Totalitarian

There are many different kinds of government. Some are good and some are not good, but as humans we take the good with the bad. One of the less desired is a Totalitarian government in which a party or individual has complete control over the government and the people within the country. How a Totalitarian regime gains control of a country is interesting. In the book The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt tries to explain some of the root causes of how a Totalitarian regime comes about. The process is pretty elementary and in looking at it is overly simple.

The process comes in stages, they first two of which work hand and hand with each other[1]. Those first two stages are a call to political action and the use of propaganda. For there to be a call to political action there needs to be reason for that call.   That is the work of propaganda. The next and most important step is to derail the government in power, rendering ineffective. This is the most important step because it can get the masses to support the totalitarian party.

Totalitarian regimes become possible when a countries government fails to function and as a result of the failure to function collapse. That is the effect to what can be many causes depending on the circumstances. Arendt says “Totalitarian movements are possible wherever there are masses who for one reason or another have acquired the appetite for political organization[2]” which is correct except the masses are loosely defined. Arendt would like us to believe the masses called to political action would be the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie being the middle class. This is partly true to the extent that they may have increased their political activity, but they were and always be involved in political action in one form or another.   The reasoning being most policies set forth by the government will have more of an impact on their lives; public, private and business.   The bourgeoisie can be manipulated to an extent, but has the power of their vote to change government. The masses that usually acquire the taste for political action or organization would have to be one that is normally not considered in the political environments. That would be the lower classes. In the case of the Nazi movement it was the unemployed, most of whom were soldiers that fought in the First World War The middle class has too much to lose and very little to gain, were as the lower class has nothing to lose and all to gain. The lower class can also be manipulated, more so than the middle class.

Manipulation comes in the form of propaganda. Arendt’s description of what propaganda is and why it is important is one the mark, but she fails to capture how it is used. Propaganda comes in many forms, but regardless of what form it comes in, it is the front line of psychological warfare for the totalitarian movement[3]. In the beginning of the process it is used to incite the lower classes by giving them something that might not have had before. Usually the lower classes are told in the form of speeches and reading materials that they can achieve anything if they surrender to the movement. Once the lower classes start to feel empowered the propaganda is used to incite them into a mob that is used in force to spread terror. It is in the chaos of this terror that the mob reinforces the propaganda spread among the middle classes. The mob is like a river, very powerful, but has a natural flow. If one damns that river and can direct its flow, that river and it’s power can become very dangerous. Arendt says the masses need to be won over by propaganda[4]; however it is more important to control the mob with propaganda. For example the Nazi’s needed the control of the SA early on in their rise to power. If the SA turned on the Nazi leadership the history of Germany would be completely different. The Nazi leadership maintained its grip on the SA also to counterbalance the force of the German army and police. In her attack on the bourgeoisie Arendt fails or underestimates the ability to control the mod.   It is by far more important than controlling the middle classes, because without it you can not control the middle classes.

The middle class is the key to power. To control the middle class is to control a country. This is when the soon to be regime will replace propaganda with more ideological indoctrination to assert control[5], but also garner popular support to help it seize control of the government. It is important to remember, unlike Stalin, Hitler and the Nazi’s were freely elected by the people. To get these votes the Nazi’s used the mob to create an upwelling of fear. For example the attempted uprising by the Nazi’s in Bavaria, in which Hitler was jailed. The middle class was stuck between a government trying to contain the Nazi’s and the violent seemingly uncontrollable mob. The mob is the ultimate tool in eroding the middle classes confidence in the government and the rational of the middle class.

Eroding the people’s faith in the government would be a challenge easily overcome by the Nazis, but they way they do it shows the ruthlessness totalitarian leadership will be in achieving their goals. Josef Goebbels wrote in 1928 “We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons. We become members of the Reichstag in order to paralyze the Weimar sentiment with its own assistance. If democracy is so stupid as to give us free tickets and per diem for the this “blockade,” that is its own affair[6].” This quote clearly states the aim of the Nazi party to stale the government rendering it useless. Consider that the German people voted in four elections since the Beer Hall Putsch[7]. There was clear deadlock and it was with this deadlock that the Nazi’s were able to seize power.   These failures of the government to operate and move forward build distrust in the citizenry of the country. With the support of the propaganda the totalitarian party looks like the better option to the voter. Also by voting for the totalitarian party the voter will get a false sense of security because by placing that vote the voter thinks the totalitarian party will rein in the mob. This is the most important step for the totalitarian movement; it forces the citizenry, mainly the middle class, in a position of total loyalty. Once in power the totalitarian government can put into place new laws and institutions that would in effect rapidly stabilize conditions within the country[8].       Also within the government there is a shifting of positions in which more trusted party members are giving more power and those that want power are put under men of lesser prestige[9]. Although the positions given to these loyal men in search of power does keep them close to the head of the party, under his watchful eye.

Hannah Arendt was heading in the right direction, but the points I bring up here she seems to ignore.   It is puzzling because it would have made her later arguments much stronger. She also misplaces the blame for the totalitarian regimes of Stalin and mainly Hitler at the feet of the middle class. Clearly the lower classes are more to blame because they are the ones the hold the power. Even George Orwell points this out in his novel Nineteen Eighty Four, in which he states that the poorer lower classes have the power to topple the Party. If they have the power to topple a party they have the power to put a party in place. This is what Lenin and Hitler did; they used the power of the poor.

[1] Pg. 478

[2] Pg. 414

[3] Pg. 453

[4] Pg. 450

[5] Pg. 450

[6] http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/resource/document/DOCNAC7.htm

[7] http://dmorgan.web.wesleyan.edu/materials/weimar.htm

[8] Pg. 512

[9] Pg. 515

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