Which gives a particular ideology its name is combined with the force of



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Ideology


In the last chapter of her book, Arendt spells out what she means by the word ideology. According to her, ideology always predicates itself on history, explaining historical becoming and perishing through ideas (469). In other words, Arendt sees ideology as a consciously employed discourse, which addresses a particular sphere of human experience – that of historical change and development – and claims to explain it fully. In this operation, the idea which gives a particular ideology its name is combined with the force of logic to produce the powerful potion of total conviction. As the word indicates, ideology purports to unravel the logic inherent in the idea, and it is this logic which presumably allows the single idea to produce an explanation of everything, of the vast plurality and complexity of reality. “What fits the ‘idea’ into its new role [of allowing the ideologue to calculate history] is its own ‘logic,’ that is a movement which is the consequence of the ‘idea’ itself and needs no outside factor to set it to motion.” (469)

But, as Arendt suggests, Logic should not be seen as the spontaneous movement that was locked in the idea only to be released by ideological understanding. Rather, once it has set up a premise, ideology ties itself to the coercive strait jacket of logic, which replaces a tentative, philosophical way of thinking. This allows the idea and what is posited as it logic to mechanically function together as an explanation-producing machine. This is why all ideologies are to an equal extent potentially useful for totalitarian movements.

Arendt isolates three elements in all ideological thinking that are totalitarian in nature. First, ideologies claim to supply a total explanation that “promises to explain all historical happenings, the total explanation of the past, the total knowledge of the present, and the reliable prediction of the future.” (470) Second, ideological thinking becomes independent of experience, which can teach it nothing new. This emancipation from sensual reality is based on the positing of another, ‘truer’ reality that is concealed behind what is perceived. Ideology then claims to provide the sixth sense that captures this concealed reality. Third, the emancipation of thought from experience is based on logic. Everything is consistently deduced from an axiomatically accepted premise. This logic ultimately becomes far more appealing than the idea that had initially supplied the content of the ideology, and the submission to it is essentially a submission of the freedom to think something new. (471)

It is important to note that Arendt’s understanding of ideology follows from, or functions in accord with an important strand of the historical narrative that her study presents. In closing her discussion of imperialism, Arendt addresses a phenomenon of the twentieth century, or a new way of life that this century had forced on some of its inhabitants. These were the stateless and – since the Rights of Man had come to be associated with nationality, since they were only articulated as conditions of existence within a community – rightless humans, born of ethnic conflicts and wars. While the masses of atomized individuals who are utilized by the totalitarian movements do not coincide with the group of these refugees from social protection, they grow in the same landscape and, in Arendt’s eyes, are infected by the reality of this homeless, rightless, superfluous existence. These masses, “whose chief characteristic is that they belong to no social or political body, and who therefore represent a veritable chaos of individual interests,” (348) are characterized by an insistent disregard towards reality and an addiction to imagination (351). This disdain towards reality is the result of this infection, of the masses’ “atomization, of their loss of social status … their situation of spiritual and social homelessness.” (352)

Totalitarian propaganda answers the need of these masses, who can no longer bare the accidental, incomprehensible aspect of reality. What convinces them are not facts, but consistency.

What the masses refuse to recognize is the fortuitousness that pervades reality. They are predisposed to all ideologies because they explain facts as mere examples of laws and eliminate coincidences by inventing an all-embracing omnipotence which is supposed to be at the root of every accident. Totalitarian propaganda thrives on this escape from reality into fiction, from coincidence into consistency. (352, my emphasis)



It is the same contempt towards reality – a sentiment that, as we have seen, Arendt associates directly with ideology – that lies behind the dilemma with which the totalitarian movements are confronted once they have seized power. “Power means a direct confrontation with reality, and totalitarianism in power is constantly confronted with overcoming this challenge.” (392)

But this historical condition – or perhaps historical psychosis – of the masses not only poses a dilemma for the totalitarian state, it also nourishes its ambitions and endeavors, supplies them, as it were, with a mission. The experience of the modern masses, in which overcrowding, homelessness, unemployment and scarcity of means lead them to understand themselves as superfluous, germinates the non-utilitarian attitude that separates totalitarian leadership from any previous form of despotism or tyranny:

Totalitarianism strives not towards despotic rule over men, but toward a system in which men are superfluous. .. As long as men have not been made equally superfluous – and this can be accomplished only in concentration camps – the ideal of totalitarian domination has not been achieved. (457)

