Reading Challenge. Week 3: On the Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt


Reading Challenge. Week 3: On the Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt


In her famous and important work, the Origins of Totalitarianism, the German-born American political theorist and philosopher, Hannah Arendt, explores the foundation and evolution of totalitarianism in the 20th century through an analysis of two major totalitarian political movements, Nazism and Stalinism. 

In this week’s challenge, the focus lies within the ninth chapter of this major piece, ‘The Decline of the Nation-State and the End of the Rights of Man.’ In this chapter, Arendt considers human rights and the right to have rights. As revealed in the Holocaust, Arendt argues that our understanding of human rights as being grounded in the biological quality of being human is fundamentally problematic. As history has shown, grounding rights in this biological quality alone, has failed to be solid enough to ensure that rights are protected in practice.. In its worst manifestation, Arendt maintains, the Holocaust served as proof that "the world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human." Instead, Arendt believes human rights should be grounded in something much more solid than the abstract idea of human beings as such, proposing the right to belong to an organized political space as the most basic right for ensuring all other rights, in other words, ensuring the right to rights through belonging to a political community. Is the quality of being human enough to guarantee human rights? Or was Hannah Arendt right in warning us of the dangers of this assumption? And if so, what does the right to belong to a political community look like in an increasingly globalized and hyperconnected world?



The Origins of Totalitarianism (Full PDF - Chapter 9: p. 267 of the book, p.286 of the free download) 

Hannah Arendt and The Right to Have Rights (summary): 

Philosophize This! Hannah Arendt - The Banality of Evil (podcast)

Hannah Arendt’s writings are considered to be some of the most influential and important pieces of our time. We, therefore, recommend some further readings below, including one of her most famous theories ‘The Banality of Evil.’

Movie Clip: