On the Concept “Totalitarianism” and Its Role in Current Political Discourse

A Cardinal Principle of Modern Liberalism

The basic assumption of modern liberalism is that freedom is involved in an ongoing, all encompassing struggle against a dangerous enemy, totalitarianism.  The existence of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were and still are presented as the quintessential totalitarian formations.  Liberal thinkers stress that totalitarianism is on the rise in modern times because of the crisis endemic to modern life and society.  This crisis, we are given to understand, spawns political and social totalitarian movements which, upon achieving power, proceed to organize social and political life on totalitarian principles.  These principles include dictatorship, prohibition of opposition, large-scale repression, and the like.

The concept of totalitarianism is a pervasive, unchallenged, and almost intuitive element in the socialization process in most of the West.  People are taught that they live in a “free society” and that their very freedom and welfare are under threat from totalitarianism.  Thus, thinking people develop an abiding aversion to totalitarianism, an aversion which is so effective because it is part and parcel of the hegemonic belief structure.  Almost always, the opposition to totalitarianism is something “innate” or “known.”

The concept serves as the basis for a specific historical narrative built around the struggle of good (liberal democracy) against evil (totalitarian) dictatorship.  According to this narrative, we are at the present enjoying the fruits of great victories in the battle against totalitarianism which stem directly from the comparatively recent demise of the Soviet Union.  This, of course,  makes it all the more easier to promote the concept of totalitarianism.  

One of the ‘magical’ aspects of the concept of totalitarianism is that  it appears to be “fair,” “even-handed,” and really above day to day politics.  It seems completely objective because it warns that the dangers to freedom emanate from both the Right and  the Left.  Thus, the concept of totalitarianism is (almost) universally accepted and admired at all levels of political and intellectual life.  All participants in current prevailing ideological and political discourse are assumed to be opponents of totalitarianism.  The hegemonic rules of discourse are such that dissenting views may be disqualified if their proponents exhibit any lack of militancy against totalitarianism in thought and in practice. 

The Origins of the “Origins”

The concept totalitarianism is justly associated with the name of Hannah Arendt, whose book The Origins of Totalitarianism is the standard, basic text on the subject.1  The Origins of Totalitarianism is actually composed of three separate books which can be read and analyzed separately.  Part One is devoted to Anti-Semitism; Part Two deals with Imperialism.  The final Part Three, on Totalitarianism, is devoted to the presentation of both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as a new and unique form of government.  The point of the author’s argument is clear and direct.  Arendt sees a common basis to the two regimes in that they both are embodiments of radical, absolute evil.  The content is clear, and so is the context.  Never, for a moment, can the reader escape the clear and insistent message that Arendt is writing on behalf of the “Free World” against the looming evil of Soviet Russia.

Many have commented that the book really does not exactly deal with the origins of totalitarianism.  However, the book certainly deals, and in great depth, with the “distinguishing features” of  the two important regimes selected as prototypes of totalitarianism : Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

The Importance of Hannah Arendt

Basic biographical material on Arendt is, of course, available on Wikipedia, but this broad outline should be helpful.  Hannah Arendt fled Germany with the rise of Hitler in 1933 for Paris where she worked with refugees from Nazi Germany.  In 1940, she fled the invading Nazis and was eventually rescued by a special US representative, based on her already considerable intellectual reputation.  Arendt had studied with Martin Heidegger in Marburg, but she eventually relocated to Heidelberg in order to complete her doctorate in Political Philosophy with Karl Jaspers.  It is hard to exaggerate both the depth and the quality of her educational training and her own exceptional scholastic and intellectual talents.

Here it is vital to emphasize Arendt’s current preeminence in US and European political philosophy.  The number of intellectuals who have similar status can be counted on the fingers of one hand.  The hundredth anniversary of her birth, last year, was the occasion for the wide ranging praise and analysis of her work and the discussion of a growing body of interpretative studies and a review of recent literature on her work.

