Image of Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt on the State

Published: September 27, 2019

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”

Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism


More on Origins of Totalitarianism:

Published in 1951, The Origins of Totalitarianism is, on the one hand, a study of the two major totalitarian political movements of the 20th Century and, on the other hand, a study of the political history of mass movements more generally.  The book is divided into three sections – the first on antisemitism, the second on imperialism and the third on totalitarianism. Not a simple catalog of political developments of the modern state, Arendt's volume also considers the social conditions that prepare people for their own domination by totalitarian leaders.  When Arendt points to the collapse of distinctions between fact and fiction and between truth and falsity as dangerous preconditions and tools of totalitarian regimes, too, she underscores the epistemological crises underlying and even catalyzing the political upheavals of her modern world.

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