In other words, totalitarianism transforms what was seen by many as a confusing new reality of an increasingly complex world into an objective. In this innovational maneuver, ideology plays a crucial role because it is a form of reaction to this unbearably complicated world, a reaction that wishes to wipe out the very complexities that produce problems and replace them with a single formula that answers everything. “The curious logicality of all isms, their simple-minded trust in the salvation value of stubborn devotion without regard for specific, varying factors, already harbors the first germs of totalitarian contempt for reality and factuality.” (458)


The tendency of the masses, those uprooted and superfluous beings produced by the modern world, to desire such logical isms is not coincidental. As Arendt shows in the last pages of the book, totalitarian movements amplify the solitude which is a political reality even before them, and which is so useful for all forms of tyranny, producing a condition of utter loneliness. All tyrannies isolate men in the public sphere in order to make them impotent, but they leave the private sphere, with its private contacts, intact; however, “the iron band of total terror leaves no space for such private life.” (474) What the annihilation of this space produces is loneliness, which is “the common ground for terror, the essence of totalitarian government, and for ideology or logicality, the preparation of its executioners and victims.” (475) This surprising association between terror, loneliness and logic is based Arendt’s claim that the only capacity of the human mind which can function without others altogether, which is compatible with utter loneliness, is logical reasoning. “Under the conditions of loneliness, the self evident is no longer just a means of the intellect and begins to be productive, to develop its own lines of ‘thought’” (477) Totalitarianism seizes upon the prevalence of loneliness, fills it with such logical reasoning and thus destroys “all space between men” (478) because “freedom as a political reality is identical with a space of movement between men.” (473)

As a consequence of several factors of the theory of ideology that I have tried to summarize above, the possibility that ideology is realized or materialized in lived experience and daily practice is precluded. Arendt assumes that in the proper order of things ideology is by definition absent from daily life, that it is relevant only in a limited sphere which she recognizes as the political. “The organization of the entire texture of life according to an ideology can be fully carried out only under a totalitarian regime.” (363) The working assumption of totalitarian movements is that a Weltanschauung can “take possession of man as a whole” and this supports their claim “to have abolished the separation between private and public and life and to have restored a mysterious irrational wholeness in life.” (336) [Arendt describes this claim as a reaction to nineteenth century liberalism as it serves the bourgeoisie, it seems to me that in her argument she continues to assume that prior to totalitarian intervention the private sphere is ideologically neutral, or non-ideological. ]


A question that she consequently leaves open is how totalitarian ideology functions in the sphere of lived experience. In other words, how does ideology play itself out in the space that nonetheless remains standing between people in the totalitarian state. In his study of the German troops on the Eastern Front, Omer Bartov addresses the issue of a historiography of ideology, particularly the question to what extent Nazi ideology was accepted by the general population of Nazi Germany. His problem is that of the empiricist who will only base his conclusions on unquestionable, quantifiable evidence. As he poses it:

It will probably never be possible to determine the precise extent of persuasion of the German public in the tenets of National Socialism, not only because the Weltanschauung was vague, unclear and meant different things to different people, nor just because of the lack of evidence and the difficulties involved in gauging public opinion in a totalitarian regime, but first and foremost because there is no simple or precise method of establishing whether an individual ‘believes’ in something or not.1

His answer is that belief can be traced by the historian insofar as it is a cause for action – be it in the form of statements (I believe that…) or in the form of behavior that conforms with an ideology.2 Translated into the terms of a discussion with Arendt, Bartov’s conclusion might perhaps be reformulated as a statement about the importance of behavior and practice as a factor in any attempt to document or understand the role of ideology in totalitarian regimes. This factor augments the consideration of how totalitarian ideology conceived of humans by a consideration of how humans conceived of the ideology and how they translated it into practice.

A similar emphasis on practices arises from other studies of the institutions of Nazi Germany. In his chronicle of the Gestapo and German society, Robert Gellately poses the premise that the fact that the regime was able to carry on as long as it did (and, one might add, that it came to an end as a result of outside pressure rather than a revolt from within) shows that there was “a good deal of consensus.”3 One of the foci of Gellately’s study is the denunciation of “transgressors” against the standards of the regime by their fellow citizens. In Bartov’s terms, the very presence of so many cases of denunciation in the files of the Gestapo shows that people acted in conformity with Nazi ideology, and hence that they accepted it. However, while he does not discuss the question explicitly, Gellately’s account unravels a more complex dynamic, in which practice is not necessarily evidence of belief – for “denunciation was usually determined by private needs and employed for instrumental reasons never intended by the regime”4 – but a tool for the dissemination of ideology. Thus, the denunciations gave “practical effect to the regimes intentions to monitor and modify social behavior;” moreover, while they were partly possible because of the politicization of daily life, they also helped to establish to establish and uphold this same politicization.5


Kershaw ? Allen -? Hellbeck - the atomized individual is caught up in the rhetoric and logic of the official ideology and utilizes it to fashion his own self, so he ultimately cannot be atomized (?).

