Overview (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
The fact that Hannah Arendt was a Jewish refugee from Nazi oppression cannot be divorced from The Origins of Totalitarianism. Written with eminent scholarship (hardly a page lacks footnotes and in some cases the footnotes are of greater length than the text), the book nevertheless is a passionate condemnation of totalitarianism. Arendt, in short, was searching for the intellectual roots of the movement that had displaced her from her native Germany and had made her a refugee in a world decidedly unfriendly toward Jews. Clearly the book is the product not only of thought but also of suffering. In fact, it was only with the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism that Arendt was able to secure an academic position. Eventually she would become a full professor at Princeton University, the first woman to achieve that position.
The work is divided into three sections: “Antisemitism,” “Imperialism,” and “Totalitarianism,” with the last two parts having been revised in the 1958 and 1966 editions. (As the book was revised, it grew in length, running to 526 pages in the 1966 edition.) It is Arendt’s thesis that the two most important contributions to totalitarian movements have been anti-Semitism and imperialism. In the first three chapters, Arendt discusses the origins of anti-Semitism and the position of the Jews in Western European society, particularly in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. She differs from...
(The entire section is 2343 words.)
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