or medieval ancestors and perhaps build on this basis a ” history of mentalities” (as opposed to the “history of ideas”); but we are in principle prevented from revealing them in our own age, unless, of course, … we are living in the twilight, at the very end of an epoch. P. 3.

Maybe so, but I think most ages are blessed with a few people capable of identifying at least the central points of a civilization, as they write the first drafts of history from the perspective of those who lived through it. They give us signposts for thinking about the best way to proceed into the future, and ways of understanding aspects of we humans and our societies that seem ineradicable. I’m also dubious about the term “historical period”, because there are few ideas that ever really disappear once installed in human minds. Instead they hide in the corners of society until conditions are ripe for another outbreak.

Arendt and Polanyi both wrote near the end of WWII. Both were Jews, educated in Europe after WWI, and both left Europe as Antisemitism struck at their ability to work and to live. Arendt left Germany in 1933, first to Czechoslovakia and then Geneva, then Paris. She was picked up by the Vichy regime in France, and interned in a camp. She was permitted to leave France in 1941 and moved to the US using an illegal visa issued by a US diplomat, Hiram Bingham, and with the aid of a noted rescue worker, Varian Fry. Polanyi left Vienna in 1933, and moved first to London, and then to the US. After WWII, he was unable to obtain a visa because his wife was a former Communist, so they moved to Canada and Polanyi commuted to New York where he taught at Columbia.

The technique adopted by Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation was to look far back into history to show the wave that swept over European nations with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism as the dominant form of economic organization. Foucault uses the same technique, for example in Discipline and Punish, which describes the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the working people of France. Arendt uses the same technique. She gives a broad historical perspective to the rise of fascism and communism and their transformation of Germany and Russia into totalitarian states. This technique offers a way to begin to identify a civilization, or a social structure, to get at its roots. Thus, all three follow Kolakowski’s model.

In this post, I described Polanyi’s discussion of the rise of fascism in Germany. It is similar to Arendt’s analysis in The Origins of Totalitarianism. They both see the destruction of social roles of huge numbers of people, primarily from the lower and middle classes, as a crucial element of that change, though they use different sources and different language. Polanyi points to the large numbers of people who lost status and social position and roles in the sweeping changes of the Industrial Revolution, and in the wake of the Great Depression. As we will see, Arendt points to the dislocation of millions as the Industrial Revolution progressed, and to the dislocation of the lives of many Germans in the wake of defeat in WWI, exacerbated by hyperinflation in the early 20s and then worsened by the Great Depression.

It seems to me that the wave of neoliberalism that rose to new heights under the Reagan and Thatcher administrations and has wedged itself in our minds since, is a cultural change, not of the magnitude of the rise of totalitarian states or the Industrial Revolution, but still with an enormous impact on the lives of individuals. For many in the upper class, the neoliberal turn has removed any sense of responsibility to society or to the planet. For others in the upper class, there is increasing fear for the future because of global warming and the rise of oligarchy.

In the case of the lower and middle classes, that impact has been much more concrete. After years of stagnating wages and pointless wars followed by a frightening financial crash, and more wars and political deadlock, the middle class is disappearing. People experience dropping from the middle class as a loss of status, of a place in society, a role, and even a purpose. There is nothing in US society to replace that status, or to provide a new sense of belonging. These dislocated people are not in any way organized. The neoliberal system dismisses them as moochers and leeches seeking handouts while taking no responsibility for themselves. People who are nominally still middle class are feeling similar pain as their future prospects and those of their children dwindle.

The parallels to today are uncertain. But I think it’s worth examining this argument in detail to see if we can learn something useful.

General Plan

The Origins of Totalitarianism is divided into three sections: Antisemitism, Imperialism, and Totalitarianism. I intend to focus on Totalitarianism. I see the first two sections as setting up the third. One of the central ideas in the section on Antisemitism is that the Jews in Europe were never assimilated. There are several forces described in the section on Imperialism that reach full flower in Totalitarianism. Among others, these include the idea of superfluous humans and superfluous capital, which are associated with Arendt’s categories of the mob and the masses, and the whirlwind of capitalism. I’ll take those up briefly, and quite incompletely, before turning to the main discussion.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

50 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    Well done, looking forward to the series. Perhaps one introductory point would be a plain English (no long words) definition of ‘fascism’. So many writers these days throw the word ‘fascist’ around and expect someone who hasn’t studied history in 40 years to understand. Your earlier post, linked above, doesn’t quite do that for me. Perhaps compare/contrast with communism, socialism, totalitarianism (that last one is different, right?). Or a pointer to a good set of definitions, that could serve as a basis for deeper reading. Just a thought, let me know if I’m wrong.