The prestigious New York Review, in an article by Jeremy Waldron, greeted the outpouring of volumes and conferences dedicated to the date, by asking “What Would Hannah Say?”2   Yitzhak Laor, a leading Israeli poet and critic, called her “one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century.”3  An Israeli sociologist, Dr. Natan Sznaider wrote: “She is being hailed as a profound and original thinker who devoted her life to the pursuit of a new political philosophy in the twilight years of Marxism.4  Prof. Corey Robin wrote: “From Slovenia to Waco, conferences, readings and exhibitions were convened in her honor.”5  Prof. Russell Jacoby remarked that Arendt “had joined the small world of philosophical heroes.”6  Whatever the cause or the justification, Arendt is an important intellectual figure whose impact on modern political philosophy cannot be ignored.  The five authorities have been cited above merely to reinforce this well known fact.

Hannah Arendt on the Shores of the New World

Our discussion at this point centers on a central formative element of the intellectual milieu in New York during the forties when Hannah Arendt and her husband Heinrich Bluecher reached the United States as refugees from German fascism.  An important group of “anti-Stalinist leftists” attracted Arendt and was quick to recognize her exceptional talents.  The group, which contributed decisive personal and social support to her and Bluecher’s absorption, went on over the years to fulfill a very questionable role in US public life.

The fact that former leftists, and especially “graduates” of the revolutionary Marxist anti-Stalinist (Trotskyist) movement during the thirties and the forties, became leading ideologues of US reaction from the fifties onwards is well documented.  The path of development among this particular section of US intellectuals would have been impossible without the Trotskyist stage.  The “family,” as they were known by many, moved step by step from revolutionary, communist, Marxist anti-Stalinism during the thirties to just plain anti-Stalinism.  From there the path was short to fervent, militant anti-Communism (minus Trotsky, minus revolution) and on to passionate support of the United States as the bastion of the Free World during the Cold War.  Those who began their political life as convinced revolutionary Marxists moved via their core position of “anti-Stalinism” to condemnation of the Soviet dictatorship and on to identification with official US policies, as the only reliable bulwark against the tide of Bolshevik aggression.

Current experience with the neo-conservative movement in the United States will help the reader to understand how a relatively small intellectual group can indeed become a vital factor in the ruling circles.  It is not pure chance that one can even trace personal and family connections of the present influential grouping back to the anti-Stalinist Left.

This fascinating collection of intellectuals, which attracted Arendt and Bluecher, has been dubbed the New York intellectuals in a book with the same title.7  Even a partial list of some of the main representatives of the group is studded with highly influential and even famous names such as, inter alia, Irving Kristol, Sydney Hook, Lionel Trilling, Clement Greenberg, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer.  In New York, Arendt and her husband became a prestigious social, cultural, and political addition to the New Yorkers.  During the war, she had already made a name for herself with articles in various magazines, including Partisan Review and Commentary.  She certainly made a strong impression on the local colleagues as someone who spoke on the basis of intimate acquaintance with the broader horizons of European culture.  It soon became clear that Arendt knew everything that her new colleagues knew and more.

In March 1946, Churchill, in his famous Fulton, Missouri speech, purposely and effectively devastated the remains of the great anti-Fascist alliance of the US, the UK, and the USSR and demanded confrontation with the Soviets from positions of strength.  The year 1947 witnessed the first salvos and confrontations of the Cold War, such as  the Truman Doctrine designed to aid “free peoples and defeat totalitarian regimes,” the Marshall Plan, and the establishment of the CIA.

It was during these years that Hannah Arendt conceived and began writing The Origins of Totalitarianism.  The reigning, dominant political discourse in the United States could not have been more favorable.  The United States, as the leader of the Free World, must resist, contain, and undermine the dangers stemming from the growing strength and prestige of the Soviet Union.  It was, in brief, a battle for freedom against tyranny, democracy against totalitarianism.  By its author’s unequivocal intent and by its brilliant execution, when first published in 1951, Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism fitted in perfectly with the ruling ideological needs of her adopted country.  It was greeted and duly admired by her new intellectual peer group whose anti-Stalinism had mushroomed into full-scale and militant anti-Communism with calls for an even more passionate prosecution of the Cold War.

