Hannah Arendt on the Totalitarian Sublime and Its Promise of Freedom

Michael Halberstam

in Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem

Published by University of California Press

Published in print August 2001 | ISBN: 9780520220560
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520923669 | DOI:
Hannah Arendt on the Totalitarian Sublime and Its Promise of Freedom

Show Summary Details


This chapter argues that Arendt's account of totalitarianism subtly (or surreptitiously, if one prefers) draws on an aesthetic category that has helped define the German tradition of thought, its philosophical anthropology, and its aesthetic approach to politics. Arendt figures the totalitarian sensibility as a species of the sublime. The notion of “terror” is therefore used ambiguously in Arendt's theory. It designates the literal terrorization of society by the totalitarian machinery for making war on its own population by the secret police, the system of special tribunals, political prisons, concentration camps, and so forth. At the same time “terror” designates synechdochically a complex sensibility of existential dislocation that, according to Arendt, affects the population broadly under totalitarian rule.

Keywords: totalitarianism; German philosophy; sublime; terror; totalitarian rule

Chapter.  7806 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.