  2. orionATL says:

    i too would like to know what the term “fascism” is taken to describe.

    i thought i remembered from decades ago that “fascism” referred to a form of government where a nation’s government and its corporations were unusually tightly bound together for mutual benefit – those with political power, whether individual or political party, benefited by being able to retain power, and those managing corporations benefited from both increased corporate (and personnal) income and from relative freedom from government “interference”.

    but i can’t seem to find this description. i see instead references to “nationalism” without much more substance.

    at the broadest level, the political leaders and bureaucracies and the corporate (privately determined use of capital, labor, and land) leaders and bureaucracies are just parts of any society. in a just and caring society, each of those major components – government and corporate – would be bound to serve the interests of the individual citizens in a “society well-integrated for individual maximization”. neither major component would be allowed to conspire for its own benefit.

    i raise the question of “what is fascism” because i feel that term, at least under the defn i mentioned, applies especially to the marriage of government and corporate interest we see here in the u. s. with the issue of large-scale government and corporate (google, facebook) spying on individual members of society. that issue has come to a head with the CISA legislation recently snuck through congress by paul ryan, the senate leadership, and the president as part of an omnibus spending bill. that bill substantially frees corporations from some legal liability and from some govrrnment oversight. the bill was strongly supported this time around by the u. s. chamber of commerce ($300 million in campaign contributions), by the president, and by leaders in the congress.

    • bloopie2 says:

      When I did high school history, we were still in a “better dead than Red” mode, and so we learned about communism (bad!) and, to a lesser extent, socialism. But all I remember about fascism is that (I think) Mussolini was fascist (bad!) but that he made the trains run on time (good!). What it was that differentiated WWII Italy from WWII Russia, I don’t recall — do you? But it strikes me that your remembered definition of fascism — government plus business — just doesn’t sound right, or complete. Today the term is thrown around regarding Trump — but isn’t that just racism? Hmm.

      • orionATL says:

        thanks for that recollection. i wish i could find more about how the term is intended. doubtless i could if i could stop being a lazy internet surfer :)

        i actually was required to teach “avc – americanism vs communism” by legislative mandate in my first career. being a very young teacher, naturally i taught it subversively, essentially as russian history. my students (at least the learners) seemed to enjoy that opportunity.

  3. SufferinSuccotash says:

    Two points in the Imperialism portion of Arendt’s work that are worth bringing out. First, the fact that what happens in the colonies doesn’t stay in the colonies, If there’s no rule of law in imperial affairs, there soon won’t be in the affairs of the home country either. Second, that despite all the lip service paid to “universal” human rights, they have any real existence only by and through national citizenship status. Depriving someone of their citizenship is tantamount to depriving them of every single human right.

    • orionATL says:

      thank you. important points. i find this one particularly fascinating:

      “… If there’s no rule of law in imperial affairs, there soon won’t be in the affairs of the home country either… ”

      in light of events in both the u. s. and iraq/afghanistan over the last 15 years.

    • haarmeyer says:

      How can a book published in 1951 possibly go on about the “lip service paid to “universal human rights””? Are you sure you’re talking about the same book? The UDHR was passed in 1948 at the end of the year. It isn’t a document that went into force, subsequent treaties had to be concluded before paying “lip service” to human rights could possibly be “all the”. By 1951, the only binding documents of modern era human rights/humanitarian law in force were the Genocide Convention and the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

      • Ed Walker says:

        Please see the material beginning around 269, especially the section on The Perplexities of the Rights of Man.

        • haarmeyer says:

          Thanks for taking time to provide page numbers and an answer for me. The nut of that section seems to be encapsulated in the following:

          No paradox of contemporary politics is filled with a more poignant irony than the discrepancy between the efforts of well-meaning idealists who stubbornly insist on regarding as “inalienable” those human rights, which are enjoyed only by citizens of the most prosperous and civilized countries, and the situation of the rightless themselves. Their situation has deteriorated just as stubbornly, until the internment camp Å\ prior to the second World War the exception rather than the rule for the stateless Å\ has become the routine solution for the problem of domicile of the “displaced persons.”

