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Publié le 19/02/2024

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« 1 « THE PROBLEM OF TOTALITARIANISM IN HANNAH ARENDT » INTRODUCTION Reflection on the problem of totalitarianism is a major challenge for societies in search of solid and viable reference points.

The interest shown by people in this issue is not only due to the existential drama of totalitarianism, but also to the desire to find lasting solutions to this totalitarian destruction with a view to the harmonious development of the state and the progress of humanity. The urgency of thinking about totalitarianism and evil is still felt today.

The questions raised by the very murderous 20th centuryème , like Nazi totalitarianism, have not yet been resolved, with the endless murderous wars throughout the world.

This is the case with the emergence of new forms of totalitarianism in this century, such as the invasion of the great powers and their excessive interference in the internal politics of underdeveloped or developing states.

Hence, the need to confront ourselves with this harmful and intractable reality. Arendt's post-war interpretation of the genesis of Nazi anti-Semitism which consisted of the extermination of Jews (Shoah), Slavs and Gypsies in Nazi concentration camps - is, in effect, the development of her theory of totalitarianism in crisis relation with that of human freedom.


Arendt H., pp. 48, 69-70, The Origins of Totalitarianism). How could inhuman practices of totalitarianism be introduced into the history of peoples? How can new forms of totalitarianism be prevented, cured and averted in the world? What are the positive contributions of Arendt's philosophy in the search for lasting solutions to the problem of Nazi totalitarianism? 2 I.

THE NOTION OF TOTALITARIANISM IN ARENDT The era of Modernity, with the onset of the French Revolution, brought about significant socio-political changes and was opposed by contemporary totalitarianism.

Totalitarianism took advantage of the shortcomings of the liberal democratic system to impose itself on the people.

The break-up of nation-states and the emergence of imperialist or annexationist political movements foreshadow the advent of totalitarianism. ème Totalitarianism is linked to the two world wars, which make the 20th century an undecidable mix of civilisation and barbarism. Arendt is part of that era of the XXème century, which saw its (Jewish) people decimated by the Nazi totalitarianism led by Hitler.

She could not remain indifferent and indolent in front of the atrocities and suffering suffered by her people.

It was in this sense that she initiated the engagement of philosophy in the socio-political arena and the political theory of action. Hannah Arendt is one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th centurye .

Her work has influenced philosophy, politics and ethics.

A thinker of the world's chaos and an early anti-Nazi activist, she was a fighter for human rights, a theorist of the perils threatening democracy, a thinker of anti-totalitarianism and a woman involved in the main battles of the century. A thinker of the event, a philosopher of human fragility, she experienced in her flesh what she theorised.

It is undoubtedly also for this reason that her work shocks us more than thirty years after her death. (Adler Laure, Dans les pas de Hannah Arendt, Paris, Gallimard, 2005, p.

5). Arendt is more than ever a reference and leading figure in contemporary thought.

She not only describes the totalitarian movement, but also delves into history to find its roots and explain its birth. Around the key concept of totalitarianism and its derivatives such as slavery, anti-Semitism, racism and imperialism, Arendt finds these famous sources and then launches into a description of the totalitarian system.

She did so in a book first published in 1951, The Origins of Totalitarianism, which was entitled 3 The Burden of Our Time.

This first title made it clear that, for Arendt, totalitarianism is the proper object of contemporary political thought.

History compels us, Arendt wrote in her introduction, "to examine and consciously bear the burden which our century has laid upon us without denying its existence, or meekly submitting to its weight." (The Burden of our time, London, Secker and Warburg, 1951, p.