One of the main figures in the group, by then a published author, Alfred Kazin, helped Arendt in finding a publisher.  Previously, Kazin had helped Bluecher acquire a teaching position at the New School, no easy task since Bluecher, who was certainly qualified intellectually to teach modern European history and philosophy, did not have any formal education.  In these circumstances, characterized by growing anxieties of the developing Cold War, beset by genuine fear of an impending total military confrontation with the Soviet Union, Hannah Arendt mobilized her impressive intellectual gifts on the side of what she considered, to the best of her understanding, the Free World.  The first edition of the Origins was published in 1951.

Critiquing Hannah Arendt and Arendt’s “Origins of Totalitarianism”

There are many serious observers who challenge Arendt’s pre-eminence.  Russell Jacoby sees her as simply overrated, notes that Arendt’s “star shines so brightly because the American intellectual firmament is so dim,” and goes on to belittle the murkiness of her style, especially in her more important philosophical texts: 

It is not only the general bleakness that brightens Arendt’s star.  Her work can sparkle, especially her essays.  Yet with the great exception of Eichmann in Jerusalem, her major books suffer from major cloudiness.  Ironically, the more philosophical Arendt sought to be, the more opaque she became.  Even after the most careful readings, it is difficult to know what Arendt is trying to say.  This is as true of The Human Condition as of The Origins of Totalitarianism, the book that first brought her attention.

But she is the beneficiary of the widespread belief that philosophical murkiness signals philosophical profundity.

Her devotees sometimes admit that Origins is disorganized and unsuccessful.  She sought to present Nazism and Stalinism as twin representatives of totalitarianism, but left out Stalinism until the conclusion.  Sections on imperialism and racism, which are coherent and insightful, lack a relationship to Stalinist totalitarianism, which derived from neither.  To make her argument, she yoked Nazism and Stalinism together with philosophical babble about ideology and loneliness.  Somehow the “loneliness” of the masses fuels totalitarianism.  “While it is true that the masses are obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects, it is also true that their longing for fiction has some connection with those capacities of the human mind whose structural consistency is superior to mere occurrence.”  Huh?

Jacoby goes on to make two important additional points.  He praises Eichmann in Jerusalem but notes, quoting Gershon Scholem, that its central thesis on the “banality of evil” contradicts Arendt’s own analysis in the Origins to the effect that totalitarianism was a “radical evil” and something that breaks down all the known standards.  Jacoby also notes that the growing army of Arendt admirers relate less and less to the Eichmann book.8

Though, in general, he thinks highly of Arendt, Professor Corey Robin joins a growing body of opinion which stresses the severe limitations of The Origins of Totalitarianism.9  Robin argues against the academic consensus which still considers “Origins” as her major work and contends that, in this work, “Arendt’s account dissolves conflicts of power, interests and ideas in a bath of psychological analysis, allowing her readers to evade difficult questions of politics and economics.”  Moreover, historians of Nazism and Stalinism have pointed out that the relevant part of the book is “the least instructive.”  Robin actually disposes with The Origins of Totalitarianism rather brusquely: “By the Cold War’s end, Arendt’s account of totalitarianism had been so thrashed by historians that Irving Howe was forced to defend her as essentially a writer of fiction whose gift for ‘metaphysical insight’ enabled her to see the truth that lay beneath or beyond verifiable facts.”  Robin attacks the propensity of many admirers of Arendt to misuse the totalitarianism label against al-Qaida, Saddam Hussein, and Iran.

Robin criticizes the “Arendt industry” for ignoring the fact that “if Arendt matters today, it is because of her writings on imperialism, Zionism and careerism.”  So Arendt, the author of the basic theory of totalitarianism, is important for practically every aspect of theory except . . . totalitarianism.

Moreover, reality itself contradicted Arendt’s theory: less than five years after the publication of Origins and just two after the publication of an enthusiastically received second edition in 1954, the shock waves from the twentieth congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1956) totally undermined the totalitarian thesis of a political formation lacking any capacity for change and reform.

