Montesquieu and Hannah Arendt claimed that the law is negative, it tells you what you ought not to do but not what you ought to do(Kant’s categorical imperative in the realm of ethics focuses on what we ought to do) So governments are defined by a principle of action defining what is valued in the sphere of the public space that political acts occur in. Montesquieu considered monarchies, republics and tyrannies which appeared to be the alternatives available during the 1800’s. The Principle of action, then, has the task of defining ultimate values for a particular people/government. Monarchies, Montesquieu argued, value honour, Republics value Virtue, and Tyrannies value fear. Hannah Arendt takes up this thread in order to analyse totalitarian forms of government which according to her are an original and unique form of government which emerged during the last century and manifested itself most clearly in the Nazi and Stalinist regimes in Germany and Russia. Now on Montesquieu’s analysis, we probably would have to characterise these latter regimes in terms of the characteristics of tyranny and these seem not to do justice to the world wide consequences we experienced at the hands of totalitarian regimes. Tyrannies, for example, were destined to destroy themselves from within in a relatively short period of time and the fear we witnessed in such regimes at least had some relation to principles of instrumental action. citizens of these regimes should not criticise government for fear of their lives, otherwise they were allowed to exercise their freedom in the available political space. Arendt points out that this is an inadequate analysis of totalitarian forms of government which did not merely adopt an irrational principle of action but rather abandon the very concepts of action and freedom and adopted an attachment to so called Darwinian laws of nature or Hegelian laws of history. These laws were in the process of shaping man to be a different being to the being he thought he was, namely, valuing freedom, pluralism and democracy. Their tool was “terror”. A terror which destroyed the public political space which existed between people, a public space, viewed as the medium by which to achieve political goals which made reference to individuals and their differences. Totalitarian governments believed in the laws of nature(The Aryan race was the chosen race, the one destined to inherit the earth) or the laws of history(Communism will replace democracies because of its superior political values) and the citizens involved in these “shaping” processes did not need to understand what it was which was bearing them forward to their destinies. The only public political space belonged to the head of the government and he used it as whimsically as he pleased because even he did not fully understand where the process was headed. Totalitarian government must have its source in one individual for only then can some form of continuity be guaranteed. Of course, this continuity could be absurdly irrational. Stalin’s supporters could suddenly be assassinated en masse if Stalin happened to change his mind about a government policy. The laws and ethics of the Weimar Republic could be ignored if the Fuhrer chose to ignore or even reverse their principles. With the disappearance of the ethical demands that people make upon each other, on command of the totalitarian leader, it was a short step to commanding the illegal murder of a whole once chosen but now corrupted race(the Jews). Underlying global movements of Anti-Semitism could dominate the public space and receive justification via the “truths” of the laws of nature and history, which for Hitler were one and the same. For the communist regimes, the underlying global movements of distrust for Capital and the capitalists, turned the laws and ethical principles into laws and principles not governing races but rather classes. Insofar as the working class was the only creator of value in the society their destiny was to inherit the power over the society and dominate the public political space which, when nation states, the servants of capital, withered away, would create a global communist society. The most irrational political principles and outcomes were suddenly possible and even probable under the banner “anything is possible”. Only the leaders acted as if they knew what was going to happen and the resulting consequences of their policies. The Russian form of totalitarianism in fact engaged more directly with one of the major irritants of democracy, namely the accumulation of capital that does not work for the people who helped the capitalists to accumulate their wealth and which, because of this fact was making large numbers of working people superfluous to the economic needs of the country. This according to Arendt was one of the major factors behind colonisation which was merely the attempt to use this accumulated capital in other countries where labour was cheaper and this use was of course merely to accumulate even greater amounts of capital.
Hannah Arendt has an interesting analysis of the conditions necessary for totalitarianism to succeed apart from these structural economic factors which she touches upon. A man is naturally and ethically a being that thinks in solitude, i.e. he is what Arendt calls a two-in-one soul: two voices conversing about what is to be believed or done. His political and community identity is important to him because these two voices make him feel like a divided and dualistic being. It is the public space where the voices find the expression which enables the citizen to identify the values his inner conversation is striving toward. The citizen acquires his identity, and a sense of community is established among friends and kindred spirits who identify this being with two voices as one unified being, possessing one set of values. All this work is done in the public space and it is this which is destroyed by totalitarianism. The condition for this to occur is that masses of men must not be engaging in this inner conversation striving toward the truth and values and manifesting itself in the public space. Their souls are not engaging in this inner conversation, they are lonely. It is the role of education, of course, to install this inner dialogue in us all. If that education is predominantly scientific this conversation is truncated in its form and the lonely search for the truth of the laws of nature and history is the norm. Once this has happened, and it happened in Europe, the major condition for totalitarianism exists. Humanistic voices both within and without fall silent. The universal habit of reading good and difficult to understand books of humanistic significance is, of course, a natural agent provocateur of this inner and outer conversation. Education is also another agent provocateur of this inner conversation which encourages manifestation in the political public space and should be the source of these good and difficult works of human significance. But is not our public space filled with conversations on facebook, linked in, and social media? But these conversations are not challenging difficult to understand affairs. They are rather superficial events. covering up an incredible existential loneliness most of the time. We need a Freud of the internet, an interpreter of human behaviour which can diagnose loneliness behind all this furious finger tapping and be flicking in relation to our mobile phones and computers. There is difficult to understand material on the internet but it is not that difficult and most of it does not require the dedication required to understanding Kant or Aristotle or Wittgenstein. Indeed I would go so far as to claim that even the Bible with its narrative structure and parables are beyond the understanding of most of the younger generation. Something has gone seriously wrong with our educational systems if this is true.