Why the world is turning to Hannah Arendt to explain Trump

George Orwell’s “1984” is not the only classic that’s celebrating a comeback. Hannah Arendt’s philosophical essay “The Origins of Totalitarianism” has also spiked in interest recently. Here’s why it’s so relevant.

Born in Germany to a Jewish family, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) fled when Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933. She spent time as a stateless refugee in France and was deported to an internment camp under the Vichy regime. She emigrated to the United States in 1941, later becoming a US citizen.

Having experienced first-hand the near collapse of an advanced civilization, she also became one of the first political theorists to analyze how totalitarian political movements could rise in the early 20th century.

The roots of Nazism and Stalinism are described in her first major book, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” originally published in English in 1951.

It has been compulsory reading for many college students ever since, but the dense political work of over 500 pages isn’t typically a bestseller. It has been flying off bookshelves in the US since Trump’s inauguration; Amazon even briefly ran out of stock this week.

These new Arendt fans are presumably trying to understand what Trump’s presidency could lead to. As it might take a while for readers to get through her heavy essays, here are a few spoilers: “Trump is not a totalitarian in her understanding; he incorporates what she calls ‘elements’ of totalitarianism,” Roger Berkowitz, professor and head of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanity at Bard College in New York, explained in a recent DW interview.

However, strong warning signs shouldn’t be ignored, added Berkowitz: Arendt believed that “one of the core elements of totalitarianism is that it’s based in a movement… and Trump has explicitly called himself the mouthpiece of a movement. That’s a very dangerous position for a politician.”

DW News Hannah Arendt Zitate ENG

Populism: easy fixes in times of global anxiety

Arendt’s analysis focuses on the events of that period. Although her observations obviously couldn’t explain everything about today’s complex political developments, many are still revealing even now, as the right-wing populism that’s spreading throughout Europe and the US is reminiscent in different ways of the situation in the 1920s and 30s that allowed the Nazis and Communists to rise. Continue reading

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Was George Orwell just a dirty old man?

George Orwell
George Orwell

CRAIG BROWN: In our contemporary climate, would George Orwell be allowed a platform to speak up about anything?

THE DAILY MAIL 2/14/18
A week or two ago, I pointed out that Brexiteers and Remainers alike are convinced that if George Orwell were alive today he would be firmly on their side.

This raises another question. In our contemporary climate, would George Orwell be allowed a platform to speak up about anything?

In America, the wonderful comic writer Garrison Keillor has been silenced following allegations of improper conduct. The long-running radio show he created has been given a new name and old episodes are no longer being repeated; his weekly newspaper column has been cancelled; and a plaque in his honour at his old university has been removed.

 And what exactly was his crime? No one is saying. According to Keillor, he placed his hand on a woman’s back, meaning to console her after she told him of her unhappiness.

‘She recoiled. I apologised. I sent her an email of apology and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called.’

Nearly 70 years after his death, George Orwell is still regarded as one of our greatest essayists and novelists, but a trawl through his life and work by the Thought Police would, I’m sorry to say, unearth far worse.

Even his most sympathetic biographers acknowledge that, as an officer of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, he paid regular visits to the waterfront brothels of Rangoon. After spending time in Morocco, he also confessed to his friend Harold Acton that he ‘seldom tasted such bliss as with certain Moroccan girls’.

A friend recalled Orwell saying that ‘he found himself increasingly attracted by the young Arab girls’. He confessed to the same friend that he told his wife, Eileen, he ‘had to have one of these girls on just one occasion’. Eileen agreed, and so he went ahead [ . . . ]

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