Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise

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  1. Start studying Rise of Totalitarianism 1920's to 30's. Learn vocabulary, terms, and more with flashcards, games, and other study tools.
  2. 10.7 Students analyze the rise of totalitarian governments after World War I. Trace Stalin's rise to power in the Soviet Union and the connection between economic policies, political policies, the absence of a free press, and systematic violations of human rights (e.g., the Terror Famine in Ukraine). Common Core CCSS-Literacy Reading 9-10.

Almost every academic analysis of Donald Trump will eventually lead to Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, first published in 1948. In that book, Arendt explores the social, psychological, and political prerequisites for the development of deeply authoritarian systems, leaders, and political action. It is, to my mind required reading, particularly the final third of the book, which focuses on the rise of totalitarianism in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia.

Whether Donald Trump developing a type of totalitarian government/movement in the United States is unclear. What is clear, however, is that his tendencies and instincts are authoritarian in nature. In some prescient way, Arendt – by analyzing the rise of totalitarianism in Europe – is clarifying for us what we’re watching here, today.


Let me start, then, with the idea of lying. All quotes are from Arendt. Remember: this is 1948.

Rise of the Totalitarian States. With the onset of the age of anxiety, political dictatorships grew as people searched for stability and solution to the economic difficulties of the Great Depression. The end result was a combination of the resurgence of authoritarian rule coupled with a new type of ruthless and dynamic tyranny which reached its zenith in Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union. Stalin transformed Russia into a totalitarian place where the government had total control of all aspects of life, and Stalin controlled the government and the economy and many aspects of citizen's private lives. The Origins of Totalitarianism begins with the rise of anti-Semitism in central and western Europe in the 1800s and continues with an examination of European colonial imperialism from 1884 to the outbreak of World War I. Arendt explores the institutions and operations of totalitarian movements, focusing on the two genuine forms of totalitarian.


Arendt makes it absolutely clear that the first and most important aspect of the authoritarian leader is to establish a fictitious world, a world where there are no facts but its own.

  • “Before authoritarian leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the person who can fabricate it.”
  • “The closer a system is to totalitarianism, the more the leader can and must practice the art of lying more consistently and on a larger scale than before.”
  • “Its disregard for facts, its strict adherence to the rules of a fictitious world becomes steadily more difficult to maintain, yet remains as essential as it was before. Power means a direct confrontation with reality…”

She notes that this type of lying and deception characterizes secret and conspiratorial societies and that leaders of these movements are always prone to conspiracies, lying, and secrecy. (This becomes an interesting and relevant criterion for what we might understand to be attributes of good leadership…)

  • “The chief value of conspiratorial societies’ organizational structure and moral standards lie in its unsurpassed capacity to establish and safeguard a fictitious world through consistent lying.”
  • “There is the fact that both Hitler and Stalin had been members of modern secret/conspiratorial societies before they become authoritarian leaders…”
  • “The most outstanding trait noted by the biographers of both Hitler and Stalin: unfaithfulness.”

Yet, leaders of this sort are powerless unless there is a willing public. Here, Arendt is truly incisive. In an early chapter of this final section (Chapter 10: “The Classless Society”) and again in the final chapter here (Chapter 13: “Ideology and Terror”) Arendt develops a brilliant analysis of the sociological conditions that accompany the rise of authoritarian systems, conditions that are conducive to isolation, cynicism, and deep loneliness. These are conditions that allow people to be deceived and isolated from the truth around them. There is a type of cynicism regarding both politics and facts that establishes fertile ground for authoritarians.

  • “They [the masses] do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations…What convinces them are not facts, but only consistency. Repetition is important only because it convinces them of consistency through time.”
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  • “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.”

Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise Among

  • [In a populace ready and willing to accept authoritarian propaganda, there sits that belief that] “all political institutions serve only as the façade for private interests.”

She notes that in every moment the lies are called out, the authoritarian world weakens. Here’s where the real work happens.

Readingstalinist Russia Totalitarianism On The Rise Since

  • “Every bit of factual information that leaks through the curtain set up against the ever-threatening flood of reality from the other side is a greater menace to authoritarian movements than anything else.”

Rise Totalitarianism Russian Revolution Flashcards And Study ...

Donald Trump needs to be successful, and an authoritarian world works in his favor, for…

  • “In a totally fictitious world failure need not be recorded, admitted, and remembered.”


The Rise Of Totalitarian Regimes -

Next time I want to explore Arendt’s understanding of the police in an authoritarian world.