How to Weaponize a Population - Origins of Totalitarianism Ch.10 from Hannah Arendt

Ch. 10 A Classless Society

The basis of this chapter is that political, social, and class structures stand in the way of totalitarianism because they provide an identity which prevents the people of a society from being stripped of meaning, from their personal relationships to one another, and from having their own identity stripped and replaced with new personality given by the ideology, one which demands completely loyalty. 

Please forgive the number of quotes, I know it's way too many. At some point I will rewrite this! 

I: The Masses

Totalitarian leaders are very quickly forgotten after their death, why? Well the totalitarian machine rests on the ability to always be moving towards its goal with rapidity. Therefore, it will involve people who are prone to very quickly being taken over and set towards some new goal. Thus, the fact that they forget about those leaders may be a sign, not of healing, but of a proclivity to be taken over again with the next movement. Dictator rule depends on their popularity with "the masses." 1

The control of these figures over the masses isn't necessarily a trick, as their evil deeds are out in the open, but the reality is that the mob mentality has an attraction toward embracing evil, even over self interest. Arendt mentions a man who was willing to suffer a false conviction and destruction of his own family for the cause, so long as his status as a member in that cause was left intact. 3

"... it may be understandable that a Nazi or Bolshevik will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it; but the amazing fact is that neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor or a concentration camp. On the contrary, to the wonder of the whole civilized world, he may even be willing to help in his own persecution and frame his own death sentence if only his status as a member of the movement is not touched." 4

As long as the movement is going, its members will destroy themselves in the process of it, as the masses are not the traditional guilds and classes of different groups of people interested in politics. Rather, it's just a very large number of people centered around the one singular idea. 5

"But within the organizational framework of the movement, so long as it hold together, the fanaticized members can be reached by neither experience nor argument; identification with the movement and total conformism seem to have destroyed the very capacity for experience, even if it be as extreme as torture or the fear of death." 6

This is partly because so many are lost in the pursuit of the new form of government that it required a large population which to weaponize, 7 many of which were those neglected by other parties, or at the fringes, because they were "too apathetic or too stupid" 8

"Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization. Masses are not held together by a consciousness of common interest and they lack that specific class articulateness which is expressed in determined, limited, and obtainable goals. The term masses applies only where we deal with people who either because of sheer numbers, or indifference, or a combination of both, cannot be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions. Potentially, they exist in every country and form the majority of those marge numbers of neutral, politically indifferent people who never join a part and hardly ever go to the polls."  9

Because they preyed on these type of ignorant people, they did not need to address arguments against other political parties, they just ignored them. "They presented disagreements as invariably originating in deep natural, social, or psychological sources beyond the control of the individual and therefore beyond the power of reason." 10 This showed that probably only a small minority of people cared about the democratic constitutions and structures of government, the rest of the people who are neutral are not irrelevant. 11 Therefore, don't think that classless, uneducated, masses are not insignificant. Lack of political engagement allows strong men to take over. 12

The individualism of Capitalism and the upper classes caused a lack of involvement in politics and class groups by these individuals. 13 Thus, the totalitarian movements were anti-bourgeois and anti-individual. None of the previous movements like this "... ever involved their members to the point of complete loss of individual claims and ambition, or had ever realized that an organization could succeed in extinguishing individual identity permanently and not just for the moment of collective heroic action." 14 The difference between the 19th century "mob" and the 20th century "masses" was that the mob reflected the values of the upper capitalist class and retained its individuality. Whereas the masses reject all political structures and their individuality was lost. 15 

How did the European "mass man" develop? Well, as the old political structures began to crumble theycould not recruit new younger members, who were going else where to find something that "served them." Throw into this changing dynamic the catastrophe of World War I and the mental and physical brutalization that it brought along with it. Now include the fall out of monetary inflation, poverty, and unemployment. There was a feeling of injustice, a feeling that there was nothing to lose. "In this atmosphere of the breakdown of class society the psychology of the European mass man developed." 16

