04 August 2022

Hannah Arendt and the role of lies in authoritarian rule

When I was about 13 years old, my mother had gone back to school to get a Masters in Political Science. And she read Hannah Arendt's classic tome The Origins of Totalitarianism. I remember my mother trying to explain Arendt's thesis to me, and it affected my thinking to this day. I'm reminded of this, reading Heather Cox Richardson yesterday talking about the Trump insurgency and the way they handled lies and propaganda. This is not incidental. It is CORE to the way authoritarians rule. Here's what she said about what Arendt wrote: «that the lies of an authoritarian were designed not to persuade people, but to organize them into a mass movement. Followers would "believe everything and nothing," Arendt wrote, "think that everything was possible and that nothing was true." "The ideal subject" for such a dictator, Arendt wrote, was not those who were committed to an ideology, but rather "people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction…and the distinction between true and false…no longer exist."»

We progressives, and even centrists who believe in fundamental democracy, we children of the Enlightenment who persist in thinking that reason and persuasion are going to be useful political tools in the resistance to American fascism that will be a part of our lives for a long time (at best)... we need to remember this and keep it forefront in our thinking at all times. 


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