8). A formidable polemicist and a scathing critic, constant in her loyalties, and first and foremost in her relations with that great German conscience, Karl Jaspers, Arendt traversed all the debates of the century, without ever relinquishing her independence of mind or her lucidity: In the face of totalitarianism, whose concept she forged, but also in the face of racism and the civil rights movement in the United States, in the face of the creation of the State of Israel and the future of Zionism, in the face of American involvement in the Vietnam War, in the face of the revolt of the youth of the 1960s, Never giving in to the aristocratic temptation of withdrawal, she accomplished a work of thought without needing to decry the world, but by advocating a love of reality, thus giving the rare image of a thinker's life equal to her speculative achievements. (Young-Bruehl Elisabeth, Hannah Arendt.

Biography, Trans.

by J.

Roman and É.

Tassin, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1999, p.

730). Arendt describes the tragic reality of totalitarianism, which is based on the negation of human existence, and consequently on the destruction of the unity of the state, which is forcibly replaced by an artificial and deeply non-political unification of society.

The totalitarian movement ruins the primary foundation of the state insofar as it abolishes the political dimension of the emergence of man as a 'political animal' and of social unity.

Such a movement proceeds to the creation of an apolitical and absolutely miserable state, reducing the scope of individual freedom and the existence of the human condition to the point of annihilation.

The totalitarian dynamic is the relentless pursuit of total domination and annihilation of man.

The Nazi totalitarian state, which is tantamount to the reign of the inhuman, is one in which the individual is both held hostage and in charge of politics from the cradle to the grave.

Bruised by 4 the totalitarian phenomenon, Arendt at one point advocated the creation of a Jewish army to fight Nazism militarily.

Thus, in the midst of the war, Hannah Arendt wrote: "We must change the law of extermination and the law of flight by the law of combat".

It is in favour of this fight that she will call, first of all, on her people to support the formation of this Jewish army, the creation of resistance groups in the occupied countries, by underlining the importance of an uprising in the ghettos, particularly in Warsaw.

She vigorously denounces all that may appear among her people as resignation, passivity, guilty complicity. Fighting desperately seems to her to be the only way for the Jewish people to prepare for its political existence and to assert its political existence in the face of those who work to deny it.

Fascism and Nazism represent the political movements of totalitarianism.

Nazism (National Socialism) is the totalitarian ideology of the NSDAP (National Socialist Party of German Workers), a political party created in Germany in 1919.

Developed by Adolf Hitler (18891985) and set out in his autobiographical and ideological book Mein Kampf in 1925, Nazism is based on the principle of the superiority of the "Aryan race", the conquest of a vital space for Germany and the extermination of races and peoples considered inferior. "Basically, totalitarianism is the world upside down insofar as it proclaims the destruction of everything that the Revolution inaugurated" (A.

Enegrén, 1984, p.


Jewishness is an experience that has shaped Arendt's political and historical concerns. In a letter written to Karl Jaspers in 1946, Arendt writes : My non-bourgeois existence is based on the fact that, thanks to my husband, I learned to think politically and to see things from a historical perspective, and that, on the other hand, I never stopped orienting myself politically and historically from the Jewish question. (Letter of 29-01-1946, Hannah ARENDT and Karl JASPERS, Correspondance, Paris, Payot, 1996, p.

70). 5 In order to fully understand Hannah Arendt's political thought, it is necessary to re-examine the Greek reference in the light of the Jewish reference, and thus address the major question for her, that of citizenship. For H.

Arendt (2012, p.

54): 'Totalitarianism is the effect of changes whose success is confounded by a radical liquidation of freedom as a human disposition and political reality'.

For her, the notion of totalitarianism is used to explain the hatred and cruelty of Hitler's Nazis towards the Jews through their mass extermination in death concentration camps, the fabrication of corpses, of which totalitarianism is the expression.

Totalitarianism is the phenomenon of the popular masses, which finds its essence in the desolation of existential drama.

It appears as the collective situation characterised by the conjunction of terror, ideology and the masses.

This conjunction corresponds to the suppression of human freedom, the absence of the subject of law and the dehumanisation of man.

Therefore, Arendt's in-depth explanation of the concept of totalitarianism makes it possible to safeguard human freedom and dignity against all political.... »


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