"The fall of protecting class walls transformed the slumbering majorities behind all parties into one great unorganized, structureless mass of furious individuals who had nothing in common except their vague apprehension that the hopes of party members were doomed, that, consequently the most respected, articulate and representative members of the community were fools and that all the powers that be were not so much evil as they were equally stupid and fraudulent." 17

So they were appealed to in terms of fixing a whole system which had oppressed them. They were enticed by ideological questions, more than personal, of historical significance. There had been a prediction of a mob rule or mob uprising. Interestingly, though, the totalitarian movements captured not only the mob, but the high cultured individual as well. Why? Well, it could possibly be that its the logical effect of the 19th century intelligentsia who were the ones who brought about nihilism and the destruction of belief systems with their writings. 18

"Yet, while all these predictions in a sense came true, they lost much of their significance in view of such unexpected and unpredicted phenomena as the radical loss of self-interest, the cynical or bored indifference in the face of death or other personal catastrophes, the passionate inclination toward the most abstract notions as guides for life, and the general contempt for even the most obvious rules of common sense. 19
The truth is that the masses grew out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness of the individual had been held in check only through membership in a class. The chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships." 20

It is atomization of the masses that is most important to bring about totalitarianism. Interestingly, Lenin had built up classes to stabilize the revolution. Stalin tore them all down. 21 Stalin started with the Kulaks, the peasant farmers. 22 The the workers of factories also were taken advantage of and turned into a collective. He liquidized all groups within society, even the police force at the end. 23

"Equality of condition among their subjects has been one of the foremost concerns of despotisms and tyrannies since ancient times, yet such equalization is not sufficient for totalitarian rule because it leaves more or less intact certain nonpolitical communal bonds between the subjects, such as family ties and common cultural interests. If totalitarianism takes its own claim seriously, it must come to the point where it has 'to finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess,' that is, with the autonomous existence of any activity whatsoever."

"Himmler quite aptly defined the SS member as the new type of man who under no circumstances will ever do a thing for its own sake." 24

Atomization of the public was done through destroying family and relational ties. This is done through guilt by association. People don't want to be found guilty so they will turn in their family and friends with false evidence to save themselves. Therefore, no one feels safe around anyone. The movement demands absolute loyalty of every member. This is done by convincing the people that the ideology will encompass all humanity and inevitable and through total atomization from all ties and relationships which would get in the way. This is "... the psychological basis for total domination...". "Such loyalty can be expected only from the completely isolated human being who, without any other social ties to family, friends, comrades, or even mere acquaintances, derives his sense of having a place in the world only from his belonging to a movement, his membership in the party." 25

"Mass atomization in Soviet society was achieved by the skillful use of repeated purges which invariably precede actual group liquidation. In order to destroy all social and family ties, the purges are conducted in such a way as to threaten with the same fate the defendant and all his ordinary relations, from mere acquaintances up to his closest friends and relatives. The consequence of the simple and ingenious device of 'guilt by association' is that as soon as a man is accused, his former friends are transformed immediately into his bitterest enemies; in order to save their own skins, they volunteer information and rush in with denunciations to corroborate the nonexistent evidence against him; this obviously is the only way to prove their own trustworthiness. Retrospectively, they will try to prove that their acquaintance or friendship with the accused was only a pretext for spying on him and revealing him as a saboteur, a Trotskyite, a foreign spy, or a Fascist. Merit being 'gauged by the number of your denunciations of close comrades,' it is obvious that the most elementary caution demands that one avoid all intimate contacts, if possible - not in order to prevent discovery of one's secret thoughts, but rather to eliminate, in the almost certain case of future trouble, all persons who might have no only an ordinary cheap interest in your denunciation but an irresistible need to bring about your ruin simply because they are in danger of their own lives. In the last analysis, it has been through the development of this device to its farthest and most fantastic extremes that Bolshevik rulers have succeeded in creating an atomized and individualized society the like of which we have never seen before and which events or catastrophes alone would hardly have brought about. 26"