Hard Anti-Communism

Hannah Arendt’s political and intellectual links with the “New York Intellectuals” are a matter of record.  There does not seem to have been any kind of critical evaluation on her part of the group and her role in it.  Of course, she did not owe anyone any explanation on this matter of how she used her right of personal and public association.  On the other hand, she certainly knew that members of this highly intellectual grouping related in highly positive terms to the Origins and were instrumental in recommending the book and advancing its exceptional acceptance.

In his autobiography, Norman Podhoretz, a central figure of the radical Right in the United States, emphasized the critical role of the Origins in the fight against Communism.  In discussing a separate issue, related to the future of Commentary, Podhoretz employed an interesting concept of “hard anti-Communism”: “hard anti-Communism [is] a position virtually every member of the family held in the early fifties.”  Podhoretz goes on to explain its meaning.

In the early fifties, the two main intellectual organs of the hard anti-Communism which had its roots on the Left rather than the Right were Commentary and the New Leader; Partisan Review was in the same camp, but more uneasily so.  Hard anti-Communism of this variety rested on two major assumptions:

  1. The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state of the same unqualifiedly evil character as Nazi Germany, and as such could not be expected to change except for the worse (this idea was given its most powerful theoretical support by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, which conceived of totalitarianism as an “ideal” metaphysical category rather than as a system of political arrangements responsive to changing historical conditions);
  2. The Soviet Union was incorrigibly committed to the cause of world revolution, to be furthered by military means when necessary, and when possible by a strategy of internal subversion directed from Moscow; only American power stood in the way of this fanatical ambition to destroy freedom all over the world, and only American awareness of the nature of the threat could generate policies that would thwart it.10

Arendt adduces convincing proof that Stalin equals Hitler and the Soviet Union equals Nazi Germany.  The immediate conclusion from the analogy is plain and simple.  Hitler was hell-bent on world conquest, so it is also clear that the totalitarian Soviet Union is preparing war by military means and political subversion (fifth columns and spies!).  Is it unfair to say that if an individual’s theoretical contribution is converted into propaganda for war, Hanna Arendt might have been duty-bound to express reservations, if she had any?  Moreover, it would seem incumbent on Arendt to point out where the miscreant interpreters had misunderstood the text if this occurred.  But, sadly enough, there is no reason in the world not to interpret Arendt’s magnus opus as an argument for aggressive war by the US against the USSR.  It is just that.  I am not suggesting that Arendt would have applauded an aggressive war by the United States against the Soviet Union.  From her letters during the period of the Berlin crisis, it is clear that she was in mortal fear of a confrontation between the USA and the USSR that might have resulted from Stalin’s aggressive handling of the crisis.  The point is not that Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism because she wanted war with the USSR, but that the book’s main thesis served, without any need for distortion, the purpose of those who wished, on the US side, for escalation and confrontation, even when that meant all-out war.  It is impossible to believe that Arendt was unaware of the political realities of the early fifties and the dangerous impact of the Origins‘ message.  However, she did not find it difficult to live with this impact.

Zizek on the Two Totalitarianisms

One might assume that the demise of Soviet Communism has made the study of totalitarianism a rather archaic affair.  However, Slavoj Zizek’s incisive analysis of the current role of the totalitarianism thesis demonstrates that we are not merely examining an historical issue (howsoever important) but dealing with a contemporary and urgent political one.11  Anyone who believes that history has made the question of the relation between Nazism and Communism obsolete is in for a surprise.  Zizek calls on the public to understand the dangers involved in the campaign in the ex-Communist countries to extend the ban on the public display of Nazi symbols, such as the swastika, to the hammer and sickle, and even the red star.  Since Zizek wrote this warning at the beginning of 2005, the anti-Communist hysteria in Eastern Europe has reached McCarthyite dimensions (outlawing the existence of the Young Communist League in the Czech state, the lustration scandal in Poland, resurgence of the ultra-right crypto-fascists in the streets of Budapest laying siege to the Hungarian Parliament, not to mention a literal orgy of reactionary legislation sponsored by the Catholic church).  Yes, since Communism is as bad as Fascism, why should it receive preferential treatment?  Why should Heidegger be condemned while Brecht and Lukacs are still honored?

