Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456
Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.
In her discussion of propaganda, Arendt notes that totalitarian dictators are not concerned about the truth of what they say. The truth doesn't matter to them, because according to their understanding of the world, power alone determines truth. Once a person and party amasses enough power, they can make their reality become the truth. So, for example, Arendt says that Stalin was unconcerned about his lie that the Moscow subway was the only subway system in the world, because he believed he would soon enough have the power to make this lie a reality: he would come to control the world and destroy all the other subway systems. He would simply make reality conform to what he said it was. This is a hallmark of totalitarianism.
The truth is that the masses grew out of the fragments of a highly atomized society whose competitive structure and concomitant loneliness of the individual had been held in check only through membership in a class.
Arendt distinguishes between classes and masses. Totalitarianism can only arise, she argues, in nations where the class system has come undone, and people no longer identify with a certain set of civic organizations or groups. Only when individuals become cut off from one another and atomized can the generalized ideas of a mass movement, such as that all Jews or immigrants are evil, replace the narrower and more concrete goals and objectives of normal politics.
There are no parallels to life in the concentration camps. Its horror can never be fully embraced by the imagination for the very reason that it stands outside of life and death.
Arendt distinguishes between three types of camps where people are separated from society. The first, which is the mildest, she calls Hades. She describes these as camps for refugees and other stateless people, or the unemployed, people in her words who are "superfluous and bothersome." Forced labor camps on the Soviet model she calls Purgatory. They are places of neglect and "chaotic" labor. Nazi concentration camps, in contrast, were Hell, designed to maximize the torments of the inmates. This could occur because the camps were so utterly walled off from ordinary civilization and cut off from normal rules of decency and accountability. They were finally so isolated that mass extermination could seem reasonable. Arendt understands concentration camps as only possible under totalitarianism, because only under a government with such total control over all aspects of life could people be so removed from the rest of human life.