A similar assumption is made by Stephen Kotkin, who, also following Foucault’s notion of the subject that is made and who makes herself under the aegis of the state, applies a “widened view of the political” to Soviet civilization, examining “not only what was repressed or prohibited but what was made possible or produced.”6 In Kotkin’s view, the programs and policies of the state are only one factor that the historian must consider, along with the practices of individuals that constitute “the politics of everyday life.”7 Policies and programs create “field of action” (not incidentally, a spatial concept) within which the behavior of individuals takes place; in other words, they make particular forms of life – forms that can constitute both a participation in and a resistance towards the system – possible.8 The key point, for Kotkin, is that resistance is not necessarily tantamount to rejection. Like the judo fighter who uses the weight of his opponent in his own favor, the individual living in the totalitarian state uses the very conditions formed by this reality as the spring board from which he launches his resistance by following courses of action which the state had not imagined.9

Kotkin describes these forms of deviance as “the tactics of the habitat” and, in his description, they are molded by the rules and regulations of the authorities, much like melted iron in a cast. These rules and regulations – or rather, the “rules of the game” into which they were translated in daily practice – were the form in which ideology manifested itself in the lives of individuals.10 According to Kotkin, the fact that the Bolsheviks possessed an ideology meant “not simply that they held particular ideas as such, but that they deemed it necessary to possess universal ideas to act at all.”11 Similarly to Arendt, Kotkin points out that the official ideology was followed monomaniacly. This does not mean that ideology was not subject to change, but that plurality was categorically denied:

In revolutionary Russia, at any given time there was supposed to be one answer to all questions, a single truth which was held to be the expression of the correct interpretation of the movement of History, as embodied by the Communist party, the vanguard of the universal class.12


It is in the gap between what was supposed to be the one answer to all questions and the ‘rules of the game’ that people constructed in dealing with this answer that the difference between Arendt’s and Kotkin’s interests lies.

Kotkin’s discussion of living space is a case in point. As he shows, “housing emerged as an important arena in which the relationship between individuals and the state was defined and negotiated, and the texture of daily life – the little tactics of the habitat – took shape.”13 The authorities consciously used the design of space for political purposes, it was a tool in the ideological indoctrination of those who lived in it; but, since it was lived in, domestic space was constantly reshaped to follow other designs and serve other purposes. Communal housing was favored by the authorities not only because it was a material expression of ideology, but also because it facilitated the mutual surveillance that the totalitarian regime came to depend upon in enforcing its authority. But, claims Kotkin,

Although the interlocking web of state surveillance and tenants’ mutual surveillance was facilitated by the subdivision of rooms attendant upon the principle of living space, there was nothing inherent in the crowded conditions or in the coming together of strangers that necessitated that residents keep tabs on each other. It took the complicity of the residents.14

[so - even when the designs of the state are being followed, this happens in an inhabited space]

Mapping the World


James Scott:

Scott compares the way the state ‘sees’ reality and simplifies it to make it legible, to map making. Thus, state simplifications are like abridged maps that not only represent a particular slice of reality, but also allow the state to remake that reality in the image of the simplified picture that it has created. (3)

Scott’s definition of high-modernist ideology – “a strong, one might even say muscle bound, version of the self confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and, above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural law.” (4) which originates in the west as a product of progress in science and technology. This ideology functions in remarkably visual terms – for its champions, what looks geometrically organized, is ordered in neat rows is better, more efficient, more rational.

44-5 – cadastral maps as a thinner version of reality – a picture that excludes most of the interesting information, for the purposes of the state’s governing. 46-7 – a picture that freezes an ever changing reality in one particular moment, that does not have the tools to record these changes and that ignores many of the subtle details that this reality contains. But, of course, the map also creates a reality, by forcing people – if not to completely conform to it, at least to enter a negotiation. – “State officials can often make their categories stick and impose their simplifications, because the state, of all institutions, is best equipped to insist on treating people according to its schemata. Thus categories that may have begun as the artificial inventions of cadastral surveyors, census takers, judges, or police officers can end by becoming categories that organize people’s daily experience precisely because they are embedded in state created institutions that structure that experience.” (82-3)