          Even the terminology applied to the stateless has deteriorated. The term “stateless” at least acknowledged the fact that these persons had lost the protection of their government and required international agreements for safeguarding their legal status. The postwar term “displaced persons” was invented during the war for the express purpose of liquidating stateless- ness once and for all by ignoring its existence. Nonrecognition of stateless- ness always means repatriation, i.e., deportation to a country of origin, which either refuses to recognize the prospective repatriate as a citizen, or, on the contrary, urgently wants him back for punishment.

          The problem with calling this lip service, is that the next years or so resulted in a treaty that explicitly banned the behavior she talked about: the Refugee treaty specifically prohibits actions by a state that render a person stateless. Would it have done so if all the world were so cynical? Again, I question how human rights doctrine could have been paying lip service when its modern incarnation was still in its infancy.

          BTW, we do still attempt compliance of states which try to render populations stateless, by a wide variety of means. And that same treaty in 1951, and the Geneva Conventions in 1949, banned refoulement as well. And lest you think this is just toothless international law that doesn’t mean anything, I have seen action against statelessness, and know exactly how some of its mechanisms work (you can dismiss that if you like, I won’t provide a cite).

          Either those cynical lip service people were reading Hannah Arendt and doing what she said they were unwilling to do, or the term lip service isn’t quite right. My feeling about what she was saying is that she was criticizing the League, but I haven’t read more than those few pages.

  4. orionATL says:

    tbe american blogger corey robin (prof of pol sci @ brooklyn college) writes very thoughtfully about hannah arendt’s “eichmann in jeruselum”.
    .
    http://www.thenation.com/article/trials-hannah-arendt/

    the full title of the book is “eichmann in jeruselum a report on the banality of evil” from whence comes one of the great encapsulating phrases of pur time – the banaity of evil.

    i’m no student of these matters but it doesn’t take much to view “eichmann…” as, in part, a case study of an individual bureaucratic practitioner in a totalitarian system.

  5. bevin says:

    Fascism, historically, has always been a response to challenges to capitalism. It is a reaction, thus, to socialist (using the word in a very general sense) critiques of governments dominated by property.
    Specifically fascism in Italy arose in reaction to the revolutionary trade unionism of the post 1918 period. Led by a former leader of the socialists it differentiated itself from the ineffectual liberalism of Giolitti and offered Italian industrialists and landowners (not to mention British intelligence) the suppression of trade unions and socialists.
    Mussolini mobilised War veterans- who had many grievances not least unemployment- to act as muscle for the wealthy. (Bertolluci’s movie 1900 is an intelligent study of the development of the movement.) The fascists specialised in assassinating and terrorising Italian socialists.
    Similarly the Nazi movement had its origins in the violent suppression, by right wing Social democrats, of left socialist revolutionaries by militias of demobilised soldiers. Hitler too was recruited by British intelligence. There is famous photograph of Rosa Luxemburg’s body after she and Karl Liebkbecht had been killed by German officers in 1919-that was the beginning of the ‘holocaust’ in my view- the basis for it lying not in ‘anti-semitism’ (an anachronistic and racist term) but in anti-communism. The offence of the Jews, in the eyes of fascists, ( going back to the French Action Francaise and Dreyfuss) was that they tended to be leftists, communists, socialists and sceptical of nationalism. In particular, and much to the credit of eastern european jewish culture, many of the Bolshevik leaders were Jewish in origin.
    The philosophy of fascism- the jingoism, the xenophobia, the faux darwinism, the Hobbes and Macchiavelli stuff is nothing more than a coat of many colours affected to disguise the sordid practicality of auditioning for power by suppressing challenges to the corporate elites and the old aristocracy. To attempt to understand fascism by studying its ‘ideas’ is a fool’s errand- there is no mystery, Messrs Krupp and Agnelli don’t care very much what the rulers of Germany and Italy do in their spare time, or what silly costumes they put on, so long as they make sure that labour is cheap, profits are healthy and there are lots of fat contracts for them.
    Where studying fascist philosophy does come in useful is where the student is attempting to employ an autopsy of fascism to propose a critique of its enemies which serves the same purpose, for General Motors and Ford, as fascism did a generation earlier. In effect, the student is attempting, through a study of defeated fascism, to justify a continuation of fascism’s purpose, a war against communism, socialism, trade unions, high labour costs and low profits.
    I haven’t read Arendt’s book- I confess to a deep revulsion against the idea that Communism and Fascism (enemies from birth) are similar. Fascism arises from Imperialism- Hitler’s dreams were modeled on his own, curious but not uninspired, understanding of north American and particularly US history-. Communism is, in origin, Imperialism’s antithesis. Fascism is liberalism “mugged by reality.” Communism is humanity attempting to tear off the chains which hobble it.
    Hannah Arendt- and God knows she had a million reasons to seek peace in her life and an accommodation with power- seems to me to have written the book that circumstance and the Cold War required.
    Now I will have to read it to see whether I am right. And that we may say of her and old Motown what was said of Wren and London: for her monument look around you. And taste Flint’s water to get the full flavour.