Zizek demonstrates the broader implications of the totalitarianism thesis, describing how the respected German historian Ernst Nolte spearheaded, in the late eighties, a revisionist drive to deny the assertion that Nazism was an incomparable evil.  Nolte had, at his beckoning, a large public amenable to his argument that not only was Communism just as bad, but there was some excuse for Nazism in that it was a response to Communism.  Zizek does not hesitate to agree: Communism was based on the antagonism between classes and Fascism displaces this essential antagonism.  In other words — and this happens to be what the Communists and other democrats worked so hard to explain — Fascism introduced racism and aggression in place of class struggle so as to divert the masses from their interests in social progress and equality.

Zizek’s Stand — The Liberal Position Is A Priori False

For Zizek the totalitarian issue is a current and pressing one.  He demands that people make a choice:

The ‘pure’ liberal attitude towards Leftist and Rightist ‘totalitarianism’ — that they are both bad, based on the intolerance of political and other differences, the rejection of democratic and humanist values etc — is a priori false.  It is necessary to take sides and proclaim Fascism fundamentally ‘worse’ than Communism.  The alternative, the notion that it is even possible to compare rationally the two totalitarianisms, tends to produce the conclusion — explicit or implicit — that Fascism was the lesser evil, an understandable reaction to the Communist threat. 12

Zizek emphasizes the link between the totalitarianism thesis and the ongoing attempt of European reaction to change the nature of Europe’s post-war identity.

High Priestess of the Cold War

Arendt, as a leading political scientist, published an impressive array of books, articles and essays during the decade after publication of the Origins in 1951 up to her work on the Eichmann trial.  This essay has concentrated on the Origins because of the book’s deep and abiding influence on the creation of a “liberal consensus against extremism.”  This is the same “liberal parliamentary consensus” which precludes any serious questioning of how the liberal-democratic order is complicit in the phenomena it officially condemns, and of course, any serious attempt to imagine a society whose social-political order would be different.  People are pressured, convinced, cajoled, and enticed to stay away from the limits where assumedly democracy ends and totalitarianism begins.  It is only natural that the thrust of this argument is employed almost exclusively against that section of the Left which refused to be penned in by the prohibitions to think past the limits of liberal, capitalist democracy.

In the preface to the first edition of the Origins, Hannah Arendt  wrote: “The totalitarian attempt at global conquest and total domination has been the destructive way out of all impasses.  Its victory may coincide with the destruction of humanity; wherever it has ruled it has begun to destroy the essence of man.”13  Our terrible experience with totalitarianism, suggests Arendt, has deepened out understanding.  “Without it, we may not have ever known the truly radical nature of Evil.”14

It would be naïve, to say the least, to disregard the political context of this declaration.  Nazi Germany had been destroyed, just a few years back, at a horrendous cost in lives and human suffering.  So, in fact, Arendt, sounding the alarm against Communism and the Soviet Union, joined her academic skill and expertise to the calls from Truman, Churchill, and others to prepare for confrontation with the Soviet Union.

According to Hannah Arendt, both Communism and Fascism are basically expressions of an essentially new stage in human history, the stage of totalitarianism.  The two movements are not merely similar, they are actually the same — simply different manifestations of the same essence.  But the truth is that they are not identical or even similar.  This becomes clear as we analyze the historical record and go over a detailed list of major differences between the two historical movements.

Major Differences between Fascism and Communism

The concept of totalitarianism which has been expanded into a broad historical theory requires re-clarification of the basic differences between Fascism and Communism.

