Evaluating Sheol: A Discourse on Hannah Arendt’s Borderline Liberal Democracy and Notions of Reconciliation
Hansley A. Juliano, II AB Political Science: January 27, 2009
Hansley A. Juliano, II AB Political Science: January 27, 2009
Finishing the study of Hannah Arendt’s monumental work on underpinning the nature of “modernity’s darkest potential,” The Origins of Totalitarianism seemingly sends out a message in the line of the following statements: “Modernity as an order is self-destructive and totalitarianism as a means of governing and community-building prevents the maintenance of communes: therefore, we should abhor it and reject its existence, as well as the possibility of it ever happening again.” Such a position is, in many ways, a comfortable, safe and acceptable one which can be argued to public approval: it is after all a well-accepted notion that totalitarian leaders are the embodiment of the evils of the modern world, most notably Adolf Hitler of Germany. Despite these, however, we would be doing the discourse on totalitarianism a disservice if we are going to close all our doors on it, not trying to understand its capabilities of political action and mobilization. In fact, we must make ourselves aware of it all the more in our daily lives so as to be able to sense its presence and potential to control and warp our very notions of what is just and what is the good for everyone. It must be made clear, however, that allowing totalitarianism to be brought to our collective awareness does not mean that we also open ourselves to accepting and condoning the horrendous crimes it has committed in the name of political progression. Totalitarianism, therefore, should become the post-modern world’s image of Satan: a reflection of humanity’s darkest potential for social change and yet an enduring symbol of what is inherently unacceptable and forgivable in our collective consciousness.
Arendt identifies the tools by which totalitarianism propagates its existence and entrenches itself into power through increasing bureaucratization. There is also the very vital element of using propaganda for the purpose of instilling lies in the minds of the people. Some might make the hasty comparison to the Socratic imperative of establishing “noble lies” for the concretization of the institution of the ideal polis being founded, but they are entirely very different. Totalitarian propaganda does not practice elenchus or persuasion in the process of proliferating these lies as a pragmatic means of strengthening the foundations of institutions; instead, it uses terror and compels everyone, whether possessing one’s free will or not, to participate in propagating such lies to the point that it effaces our own preconceived notions of justice. As such, the transition between a totalitarian movement seeking to attain power and a totalitarian regime striving to maintain power becomes a study of contrasts. On one hand you have an overzealous movement seeking to present a “sincere” and “truly accurate” picture of themselves so as to garner the support of the masses, while on the other hand the same movement, in entrenching itself into power, seeks to hinder or even exterminate the search for what is true and just in order to prevent any possibility of the being replaced the moment they become incompatible to the contexts of the progressing historical dispensation.
In this light, therefore, we look into the case of the Jewish people as a point of reference in understanding how totalitarianism promotes an unprecedented level of incomprehensive, mindless action that leads to the deconstruction of human dignity as something of value. Despite the fact that they are, indeed, the worst victims of a totalitarian rampage which has redefined and demonstrated just how mindless humanity can be even in the face of incomparable evil, they are actually to blame for institutionalizing the mode of community-building through blood relations and not through persuasion and critical thinking. These nepotistic tendencies have given leeway to other people to define themselves as specie beings as well, which found its most disgusting articulation in Hitler’s declaration of the Aryans as a “master race.” Karl Marx rightfully indicted them in his essay On the Jewish Question when he demonstrated how wrong their desire is to gain their own nation-state when they have not contributed to the communal experience of the European countries they have found themselves in. Obviously, this is tantamount to them denying the capability of the nation-state to assure the rights of the German people and deconstructing the concept of the nation-state in general.
The question on whether totalitarianism is still relevant and a potential weapon in the destruction of the existing repressive liberal-democratic global hegemony does persist. Arendt herself has been under fire from the Marxists and other movements which promote a scientific, behavioural approach to the social sciences, being condemned as an apologist of the CIA. This accusation, however problematic, does present a semblance of motivation on Arendt’s part. Being a Jew herself and despite the fact that she has been excommunicated by the Jews, it is not unlikely that she still seeks the attainment of the Jewish cause and their desire to have their own nation-state, which is what the hegemonic United States is pushing in their desire to have a stronghold in Southwest Asia in the same manner the Philippines was their stronghold in Southeast Asia. This is not to say, however, that we should throw away everything which Arendt has argued and laboured to explain about the excesses of totalitarian rule. It is still, indeed, a good counter-reference in the perpetual moving tendencies of totalitarian movements which has been their constant impetus to sow terror on their peoples.
Without question, the inhuman actions and effects brought about by totalitarian regimes should never be given consideration nor should it ever be effaced from our collective consciousness. We cannot sweep under the rug the fact that through regimes of pure action, many lives have been lost senselessly and purposelessly. As such, Arendt’s own proposition of forgiveness as a political action contradicts itself, as the notion of forgiveness entails the downplaying of significant historical events that transpired within peoples. To forget these nodes of historical progression is to be subject to a dangerous tendency of amnesia, which will allow the resurfacing of the ugly capabilities of totalitarian movements without our knowledge. Reconciliation, therefore, should not be rooted in the action of forgiveness but in the transcendence of human limitations and concupiscence to re-establish modes of communication smashed by the desire of totalitarian rule. Systematic disruption of human interaction can only be restored by deliberative means of understanding the human condition, as well as the recognition of one’s own responsibility in these actions despite the benumbing and desensitizing conditions that total politics has imputed on both victim and perpetrator. The notion of forgiveness, however beautiful and binding, can only be practiced in the confines of a communion which shares the same contexts and objects of faith. To compel forgiveness would not be binding or significant at the very least, and as such, will not bring forth the repair of broken lives and milieus which will finally allow people to truly move on and continue the vita activa.