“All of the state simplifications that we have examined here have the character of maps. That is, they are designed to summarize precisely those aspects of a complex world that are of immediate interest to the map-maker and to ignore the rest. To complain that a map lacks nuance and details makes no sense unless it omits information necessary to its function. A city map that aspired to represent every traffic light, every pothole, every building, every bush and tree in every park would threaten to become as large and as complex as the city that it depicted.” (87)
“Where the premodern state was content with a level of intelligence sufficient to allow it to keep order, extract taxes, and raise armies, the modern state increasingly aspired to ‘take in charge’ the physical and human resources of the nation and make them more productive. These more positive statecraft required a much greater knowledge of the society. And an inventory of land, people, incomes, occupations, resources and deviance was the logical place to begin.” (51)

The two maps on pp. 74-75 – representing traffic patterns in a local region, patterns that are created by use vs. a centralized traffic hub – in which all roads radiate from the center like the spokes of a wheel “devised to maximize access and to facilitate state control” (75) but forces people in the periphery to pass through the city. – is the essential expression of the competing aesthetics that Scott describes – a complex web vs. a simplified, rigid, straight-line schema.


Five characteristics of state simplifications – 1. Observations only of facts that are of official interest – utilitarian. 2. Written – documentary facts. 3. Static facts (do not represent changes. 4. Aggregate facts 5. In order to produce statistics, or aggregate facts, the information must be standardized – individuals are considered as same – or, in other words, as possessing differences along a single scale. (80) – produces a synoptic view that can be replicated among many cases, and that ignores many distinctions.
High modernism is not essentially connected with either side of the political spectrum. There is a high-modernism utopianism of the right, of which Nazism is the diagnostic example. (89)

Simplification, or reduction of reality in the manner of Scott’s state: “Total domination, which strives to organize the infinite plurality and differentiation of human beings as if all of humanity were just one individual, is possible only if each and every person can be reduced to a never-changing identity of reactions, so that each of these bundles of reactions can be exchanged at random for any other.” (438) An elimination of spontaneity and transformation of man into a thing. This goal is achieved both through indoctrination and through the terror of the camps. It is only in the camp that complete elimination of spontaneity is possible, because it is an essential part of life itself. Thus, the camps are the ultimate realization, and the ultimate ideal, of totalitarian ideology.


This goes together with the fact that the largest, and most essential part of the camp population is people who have done nothing whatsoever, behind whose arrest lies no rationalized reason. “These groups, innocent in every sense, are the most suitable for thorough experimentation in disenfranchisement and destruction of the juridical person, and therefore they are both qualitatively and quantitatively the most essential part of the camp population. This principle was most fully realized in the gas chambers which, if only because of their enormous capacity, could not be intended for individual cases but only for people in general.” (449)

This comes to a climax in the elimination of man’s very individuality – “The experience of the concentration camps shows that human beings can be transformed into specimens of the human animal and that man’s ‘nature’ is only ‘human’ insofar as it opens up to man the possibility of becoming something highly unnatural, that is, a man.” (455)


To an extent, this is realized in the burocracy of the totalitarian state - Even before they seize power, totalitarian movements organize themselves to reflect society – The “give the impression that all elements of society are embodied in their ranks.” (371) Thus, when they seize power they are prepared to invade all spheres of social and cultural life immediately.

However -

What strikes the observer of a totalitarian state is certainly not its monolithic structure. On the contrary, all serious students of the subject agree at least on the co-existence (or the conflict) of a dual authority, the party and the state. Many, moreover, have stressed the peculiar ‘shapelessness’ of the totalitarian government… The relationship between the two sources of authority, between state and party, is one of ostensible ad real authority so that the government machine is usually pictured as the powerless facade which hides and protects the real power of the party. (395)

But this duplication does not yet answer fully for the ‘shapelessness’ that seems to be such an essential aspect of totalitarian regimes.



One should not forget that only a building can have a structure, but that a movement – if the word is to be taken as seriously and as literally as the Nazis meant it – can have only a direction, and that any form of legal or governmental structure can be only a handicap to movement which is being propelled with increasing speed in a certain direction. Even in the prepower stage the totalitarian movements represented those masses that were no longer willing to live in any kind of structure, regardless of its nature; masses that had started to move in order to flood the legal and geographical borders securely determined by the government. Therefore, judged by our conceptions of government and state structure, these movements, so long as they find themselves physically still in limited to a specific territory, necessarily must try to destroy all structure, and for this willful destruction a mere duplication of all offices into party and state institutions would not be sufficient. (398)
In fact what was going on was a multiplication – rather than duplication – of offices and authorities. Within this proliferation, which Arendt describes as “geographical confusion” (399), an inhabitant of the totalitarian state is never quite sure as to which authority is of superior relevance and power in every particular moment or context. One obvious advantage of this multiplication of agencies of authority – the ‘metis’ of a totalitarian regime – is that it allows for great flexibility, for last minute changes and prolonged ambiguities (426).

