National Commentary

Today’s Relevance Of Hannah Arendt

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” – Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.


With Donald Trump in the White House in 2018, esteemed American philosopher Richard J. Bernstein published a short work, “Why Read Hannah Arendt Now,” that recapitulated the major themes of the remarkable 20th century Jewish thinker and Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) that she published in her epochal work, now considered an authoritative classic, “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1961). It dealt with the issues of power, evil, direct democracy, authority and totalitarianism.


The straightforward title of the short work is reflected in the quote at the top of this piece, so essential to grasping the nature of the evil that continues to bedevil American culture today. Its root is in the practice of deception, the flummoxing of the public’s powers of discernment and reason, with persuasive doubletalk, fakery and wild distortions. As Bernstein writes in the introduction to this short work, “Arendt was remarkably perceptive about some of the deepest problems, perplexities and dangerous tendencies in modern political life…When Arendt spoke about ‘dark times’ she was not exclusively referring to the horrors of 20th century totalitarianism. She writes, ‘If it is the function of the public realm to throw light on the affairs of men by providing a space of appearances in which they can show in deed and word, for better or worse, who they are and what they can do, then darkness has come when this light if extinguished by ‘credibility gaps’ and ‘invisible government,’ by speech that does not disclose what is but sweeps it under the carpet, but exhortations, moral and otherwise, that, under the pretext of upholding old truths, degrade all truth in meaningless triviality.”


The essential evil in what Trumpism and totalitarianism in its 2022 form lies in its commitment to deceive, to precede the shutting down of a responsible free discourse with a flurry of extreme lies that leave the public shaking its head. The question, How can someone believe that?, is followed by a subtle or not so subtle abdication of any serious commitment to reality, itself, especially when it is accompanied by coercion in one or another form.


So we have the Republican Party now officially calling the January 6 insurrection “legitimate political discourse.” Fear and cowardice, combined with any shallow justification for adopting to falsehoods, has produced this.


It has never been more important for truth and honest discourse to be elevated in the public consciousness today, for scientific thought to be brought to the forefront and nihilistic or self-indulgent rants to be resisted and fought against. The evil we face is a conscious and deliberate one, it seeks to cripple the mind and spirit of the common soul in order that its pathways to wanton destruction be cleared.