The fidelity demanded must be void of all content so that one's mind cannot change. "Total loyalty is possibly only when fidelity is emptied of all concrete content, from which changes of mind might naturally arise." Arendt pointed out that in Germany, Hitler simply refused to talk about issues. Stalin, as well, changed his mind every morning, demanding obedience, or in other words, repeating something new every morning. He changed the application of Marxism all the time so that no one could predict what the right thing to think was, they just had to repeat what was said. 27

"No matter how radically they might have been phrased, every definite political goal which does not simply assert or circumscribe the claim to world rule, every political program which deals with issues more specific than 'ideological questions of importance for centuries' is an obstruction to totalitarianism.'" 28

The totalitarian state is the expression of the ideology through the masses, through the leader, and through each other. They are all mouth pieces of the collective will. It's not the individual mind or person that matters, but the collective. 29

"Totalitarianism is never content to rule by external means, namely, through the state and a machinery of violence; thanks to its peculiar ideology and the role assigned to it in this apparatus of coercion, totalitarianism has discovered a means of dominating and terrorizing human beings from within. In this sense it eliminates the distance between the rulers and the ruled and achieves a condition in which power and the will to power, as we understand them, play no role, or at best, a secondary role." 30

Interestingly, the embodiment of the collective is something that is never complete. It's a continual process that must be kept in motion. 31

"Neither National Socialism nor Bolshevism has ever proclaimed a new form of government or asserted that its goals were reached with the seizure of power and the control of the state machinery. Their idea of domination was something that no state and no mere apparatus of violence can ever achieve, but only a movement that is constantly kept in motion: namely, the permanent domination of every single individual in each and every sphere of life. The seizure of power through the means of violence is never an end in itself but only the means to an end, and the seizure of power in any given country is only a welcome transitory stage but never the end of the movement. The practical goal of the movement is to organize as many people as possible within its framework and to set and keep them in motion; a political goal that would constitute the end of the movement simply does not exist." 32

II: The Temporary Alliance Between the Mob and the Elite

There are reasons that the elite are also attracted to participate in totalitarian movements, not just the masses. People looked forward to destroying the class system, and they saw World War I as doing that. It was fashionable to have been part of the war and be part of that "generation," rather than the previous elites. 33 There was a type of union between the elites who were proposing Darwinian theories, and the masses from the war who had lived them. 34

"The anti-humanist, antiliberal, anti-individualist, and anticultural instincts of the front generation, their brilliant and witty praise of violence, power, and cruelty, was preceded by the awkward and pompous 'scientific' proofs of the imperialist elite that a struggle of all against all is the law of the universe, that expansion is a psychological necessity before it is a political device, and that man has to behave by such universal laws." 35

The "front" generation wanted to break all the molds and do something different, be different because of what they had experienced. 36 The elite and masses embraced violence because this type of terrorism will not be forgotten. 37

"They had convinced themselves that traditional historiography was a forgery in any case since it had excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind. Those who were rejected by their own time were usually forgotten by history, and insult added to injury had troubled all sensitive consciences ever since faith in here after where the last will become first had disappeared. Injustices in the past as well as the present became intolerable when there was no longer any hope that the scales of justice eventually would be set right. Marx’s great attempt to rewrite world history in terms of class struggles fascinated even those who do not believe in the correctness of his thesis, because of his original intention to find a device by which to force the destinies of those excluded from official history into the memory of posterity." 38

There was an embracing of the misfits and outcasts. A new history was written, one that focuses on alternative theories. Huge lies are told with truth so often and with such a force behind them that they become the new history and impetus for the movement as a whole. 39

"The temporary alliance between the elite and the mob rested largely on this genuine delight with with the former watched the latter destroy respectability." 

"The object of the most varied and variable constructions was always to reveal official history as a joke, to demonstrate a sphere of secret influences of which the visible, traceable, and known historical reality was only the outward façade erected explicitly to fool the people." 