Totalitarian leaders set up a fictitious world and follow its fictions through consistently: “Their faith in human omnipotence, their conviction that everything can be done through organization, carries them into experiment which human imaginations may have outlined but human activity certainly never realized. Their hideous discoveries in the realm of the possible are inspired by an ideological scientificality which has proved to be less controlled by reason and less willing to recognize factuality than the wildest fantasies of prescientific and prephilosophical thinking. … [] the indecent experimental inquiry into what is possible… [in which the concentration camps are] laboratories in the experiment of total domination.” (436)

“The concentration and extermination camps of totalitarian regimes serve as the laboratories in which the fundamental belief of totalitarianism that everything is possible is being verified” (437)

unlike Scott’s ‘scientific’ aesthetic of the straight line – an aesthetic that aims to make thing legible and understandable, that maps them in a way that eliminates parts of the complexity of reality, part of the noise, the totalitarian scientific imagination fills reality with a cacophony of the possible – which leads both to the way it maps out the world of its enemies as well as to the way it constructs the space of its reality – a reality whose center is the concentration camp.

Totalitarianism inherits a large part of its methods from earlier forms of oppression or organization of society, but they do not limit themselves to the notion that the cause justifies the means, that “everything is permitted,” and go further to claim that “everything is possible,” and that this potentiality transcend any form of utilitarianism. “What runs counter to common sense is not the nihilistic principle that ‘everything is permitted,’ which is already contained in the nineteenth century utilitarian conception of common sense. What common sense and ‘normal people’ refuse to believe is that everything is possible.” (441).

What distinguishes Totalitarianism from earlier brands of scientism in politics is that it tries to “transform the nature of man” (347) while other regimes are utilitarian and try to use science to further an interest. They assume that “interest, rightly understood, may lead to a change in circumstances, but not to a change of human reactions as such.” (347).
The unstructured, flexible non-shape of the totalitarian regime is also reflected in its concept of its enemies:

the category of objective enemies outlives the first ideologically determined foes of the movement; new objective enemies are discovered according to changing circumstances…. [this] corresponds exactly to the factual situation reiterated time and again by totalitarian rulers: namely, that their regime is not a government in any traditional sense, but a movement, whose advance constantly meets with new obstacles that have to be eliminated. (424-5)


Moreover, the totalitarian regime replaces the category of the suspect – every crime that the leader can imagine must be punished – because they assume that everything is possible. So reality becomes the sum of all potentialities, that are taken to have been realized – a much more complex object to map. (427)

By definition – everybody is a suspect (430)


The utopian goal of the secret police is not a map that simplifies reality, but in fact a map that represents the sum of all potentialities that are taken to have been realized – here in the form of relationships between people, that represent potential contamination of ideas, or potential conspiracies. The Okhrana map of the world, could potentially – if they had a big enough sheet – cover the whole population (Borges!!!) – 433.
Thus – the totalitarian secret police is no longer interested in torture as a means of “reading peoples minds”: “The modern dream of the totalitarian police, with its modern techniques, is incomparably more terrible. Now the police dreams that one look at the gigantic map on the office wall should suffice at any given moment to establish who is related to whom and in what degree of intimacy; and, theoretically, this dream is not unrealizable although its technical execution is bound to be somewhat difficult. If this map really did exist, not even memory would stand in the way of the totalitarian claim to domination; such a map might make it possible to obliterate people without any traces, as if they had never existed at all.” (434)

The Leader – 361-2, 365, 373-5, 383,

Shaplessness aids the leader – 403-9 – leader principle is not tantamount to hierarchical structure of authority but in fact the exact opposite of it.



The leader principle leads to an implication of everybody in the crimes – 432.


1 Bartov, Omer, The Eastern Front, 1941-45, German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare, Macmillan, 1985, p. 100.

2 Bartov, p. 105. Thus, for Bartov, the fact that German soldiers on the eastern front behaved barbaricly is the most convincing evidence that they accepted Nazi ideology.

3 Gellately, Robert, The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy 1933-1945, Clarendon Press, London, 1990, p. 9.

4 Gellately, p. 147.

5 Gellately, p. 147.

6  Kotkin, Stephen, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization, University of California Press, 1995, p. 22.

7 Kotkin, p. 21.

8 Kotkin, p. 21.

9 Kotkin, p. 22.

10 Kotkin, p. 154.

11 Kotkin, p. 151.

12 Kotkin, p. 151.

13 Kotkin, p. 160.

14 Kotkin, p. 196.


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