Total Domination by Hannah Arendt

“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”. The author defines total domination as the homogenization of humanity into a set of immutable and consistent reactions that ultimately result in the elimination of the people and their histories. Through the annihilation of their victims’ spontaneity and humanity, she contends that the Nazis were able to achieve total domination in their concentration and extermination camps.

Arendt argues that the vast, improbable nature of the situation is such that even those involved struggle to acknowledge that anything actually occurred, and she maintains that “anyone speaking or writing about concentration camps is still regarded as suspect”, having travelled to a world of terror completely separate from ours and back to a reality that contradicts everything they experienced.

She contends that total terror is achieved only after the totalitarian body is victorious; at this point, the means (terror) have become the end, the entire purpose of the institution, and “terror continues even after everybody who might be described as a child of the revolutionmhas long since been devoured”.

Nor is it in Germany that this “nihilistic principle that ‘everything is permitted‘” has been exercised for the first time; the contemporaries of the SS-men can be found from the French Revolution to the Boer War to India, all of which, according to Arendt, ended in the elimination of the moral individual from the physical man in the cases of both the persecuted, who were stripped of their “psyche, character and individuality” and the persecutors, who were stripped of the same.

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The author then addresses those who believe that dwelling on these horrors is beneficial and that it can be used as a preventative measure against total domination.

She then asserts that thoughts of these events are no less “incredible to those who relate them as to their audience”. A man, she believes, who is stripped of his moral self, is separated from the rest of humanity; however, when brought back to humanity, “he finds his personality or character unchanged, just as he had left it”. Arendt continues to argue that fear of the camps themselves cannot be found “the basis of a political community or party” in order to avoid postwar pacifism that is “devoid of reality” Instead, she promotes a standard for war against conditions such as those of the totalitarian regimes. The difference between total domination and simple murder is the destruction of the victims’ existence, she claims. An everyday murderer “does not pretend that his victim has never existed” whereas that is the entire goal of total domination. In a work camp, the inmate serves a definite amount of time before being released into humanity once again; in an extermination camp, this is not so.

The intent of these latter camps is to remove the inmates from society, and murder to them is an “impersonal“ convenience “Forced labor as a punishment is limited as to time and intensity,” and the convicts are not submitted to total domination; however, “the concentration-camp inmate…can always be replaced“. Concentration camps were often costly and economically superfluous, and this substantiates the claim that their sole intent was to store unwanted material for elimination. Arendt then describes three types of camps found throughout 19005 in Germany and Russia, and she finally concludes that “the atmosphere of madness and Unreality” keeps the convicts from the eyes and minds of the surrounding world and under the finger of total domination, “as if they no longer existed”.

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Total Domination by Hannah Arendt. (2023, Apr 09). Retrieved from

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