This concept is vitally important since it serves as the analytic foundation for a belief structure that presumes to be the key to understanding, no more and no less, the main issues of the twentieth century.  The concept and the theory, as we have already pointed out, hold that the previous century centers on the battle between freedom and tyranny.  Freedom is represented mainly by the regimes obtaining in the West and the challenge to freedom is represented by the totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  Totalitarianism stems from the breakdown of modern society and the inability to withstand psychological pressures linked to it.

The main opposing conceptual framework is that the twentieth century ushered in an age of war and revolution which stemmed from the increasingly moribund nature of modern capitalism.  The leading political movements and developments of that century are all basically reflections of the struggle between revolution and counter-revolution.  Fascism and the West were complicit in facing the Communist threat.  Communism, as it developed in third-world (Russian and Chinese) conditions, did have the historical and revolutionary energy necessary to develop social liberation but lacked the resources to develop political freedom.

Totalitarianism is presumed to be the common denominator of the two movements, Communism and Fascism, and the systems that each created.  For those who accept this presumption, the struggle against the spreading influence and domination of totalitarianism is the first and foremost issue of our time.  However, this conceptual framework arguing for the essential identity of Communism and Fascism is not sustained by any serious historical examination.

A. Immediate Historical Background of Fascism and of Communism

Fascism was born out of the crisis of a developed capitalist country and its failure to achieve hegemony in the imperialist system.  Communism developed from the deep general crisis of the most backward country in Europe, when Russia hoped to achieve a minimum of international standing by joining a powerful European ally.

B. Fascism and Communism vis-à-vis Their Role Regarding the Status Quo of Imperialist Control

Fascism fought to achieve preeminence in the world imperialist system, and never challenged that system.  Communism challenged the international imperialist system by rejecting it and attempting to advance independent development in its place.

C. Fascism and Communism: The Response vis-à-vis Ruling Classes

Fascism enjoyed the active approval and assistance of the capitalist class in Germany and was met with sympathy and support by international capital, which recognized the contribution of Fascism to the common front against Communism (Bolshevism).

D. Fascism and Communism: The Relation to the Capitalist Class

Communism grew and developed in a sharp antagonism with the leading capitalist forces in Russia and aroused the anxious ire of international capital, whose fierce opposition to the Communists found expression in unsuccessful armed intervention.  Fascism defended capitalism by displacing class struggle with racism and chauvinism.

E. World Reaction

Forces of reaction worldwide understood and sympathized with the need for Fascism and its goals.  They detested and defamed Communism in Russia.

F. Basic Property Relations

Fascism did not challenge in any basic way the property relations of German capital and its dominant role in German society.  Fascism did indeed mobilize the German economy, but only on the hallowed foundations of private capital domination.

Communism revolutionized property relations in Russia, expropriating large capital and feudal land ownership.  Despite tremendous obstacles, Communism inspired and created, for the first time in history, a functioning society that did not operate on the basis of the profit system.

G. Social Reforms

Fascism did not result in any major social reforms in German society or in its class structure.  It did not involve any shifts designed to advance the workers.

Communism effected enormous changes in the social structure.  Literacy and access to education expanded, medical attention became general, the economic structures were modernized, and technological advancement was widespread.

H. Mobilization for Expansion

Fascism mobilized existing economic assets in a drive for world domination.

Communism reformed Russian society and effected major social-economic transformation.

I. Armed Aggression

Fascism led a drive towards renewed aggression and a drive for world domination.

Communism conducted a sustained bid for international collective security and departed from it only after the West refused its initiative.  In general, the Soviet Union responded to the external threat with arguably reasonable defensive strategic requirements.

J. Spiritual and Cultural Expressions

In fascism, these were based on racism and militarism.  Fascism meant the vigorous defense of the status quo and the severe repression of any movement for reform and social change.

Communism was for tens if not hundreds of millions a clarion call to rise, throw off chains of repression, to think in terms of new and revolutionary changes on behalf of the deprived and the suffering.

K. The Break-up of the Regimes

The two main instances of major “totalitarian” regimes — Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are no longer in existence.