    • orionATL says:

      thanks for the history in this excellent precis.,
      yes, i suspect chasing any philosophy of fascism would mean reading pronouncements and rationalizations.

      ” Krupp and Agnelli don’t care very much what the rulers of Germany and Italy do in their spare time, or what silly costumes they put on, so long as they make sure that labour is cheap, profits are healthy and there are lots of fat contracts for them.”

      so then do you consider a political arrangement between political leaders and leaders of corporate society as the essence of fascism, or is there some other “essencec”, or is the term better viewed as a rather vague descriptor?

    • Ed Walker says:

      I think you will see that Arendt recognizes the difference between fascism and communism. Most of the discussion in the section Imperialism is devoted to an analysis of the evolution of the capitalist/market system, and fascism and totalitarianism seen almost as logical outcomes. That analysis doesn’t apply to the rise of Stalinism and totalitarianism in Russia. The paths to totalitarianism are not the same.
      .
      I appreciate your description of the evolution of Italian fascism. Polanyi talks about the initial phases of fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the early 1920s and argues that they died down, only to rise again when the business elites felt they would be useful. This is a point I did not make strongly enough in my discussion of that part of The Great Transformation.

      … In reality, the part played by fascism was determined by one factor: the condition of the market system.

      During the period 1917–23 governments occasionally sought fascist help to restore law and order: no more was needed to set the market system going. Fascism remained undeveloped.

      In the period 1924–29, when the restoration of the market system seemed ensured, fascism faded out as a political force altogether.

      After 1930 market economy was in a general crisis. Within a few years fascism was a world power.

      (p. 251).

  6. Bay State Librul says:

    Thomas Merton in writing in the early to mid 1950’s said this

    “In an age when totalitarianism has striven, in every way, to devaluate and degrade the human person, we hope it is right to demand a hearing for any and every sane reaction in favor of man’s inalienable solitude and his interior freedom. The murderous din of our materialism cannot be allowed to silence the independent voices which will never cease to speak.

    It is all very well to insist that man is a “social animal” — the fact is obvious enough. But that is no justification for making him a mere cog in a totalitarian machine — or in a religious one either, for that matter.

    In actual fact, society depends for its existence on the inviolable personal solitude of its members. Society, to merit its name, must be made up not of numbers, or mechanical units, but of persons. To be a person implies responsibility and freedom, and both these imply a certain interior solitude, a sense of personal integrity, a sense of one’s own reality and one’s ability to give himself to society — or to refuse that gift.”

    • orionATL says:

      “In actual fact, society depends for its existence on the inviolable personal solitude of its members.”

      this resonates strongly with me, especially vis-a-vis unending, suffocating covert surveillance.

      this is thomas merton whom pope franncis cited in his visit, is it not?

    • Ed Walker says:

      That is a great quote from a brilliant man. There is also no justification for making people mere cogs in a consumption machine.
      .
      My personal favorite book of Merton is Mystics and Zen Masters, which I read years ago. It was my first introduction to the world of Catholic and Islamic (Sufi) mysticism and a real eye-opener on the connectedness of human experience of the universal.

  7. gmoke says:

    The best book I’ve read about the rise of Fascism in Germany from the ground level view is Sebastian Haffner’s _Defying Hitler_. My notes on the book are available at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/10/12/156233/-

    Gitta Sereny’s work is also useful. I’ve read her Into That Darkness: From Mercy Killing to Mass Murder_ by Gitta Sereny and may put my notes online sometime.

    Here’s a piece I wrote about one aspect of these books that struck me:
    http://server3.eurotrib.com/story/2012/10/17/16758/821

  8. JohnT says:

    .
    Thanks Ed
    .
    Just to narrow this down w/out getting the entire right wing dictatorial turn this country has taken (Wall street bailout, endless wars, mass surveillance)
    .
    Her book and thoughts are the basis of a series I’ve been doing on the rise of the killings, or a better way of phrasing it, outright extra-judicial murder in many cases, by police in this country,
    .
    Description from informationclearinghouse

    The concept of the banality of evil came into prominence following the publication of Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, which was based on the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem. Arendt’s thesis was that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats.

