Room 229, Psychologicum (Siltavuorenpenger 1 A, 00170 Helsinki)
Ville Suuronen: The Organized Attempt to “Make Human Beings Superfluous as Human Beings”: Nazi-Totalitarianism as a New Form of Government
To what extent can it be argued that the twentieth-century totalitarian governments, especially the one established in Hitler’s Germany, constituted an entirely new form of government, qualitatively different from all previous forms of authoritarianism, tyrannies and despotic governments?
In this presentation, I will analyze this question in the light of Hannah Arendt’s (1906–1975) theory of totalitarianism, established in her seminal The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) and supplemented in other key-writings, especially in her controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963). Focusing on Arendt’s analysis of Nazi-totalitarianism I explore how she understands totalitarian governments as completely unprecedented entities that could no longer be categorized or understood through the eyes of the Western tradition of political thought and its various classifications of governments, as created by Plato, Aristotle, Montesquieu and Kant, for instance.
It is argued that despite of the immense popularity of Arendt’s works, her ideas concerning totalitarianism are often misunderstood or treated superficially in the background literature. Although the concept of totalitarianism is often used in a very problematic fashion today, we should not attribute this problematic use of the notion to Arendt, who was not the Cold War liberal she is often made out to be. I maintain that once the concept of totalitarianism is understood with sufficient complexity it can still serve as a very useful concept in understanding the historical background to the phenomena that also lie at the roots of the contemporary political challenges in Europe.
About the speaker
Ville Suuronen (M. Soc. Sci.) is a PhD student in EuroStorie CoE subproject 1, Law and the Uses of the Past. His research interests include history of ideas, political theory and philosophy. In his doctoral dissertation he focuses especially on the thought of Hannah Arendt and Carl Schmitt. You can see his latest publications in UH Reseach Portal.