"To this a version of the intellectual elite for official historiography, to its conviction that history, which was a forgery anyway, might as well be the playground of crackpots, must be added a terrible, demoralizing fascination in the possibility that gigantic lies and monstrous falsehoods can eventually be established as unquestioned facts, that man may be free to change his own past at will, and that the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and become a mere matter of power and cleverness, of pressure an infinite repetition. Not Stalin and Hitler skill in the art of lying but the fact that they were able to organize the masses into a collective unit to back up their lives with impressive magnificence, exerted the fascination. Simple forgeries from the viewpoint of scholarship appeared to receive the sanction of history itself when the whole marching reality of the movement stood behind them and pretended to draw from them the necessary inspiration for action." 40

The bourgeoisie represented the old structures of Western society which they were to uphold. But after the collapse of these belief systems in the 19th Century, there wasn't much left to uphold. Rather to uphold them would be hypocritical. So, the mob was just the bourgeoisie cleansed of their hypocrisy and living it. The double standards of outward virtue but inward corruption of the upper class was done. And they took as virtue to openly being like the mob and embracing the wickedness and evil. Rather, in the absence of these old belief structures, idiotic and absurd ideas weren't really rejectable. 41

"What the spokesmen of humanism and liberalism usually overlook, in their bitter disappointment and their unfamiliarity with the more general experiences of the time, is that an atmosphere in which all traditional values and propositions had evaporated (after the nineteenth-century ideologies had refused each other and exhausted  their vital appeal) in a sense made it easier to accept patently absurd propositions than the old truths which and become pious banalities, precisely because nobody could be expected to take the absurdities seriously." 42 The elite got tired of their own hypocrisy and threw it off and just openly embraced the evil like the mob did. Elite wanted to unmask their hypocrisy, and the people actually accepted it with open arms. 43

"The mob applauded because it took the statement literally; the bourgeoisie applauded because it had been fooled by its own hypocrisy for so long that it had grown tired of the tension and found deep wisdom in the expression of the banality by which it lived; the elite applauded because the unveiling of hypocrisy was such superior and wonderful fun." 

"...discard the uncomfortable mask of hypocrisy and to accept openly the standards of the mob." 44

The totalitarian movements tried to create a whole milieu or framework or structure of existence, a "weltanschauung." The elites wanted to radicalize people in order to create an acceptance of the making public their private manipulations and control over society. 45

"...the totalitarian movements asserted their 'superiority' in that they carried a Weltanschauung by which they would take possession of man as a whole" 46

Continuing in this vain... if the totalitarians framed it in the right way, they could corrupt the everyday person to do their bidding. 47

"...that in Russia 'the revolution was a religion and a philosophy, not merely a conflict concerned with the social and political side of life.'" "... not to change in social or political conditions, but to the radical destruction of every existing creed, value, and institution." 

"Yet totalitarianism in power learned quickly that enterprising spirit was not restricted to the mob strata of the population and that, in any event, such initiative can only be a threat to the total domination of man. Absence of scruple, on the other hand, was not restricted to the mob either and, in any event, could be taught in a relatively short time period for the ruthless machines of domination and extermination, the masses of coordinated philistines provided much better material and were capable of even greater crimes and so called professional criminals, provided only that these crimes were well organized and assumed the appearance of routine jobs." 48

People who worried only about their private lives and not the corruption of the state were easily taken over. 49 They government eventually killed off their original intellectuals because anything creative is a danger to changing things. 50

"Whenever totalitarian movements seize power, this whole group of sympathizers was shaken off even before the regimes preceded towards their greatest crime. Intellectual, spiritual, and artistic initiative is as dangerous to totalitarianism as the gangster initiative of the mob, and both are more dangerous than mere political opposition. The consistent persecution of every higher form of intellectual activity by the new mass leaders springs from more than their natural resentment against everything they cannot understand . Total domination does not allow for the free initiative in any field of life, for any activity that is not entirely predictable. Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools his lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee their loyalty." 51


1 - Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: Harcourt, 1970. 306

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