    .
    I first titled it “The largest Street Gang in America”, but sometime later, I changed it to “The Banality of American State Terror” because I think that better exemplifies what is truly happening in this country. And I came to realize that law enforcement is merely carrying out the wishes of our elected officials from the local level all the way to the top of the federal government
    .
    It’s a de-facto death penalty, w/out their perceived messiness of judicial due process.
    .
    As of today 1168 American citizens have been killed at the hands of law enforcement, and I would bet that less than one percent of those cops who’ve taken part in ending the lives of American citizens have been disciplined in any way whatsoever
    .
    Just today the prosecutor in the Sandra Bland case alleged she committed suicide while in custody, effectively absolving all law enforcement involved in her death
    .
    I would be absolutely enraged if I were her family. Within days of her applying or a job at her alma mater, Texas A&M, she was dead
    .
    I think when you add everything up, federal laws on down to local statutes, Hannah Arendt could have been forecasting America in 2015
    .
    I look forward to your next post

    • orionATL says:

      “… may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats.”

      i look at that problem this way: all group structures, e. g., the xxx police force, the yyy church, the zzz medical organization, the aaa army, the bbb education establishment, the ccc tobacco corporation, have the inherent capacity to do harm to a society. that capacity arises from the fact that leaders in any organization can use their granted powers plus any powers society grants, to punish individuals who disagree with the actions or goals of the organization.

      take police or jailers – you may be a member of one of these social structures and you may disagree stringently with the tolerated or mandated behavior in that group of yours. if, however, you disagree too much or in the wrong way, even internally you may be disciplined or fired or imprisoned (cf. nsa emploee thomas drake). if that happens, there are serious personal liberty, economic, or family emotional consequences for your “act of civil disobedience”.

      i think it is folly to expect individuals to “do the right thing” when the consequences could be damaging (loss of job) to diastrous (incarceration or death).

      just how many edward snowdens can we expect there to be in our society’s hundreds of potentialy damaging social organizations?

      to take a hot-topic example, i have no doubt that in every police department there are substantial numbers of cops who do not support shooting suspects in certain situations where they are sometimes shot. do we expect each to come forward and speak out against dept policy or behavior with no protection available from society for having done so?

  9. Ed Walker says:

    I’m reluctant to give an explicit definition of fascism. First, when you have a definition, people argue over the definition, and then over whether the current situation matches the definition, and these are useless discussions. Second, there is a general understanding that Germany and Italy in the 30s were fascist, and we have enough shared understanding of the term in that context to know we don’t want to repeat that experience.
    .
    Third, as Kolakowski says, we are hard pressed to know our own time, and that is as true of today as it was for Polanyi and Arendt in theirs. They don’t give definitions, preferring to acknowledge the facts and labeling them, rather than attempting to give a full definition. As it was for them, so it will be for us, and maybe in a few hundred years, if our species is still around someone might be able to give a full and useful definition. I do think that some sort of useful discussion can take place without a firm definition, remembering the principle examples of fascism in action.
    .
    Even so, here’s something from Arendt that might help, p. 251:

    Mussolini’s Fascism, which up to 1938 was not totalitarian but just an ordinary nationalist dictatorship developed logically from a multiparty democracy. For there is indeed some truth in the old truism about the affinity between majority rule and dictatorship, but this affinity has nothing whatever to do with totalitarianism. It is obvious that, after many decades of inefficient and muddled multiparty rule, the seizure of the state for the advantage of one party can come as a great relief because it assures at least, though only for a limited time, some consistency, some permanence, and a little less contradiction.

    The fact that the seizure of power by the Nazis was usually identified with such a one-party dictatorship merely showed how much political thinking was still rooted in the old established patterns, and how little the people were prepared for what really was to come. The only typically modern aspect of the Fascist party dictatorship is that here, too, the party insisted that it was a movement; that it was nothing of the kind, but merely usurped the slogan “movement” in order to attract the masses, became evident as soon as it seized the state machine without drastically changing the power structure of the country, being content to fill ail gov- ernment positions with party members. It was precisely through the iden- tification of the party with the state, which both the Nazis and the Bolsheviks have always carefully avoided, that the party ceased to be a “movement” and became tied to the basically stable structure of the state.

    From this discussion we draw one crucial lesson: fascism is not the same as totalitarianism. A fascist state can become a totalitarian state, but that does not have to happen. We also see that for Arendt, the important factor is the takeover of the mechanisms of the state for the purposes of a single party, and most likely for its putative leader.

  10. sillybill says:

    I agree that trying to precisely define ‘facism’ and attempting to stick that label on our opponents is a mistake. Sure they are facists of sorts, but not exactly like back in the 1930’s, and the relationship between corporations and the state has been somewhat inverted, etc.,

    There will be (and already have been, for instance at Naked Capitalism) endless arguments about validity, context, history, semantics, revisionism, etc., ad nauseum.

    It seems to me that a simple label of ‘right-wing authoritarian assholes’ ought to be good enough. It avoids all sorts of verbal and political landmines, is easily communicated, examples of that sort of behavior are easily pointed to without needing complex explanations/historical references, examples of historical consequences are also easy to point to.

    And everyone already hates assholes.

    If we are speaking about non republicans we still have ‘authoritarian assholes’. And if we need to speak to children or the easily offended we can strike the asshole part.

    • bloopie2 says:

      Well put. I just need some kind of guidepost for those occasions when someone uses the word fascism. Writers should not use words that their readers do not understand. It is the writer’s obligation to make sure that does not happen. If one is going to discuss fascism, or even use the term, one needs to make sure that the meaning comes across clearly and correctly. Otherwise, it’s poor writing (and ultimately writing that’s given up on as being unintelligible).

    • haarmeyer says:

      Didn’t the word “corporation” in 1930’s Italian politics mean what we might call a business clique, a trust or cartel, or maybe a syndicate? It isn’t clear that transplants of Mussolini’s definitions into 2015 make this point very well, since we have our own, and quite different, meaning for the word.

      • bmaz says:

        Man, I’d like to have some of whatever you are smoking. Seeing as how it relentlessly creates faux intellectual gibberish, it must be really good.

        • haarmeyer says:

          Oh, hi, bmaz. A nice holiday to you, too. But if you’re looking to get high, you come to the wrong place. It isn’t gibberish, it isn’t put on. I assume you’re talking about what I said about fascism? It’s easily readable even in Wikipedia versions of the word fascism.

          Otherwise, you’re talking about my timeline on human rights and lip service, I would refer you to any United Nations site for confirmation. The Geneva Conventions entry into force is probably on the ICRC website, it’s 1950. The Genocide Convention is January 1951. The real biggie, the ICCPR, wasn’t even adopted until the 1960’s. The 1951 Refugee Convention was first signed in 1951, hence its name.

          It’s one thing to call my mathematics gibberish. Many people who don’t understand mathematics do that, and you’re no different. The above history is more than just accessible to lawyers, though. So either you just wanted to say something “trash talk”, or you weren’t paying attention.

          • bmaz says:

            You are so full of shit your eyes are brown. You are the only one in the world that thinks your too long; don’t read narcissistic meanderings are anything more than a waste of time. You think only you understand math, science, fascism, law, surveillance, global politics and a litany of other topics you have taken it upon yourself to deign to lord over us with your self claimed brilliance.
            .
            It is all a load of overwrought self important bleating from you. Every now and then you have a decent point, or something worthwhile to add, but it is always lost in your logorrhea.
            .
            You are basically a sideshow scold and a troll.
            .
            Happy Holidays to you too!

            • haarmeyer says:

              Right. What I said in my tl;dr comment was real mathematics, counselor. If you didn’t understand it, that doesn’t make me a troll or a scold. It makes you a person who criticizes what he doesn’t understand.

              As I recall, you wanted to ban me over it. Maybe we should take that as a real definition of the word “totalitarianism”. More evident in internet circles than anywhere else in the world right now. Because, as Ms. Arendt said, the dictators out there, regardless of what their grip on their countries power may be, lack the sense of a movement needed for totalitarianism.

              But you don’t, do you?

              • bmaz says:

                You are such a condescending troll.
                .
                Listen, if I wanted to ban you, your comments would have disappeared a long time ago. Please, do not humor yourself with any more.

              • orionATL says:

                the problem wasn’t “your” mathematics, haarmeyer. the problem was your application of it to the discussion at hand. your own sound understanding of where that math fit was not self-evident.

                and, as always, your remarkable condescending self-rightousness.

