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The philosophy of totalitarianism: What is it and how does it affect our understanding of the past?

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Introduction

The philosophy of totalitarianism: What is it and how does it affect our understanding of the past? Synopsis Initially having the aim of analysing Hitler's rise to power, this paper now addresses the reality of totalitarianism and what it takes for any given state to be defined as totalitarian and the effects it has on the perception of such regimes throughout history; with a focus on Nazi Germany. A general conclusion had to be reached through comparison between the philosophies of both Zbigniew Brzezinski and Carl Friedrich, as set out in their book 'Totalitarian dictatorship and autocracy' published 1956 and revised in 1965, and Hannah Arendt, in her book The 'Origins of Totalitarianism' published 1952, with support from source material describing the realities of life under Hitler. This paper highlights that it is of utmost importance that a totalitarian state be studied without automatically applying outdated stereotypical, ineffective, biased criteria; exactly what Arendt and Brzezinski have provided us with. It is through the use of a range of sources that the inadequacies in the definitions posed by Brzezinki and Arendt are unveiled and consequently identified. It follows that these inadequacies are inherent in every generic description of the qualities of any given political system and as such the usefulness of these definitions as comparative terms is extremely limited. This fact does not however deter people from using these terms in writing history to categorise leaders and regimes; it does not deter historians from allowing biases creeping into their work through the use of these words. This paper has been formed through analysis of a broad spectrum of sources, mainly secondary sources. The references were carefully chosen with emphasis being given to the use of memoirs as well as revisionist histories from recent times and closer to the 1930's and 1940's. Such sources were included simply because it is important that histories come from different times and as such suffer from different contextual influences. ...read more.

Middle

growth in armed forces.19 The economy of the totalitarian state must be effectively directed with only so much control that the system can be directed effectively; it must obtain growth and combat economic problems to the best of its ability so as to ensure political, social and economic stability. Conversely, Arendt argues that "the totalitarian dictator regards the natural and industrial riches of each country ... as a source of loot and a means of preparing the next step of aggressive expansion".20 Arendt thus labels the totalitarian economy as a war economy, but it is not necessary for a totalitarian leader to adopt such an economy as such economies finance expansionistic foreign policies and totalitarianism does not have to have an international focus; rather it must have a national focus. Arendt is too specific on this point and is once again directly attacking Hitler rather than discussing the realities of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism does not require "state ownership of all the means of production and distribution but, rather, a central control and direction of the economy"21; with only so much control so as to ensure central direction. A totalitarian state refers to the structure of the state, and not necessarily the aspirations of the leader. Similarly, the economy does need to be centrally directed, but it does not have to be directed so as to be a war economy. No matter what economic system the state chooses to facilitate, there needs to be a "monopoly of the means of effective mass communication"22 so as to ensure that economic, social and political goals can be obtained and the people can be informed of such successes. Contrary to Brzezinski's criterion, a totalitarian state does not need to control every method of mass communication, rather there is only a requirement to strongly regulate, influence or control a majority of all the major methods of mass communication subject to the discretion of the leader. ...read more.

Conclusion

The only thing 'wrong' with Shirer's book is that he is an American expelled from Germany once war broke out. He also, however, lived in Germany for many years before that, giving him not only an insight into the German people from about Hitler's rise but an understanding of the people that put Hitler into power. His account is balanced and does not seem to be writing from an anti-Nazi perspective, which he probably does to ensure his credibility remains intact and his book remains usefulness as a source; he achieved this. Process Log November, 2003 Decided on a paper focussing on the Battle of Stalingrad, but had no precise question in mind. I began my research by reading books on Stalingrad and about Nazi Germany with an emphasis on Hitler's state of mind. December, 2003 Reading continued, other research was undertaken in the form of internet research and looking for other electronic and physical sources. I enjoyed the holidays. January, 2004 Reading and research trailed off, giving way to continued enjoyment of the holidays. February, 2004 Research began again, reading progressed well. Question changed focus to why Hitler lost. Discussed ideas and changes to the question with Mr Davis, he located me some useful sources to add to my growing collection. March, 2004 I called and emailed J�rgen Tampke, Professor of History at UNSW, with the help of Mr Davis. Mr Tampke helped me refine my question further, but accidentally pointed me in the direction of the rise of Hitler. His emails contained sources that he recommended I use. My focus was in doubt, and as such I could tell I was about to change my question again. April, 2004 Due to exams and an extremely busy Easter Holidays, minimal work was achieved over this time. May, 2004 By this time I had changed my question briefly to the Rise of Hitler and soon after I changed it to an investigation on what totalitarianism really is. I received Arendt's book courtesy of the ANU library, Mr Davis subsequently provided me with a paperback copy which he 'forgot he had. ...read more.

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