The Nazi regime was eliminated only by a fierce and lengthy world war.  The end of the Communist regime was a result of unsuccessful attempts at internal reform and involved relatively little violence.

In detailing these vital differences, we are not ignoring the existence of many characteristics that do indeed serve as a basis for the totalitarianism thesis.  These include the absence of basic political freedoms, instances of mass repression, one party rule, and state control of social-cultural life.  The existence of these and other similarities are important and there is no need to minimize their significance.  But they do not come close to canceling out the major distinctions and the major political significance of these differences.  Moreover, it is, of course, relevant to cite the indisputable historical truth that the major military confrontation of the twentieth century involved the central contribution of the Communist Soviet Union to the military destruction of the war machine of Nazi Germany.  It may be of value to suggest that without that contribution and the sacrifices involved in it, we may have well entered, and remained to this day, into a dark night of 1,000 years of Fascist totalitarian rule.

Marxists present their own counter-narrative regarding the crises of wars, revolutions, and counter-revolutions that characterize the last century.  Hannah Arendt argues that the content of the century is the assault launched by totalitarianism against freedom.  This overarching metaphysical description is characteristic of bourgeois ideology in that it completely ignores the central social and economic crisis of our time.  The crisis of modern society is the internal contradiction of capitalist society whose relations of productions are an objective obstacle to human progress.  The content of the century is not a parable of good and evil (which is, of course, a generalized form of Christian myth) but the long and tortuous efforts to overcome and overthrow capitalism-imperialism.  Humanity is still faced, to this very day, with the choice between socialism and barbarism.


These days, civilization continues to defend itself against the two-pronged onslaught of the two worst evils facing it: totalitarianism and terror.  We have it on authority that the two have joined forces.

“This caliphate would be a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands, stretching from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia.  We know this because al Qaeda has told us.” — George W. Bush, September 5, 2006


1  Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Co., 1951, 1954.

2  New York Review of Books 15 March 2007.

3  Ha’aretz, 27 October 2006. 

4  Ha’aretz, 20 October 2006.

5  “Dragon-Slayers,” London Review of Books 29.1, 4 January 2007. 

6  “Hannah Arendt’s Fame Rests on the Wrong Foundation,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 December 2006.

7  Alan Wald, The New York Intellectuals, University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

8 Jacoby, op. cit.  Jacoby is a professor of history at UCLA.

9  Robin, op. cit.

10  Norman Podhoretz, Making It, NY: Random House, 1967, pp.289-290.

11  Slavoj Zizek, “The Two Totalitarianisms,” London Review of Books 27.6, 17 March 2005.

12  Zizek, Ibid.

13  Arendt, op. cit., p. viii.

14  Ibid. p. viii.

Reuven Kaminer is a writer, political analyst, and veteran activist of the Left in Israel.  Read his blog at <reuvenkaminer.com>.  He is the author of “The Politics of Protest – The Israeli Peace Movement and the Palestinian Intifada” and innumerable other articles in Hebrew and English.  He is one of the founders and editors of “Ha’gada Ha’Smolit” [The Left Bank], a leading news and commentary website in the country: hagada.org.il.  Kaminer was a founding member of various protest formations such as SIAH (the New Israeli Left), the Israeli Committee for Solidarity with Bir Zeit University, and the Committee against the War in Lebanon and “Dai L’kibush” [End the Occupation].  Kaminer — along with the late Eliezer Feiler, Yael Lotan, and Latif Dori — was one of the defendants in a historic court case in 1987-1990, when the four were tried for having met with the PLO in Romania.  For more information, visit a special archive of the Israeli radical Left of the seventies and the eighties: israeli-left-archive.org.  He is now a member of the Control Commission of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and the local left-leaning branch of Peace Now in Jerusalem.  He is proud that Matan Kaminer, his grandson,  is one of the Israeli refuseniks who went to prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli army of occupation.  The nicest compliment that he ever heard was the comment of a youngster, previously unknown to him, outside the Jaffa Military Court during the refuseniks trial, who told him that some people say that he is the grandfather of all the refuseniks.

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