                • haarmeyer says:

                  What, bmaz uses the word “condescending” and we all chime in?

                  If you wanted more explanation, I’d have been willing to provide it, even though I had never put that much of my unpublished stuff on a comment section before. What I got, though, were criticisms that had the quality of criticizing me for having such theories without understanding what such theories actually were. You’re still doing that, by saying that applying the mathematics to the matter at hand wasn’t appropriate.

                  Here’s what the mathematics says: It says that the event of conflict is dynamically a massive slide from the normally diverse ecology of motives, actions and interactions in a society to a very small set of such in which everyone must pick a side, and that by everyone doing so, it propels that smaller dynamical universe into a regime of chaos.

                  Now, the massive slide part is very close to theories of market collapse — e.g. among others Krugman. The small set where people pick a side isn’t mine either, it’s Coleman. And the chaotic regime description isn’t mine either. What is mine is that this isn’t an analogy.

                  And with that comes the consequence that if the size of that small set isn’t minimal — because of something, for instance, that the UN refers to as multipolar conflict, or something similar — then the mathematics of such systems takes over and predicts that there isn’t anything resembling a root cause that matters as an event (the relevance to the discussion at hand) nor is there, nor can there be, a way out of the conflict that follows a straightforward agenda. Furthermore, the most promising way out may be to affect an adiabatic variable if one can be found — i.e. one that affects the overall energy of the system. The one e.g. I’ve seen that seems like it could work that way would be to starve the conflict of weapons.

                  The problem with root cause events is that they are seen in arrears. In arrears, the evolution of such systems always looks like a straightforward logical procession of events because they are deterministic. But that is an illusion because it has no predictive power, and a system that really was so straightforward would.

                  Is that better? A criticism of a dynamical systems explanation as being tl;dr is laughable. It’s a branch of mathematics where proofs can top 100 pages in a world that loves the elegance of a 3 page dissertation that wins a Nobel prize.

                  I’m taking a career risk putting my stuff out here before it’s published. I at least deserve respect for trusting you people, and for thinking you would find it useful to the discussions here.

                  • bmaz says:

                    Oh Jesus, you two bit loquacious joke of a self created martyr. You really need to get off your self centered merry-go-round.
                    .
                    Congratulations, however, into running your mouth long enough to prove you are a Onion level joke with your trite blather.

                  • orionATL says:

                    you know what i’m increasingly confident you are, haarmeyer?

                    you’re a con artist.

                    just a run-of-the-mill con artist.

                    [… Is that better? A criticism of a dynamical systems explanation as being tl;dr is laughable. It’s a branch of mathematics where proofs can top 100 pages in a world that loves the elegance of a 3 page dissertation that wins a Nobel prize.

                    I’m taking a career risk putting my stuff out here before it’s published. I at least deserve respect for trusting you people, and for thinking you would find it useful to the discussions here…]

                    “100 page proofs”, “nobel prize” “dynamical systems” is calculared to impress. by the way, the phrase commonly used is “dynamic systems” (as opposed to static), not “dynamical”.

                    you’re taking a “career-risk”? and you’re as old as you’ve previously claimed to be?

                    what crap?

                    i’m really curious why you showed up here. it clearly is not to inform, but to confuse and disrupt any and all discussions here.

                    the central question for me is: did you do decide to be a disruptor on your own initiative, or are you a member of a network assigned that task?

      • orionATL says:

        the important distinction is not a matter of translation.

        fascism was integrated with a philosophical concept called “corporatism” – in which society was viewed as a collectivity of interest groups.

        “corporatism” is a sort of philosophy. “corporation” is simply a term that describes a business.

        • orionATL says:

          i dont know the provinence, but here is an interesting little piece that sorts out mussolini’s philosophy involving “corporatism” and real-world of italian business corporations (i choose to ignore the “did he, or did he not, say it” framework) :
          .

          http://blog.skepticallibertarian.com/2013/02/07/fake-quote-files-mussolini-on-fascism-and-corporatism/

          for my concerns this is the quote of greatest interest:

          [… The National Council of Corporations was the government body in charge of managing Italy’s economy, and membership included representatives from labor unions, employers, public sector workers, government ministries, and social groups. Special committees would plan the technical details of specific policies. At its inauguration, Mussolini stated, “The [NCC] is to the Italian economy what the Chief of Staff is to the Army: the thinking brain that prepares and coordinates.”

