Hannah Arendt and the idea of total domination

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Hannah Arendt argued that the goal of totalitarianism was total domination; namely, to eliminate spontaneity and hence to destroy "man" as a moral agent and as an individual. This essay explores the problem of total domination as a core aspect of Arendt's theory of totalitarianism, tracing the problematic connection between Arendt's concept of total domination and her description of the Nazi totalitarian regime. It reveals certain ambiguities and inconsistencies in Arendt's understanding of totalitarianism, in particular concerning the question of whether the Nazis actually achieved total domination. Noting the survival of moral life in the camps, as manifested in acts of mutual aid among the prisoners, the author contends that the concept of "total domination" does not capture accurately the complexity of life in the Nazi concentration and extermination camps. In this light, she explores the limitations of Arendt's theory of totalitarianism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-224
Number of pages32
JournalHolocaust and Genocide Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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