” it might be a mistake to assume that the inconstancy and forgetfulness of the masses signify that they are cured of the totalitarian delusion, which is occasionally identified with the Hitler or Stalin cult; the opposite might well be true.” (Chapter 10)
Arendt, in this quote, is referencing the tendency for totalitarian leaders to be forgotten and quickly abandoned after their own deposing, and that much of the time the totalitarian ideals go with them. To that end, it can be assumed ( or at least implied) that people tend to follow the leader more so than the position; however, Arendt also warns us against that in this passage. For example, Hitler, after he was defeated and after his suicide, is often forgotten and placed behind most modern Nazi groups – he is simply not as relevant as one would believe from the outside. At the same time, Arendt notes that this is because of the constant motion that totalitarian movements have to be in in order to survive; the death of the leader often heralds a substantial slowdown in that perpetual motion, which leads people to lose interest.
This is the real reason by people abandon totalitarian regimes: not because they do not believe in totalitarian ideals and the idea of subsumation of their agency to a powerful and commanding political figure, but because that particular regime is not moving fast enough. Here, Arendt is stating that it is dangerous to think that way of this regime, because it may be more of a case of the regime not fitting their own timetable. Totalitarianism, as an actual ethos, is still alive and well in these people; their own fickleness and transitory nature is an effect of their conversion to the totalitarian mindset, which is equally concerned merely with short-term results and constantly-moving changes and a lack of continuity. This is not to say that all of these ideas are strictly true of everyone under totalitarianism; Arendt specifically cites Stalin and Hitler followers as potential exceptions to the rule, due to those regime’s statuses as ‘cults’.
” Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself; the masses have to be won by propaganda” (Chapter 11)
This quote notes the importance of propaganda and a substantial, reductive information machine in the totalitarian machine. When one begins a totalitarian regime, it is necessary to convert people through aggressive action, which is often accomplished through propaganda. The reference to the mob and the ‘elite’ alludes to the nature of totalitarianism already favoring the unscrupulous and the rich, as this new system allows them to wring more power and more money out of the embattled middle and lower classes. Thus, the mob and the elite are already converted; it takes substantial effort to actually talk people into giving their freedoms away.
The propaganda state, allows the government and organizations to do terrible things while also protecting their own interests at the expense of the common person. In World War I for example, Woodrow Wilson was elected president on the platform ‘Peace Without Victory’; instead of this, however, Wilson’s administration spent the next six months waging a powerful propaganda campaign that made the American people clamor for war By emphasizing jingoism and fanaticism, outright making up events and atrocities for the American people to be angry about, the John Dewey circle and others were able to manipulate the American people into becoming more warlike, turning their passive disinterest in a European war into bloodlust for the Huns.
This emphasis on propaganda is important because it is effective, as with the aforementioned World War I propaganda efforts; it allows for misinformation and mischaracterization of one’s history (which is par for the course in totalitarian states) in order to change the minds of the populace in a dramatic way. With the help of properly effective propaganda efforts, people will be willing to do what the mob and the elite wish them to do; give them all of the power they want without as much of the accountability and responsibility.
” The totalitarian ruler must, at any price, prevent normalization from reaching the point where a new way of life could develop – one which might, after a time, lose its bastard qualities and take its place among the widely differing and profoundly contrasting ways of life of the nations of the earth” (Chapter 12)
Much as with the discussion of propaganda, the totalitarian ruler himself must play storyteller in very fundamental ways; he must be able to fool the people into a story that is simply untrue, but which is convincing enough to achieve the desired result. Because of the difficulty of this task, the totalitarian ruler has to accomplish this goal through expending an incredible amount of effort – an airtight narrative must be formed, facts must be twisted and skewed to make him look good and the Other look bad. The ruler has to work at all times, even after this narrative has been established, to ensure that alternatives to his rule are not established (” normalization”). This means a constant crackdown on anything that contradicts the ruler’s narrative, which can be a draining and nearly impossible task that the ruler must engage in anyway.
More importantly, and more pertinent to this quote, the ruler’s responsibility is to keep the regime unstable; any sense of stability or normalcy will allow the cracks in the narrative to start showing. To that end, he must take great pains to maintain the balance between power and stability, where he still is in charge but does not allow his regime to grow complacent about it. If this were to occur, it would become dangerously close to turning into just another one of the nations of the world, which is a greater danger to totalitarianism than anything else. In becoming the norm, it would then also be asked to claim responsibility for its people and its history, which the nature of totalitarianism is unable to support. Other nations would then have the absolute authority to judge the regime based on their view of the majority, instead of acting as an anomaly that cannot be quite identified or given authority over.
” Totalitarian lawfulness, defying legality and pretending to establish the direct reign of justice on earth, executes the law of History or of Nature without translating it into standards of right and wrong for individual behavior.” (Chapter 13)
Arendt, in this quote, notes that the rule of law in a totalitarian state does not bother with moral or ethical obligations to society, but instead follows a more primal sense of power and control that comes from nature. Not really viewing man’s behavior through a particular lens of right or wrong, it instead makes man act according to his instincts. It is an intensely uncivilized method of looking at the world and a society, but it is one of the only in which totalitarianism thrives. By tying the law and authority of man into a common, worldwide fact of biology or psychology, not the systems of governance and behavior that man attribute to themselves, totalitarianism then overrides normal requirements for consideration and operates on almost pure id. With the totalitarian mindset, man is no longer restricted by common courtesy or ethical behavior, simply excusing amoral behavior by consciously breaking away from what the overall consensus is on morality.
In this way, totalitarianism sets itself apart from any other kind of law by defying the very nature of law itself. With normal, civilized law, people attempt to regulate each other through commonly and majorly understood tenets of morality that we will not hurt each other, we will be compassionate through our laws and actions and foster equality among people, etc. The totalitarian philosophy eschews all that in favor of, quite literally, the law of the jungle, in which merely serves to defy what is expected and hoped for in a government. Though normal law seeks to allow us to reign in our darker impulses, totalitarianism carries the understanding that those are part of us and should not be controlled; therefore, when one takes control of all of us, it is merely him exacting his instincts. Others must then be bound to this law, as it is understood that he is ” king of the jungle.”
Arendt, Hanna. The Origins of Totalitarianism.