          The idea was that this body would negotiate contracts and centrally plan production throughout the economy, regulating the sectors of art, industry, agriculture, trade, communication, transportation, and finance — thus settling disputes, producing social harmony, and generating economic efficiency. In reality the system was used for rent-seeking, and to reward friends and crush enemies of the government …]

          philosophy is seperated from reality by:

          “In reality the system was used for rent-seeking, and to reward friends and crush enemies of the government.”

          and that may be the connection, if one can be made, between fascism in practice and the extraordinary intertwining of american federal government police forces and american corporations foreshadowed by the cisa legislation which was just slithered thru the congress by means of attachment to an omnibus budget bill.

          • orionATL says:

            bevin @ #7:

            ” To attempt to understand fascism by studying its ‘ideas’ is a fool’s errand- there is no mystery, Messrs Krupp and Agnelli don’t care very much what the rulers of Germany and Italy do in their spare time, or what silly costumes they put on, so long as they make sure that labour is cheap, profits are healthy and there are lots of fat contracts for them.”

            which suggests to me we look to see in just what philosophical dress the cisa has been clothed (by the house of natsec couture, for sure) :)

          • orionATL says:

            it occurs to me that the government information/document classification process as it applies to national security expenditures, especially contracts, is a premier example of rent-seeking.

            if so, it would be, because of its size, a distorting and limiting factor in our ecenomy.

            • orionATL says:

              by “rent-seeking” i mean no more than gaming the system, e. g., lobbying, revolving door, etc. (where, say, a former natsec government official becomes, a corporate director and receives direct or indirect remuneration.

    • orionATL says:

      ” but not exactly like back in the 1930’s, and the relationship between corporations and the state has been somewhat inverted,”

      as you may have noticed above, i am interested in fascism and the relation of the state and corporations – or just the relation between the state and corporations minus the label.

      any sources or pointers to these would be appreciated.

  11. jonf says:

    I agree the middle class is fast vanishing and many are feeling the effects of loss of status. There is little to address the issue. Bernie Sanders proposes to address the issue by expanding SS, improving health care with medicare for all, free college education and higher taxes to reduce inequality of income. But, as bevins points out above:
    .
    “ The philosophy of fascism- the jingoism, the xenophobia, the faux darwinism, the Hobbes and Macchiavelli stuff is nothing more than a coat of many colours affected to disguise the sordid practicality of auditioning for power by suppressing challenges to the corporate elites and the old aristocracy.
    .
    So we have a clown car of auditioning pretenders all of whom will tell our friend Bernie that after the security, military and war budgets there will be little left over for any of his proposal. In fact it may be necessary to reduce some of those social programs so there is enough to keep us safe. And therein lies a huge problem. Worse. we may have reached a point of stasis where one party controls the WH and the other congress, sort of what the doctor ordered, a permanent deadlock. And Messrs. Adelson, Koch et. al. will be delighted.

  12. scribe says:

    The biggest problem with Arendt’s work is that some people, particularly those attracted to Power and its exercise, read it not as a warning but rather as an instruction manual.

  13. Rayne says:

    One of the earliest and best examinations of contemporary fascism post-9/11 was by David Neiwert at Orcinus. I can’t recommend enough the 6-part series, beginning here.

    At the time the series was first posted, I took exception with the label Neiwert used to define the symptoms we saw emerging. It wasn’t ‘pseudo fascism’, to my mind, and it wasn’t proto- or ur-, whatever prefix one might want to use to differentiate symptoms from fascism of the 1930s-1940s. In hindsight, the dispute about labeling was and is bound up in 1) identifying a moving target, which 2) has contemporary attributes unavailable to 1930s-1940s western society.

    Now twelve years later, it looked like fascism then, and it’s fascism now — a system of ideology, policy, and government of/by/for business, in which the rights of individuals are subordinate to the demands of synthetic entities and those who own or control them. How that system effects its aims varies now from the 1930s-1940s because of the level of education of the public as well as the technology available for communications and surveillance.

    Looking forward to your next entry, Ed.

    • jonf says:

      I’ve read part one of your link and it seems right on to me. A dozen years later and the conservative movement, aka fascism lite, as he says, is moving on. I was struck by his reference to the use of violence and intimidation that has now advanced to Trump ridiculing a disabled person and encouraging violence against protesters. The clown car en masse uses fear of the terrorists to drive their message. Thanks for the link.

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