“Post Scriptum”: Permanent Seminar

February,  27


Maksim Vak

Assistant professor at CUNY (City University of New York).

The topic

"Reevaluation of  Arendt's The Origin of Totalitarianism"

The recent reemergence of totalitarianism in Russia makes exigent an examination of the origin and structure of totalitarian regimes. In my paper I reexamine the origin of totalitarianism in confrontation with the seminal work of Hannah Arendt, reading her work from the perspective of Nietzsche’s Genealogy. In my reading, Arendt’s phenomenology of totalitarianism assumes without question fundamental moments in understanding of the formation of nations: the role of truth in forming a national world view, the role of history and memory in forming a national world view, the role of imagination in forming nations, and the place of nihilism in the will of nation. In consequence, Arendt assumes that truth can undermine totalitarian falsehood, and that history and the preservation of memory can help to oppose the development of totalitarianism. In her rigorous interrogation of the origin of totalitarianism – its historical and economical conditions, as she does not question its genealogy – she does not address the nihilistic character of nations, which become the native soil for totalitarianism. In my paper I reexamine the notion of ‘truth’, assumed by Arendt, from the perspective of the will to power as a regime of power. Memory and history are reexamined accordingly as expressions of will to power. History in this power game is a product of imagination, a creation of myth in support of a dominant power. It is an esthetic game to foster the art of living. To understand the genealogy of totalitarianism I distinguish between the two types of nihilism and the two corresponding types of creation of history – active and reactive. In my paper I argue that reactive type of nihilism, which prevails in forming Russian ‘spirit’, inevitably delivers and redelivers totalitarianism on Russian soil. To illustrate my argument, I ‘imagine’ the birth of Russian national spirit at the beginning of the XIX century in the Karamzin’s history and its further development through following centuries as a history of a birth and development of reactive nihilistic spirit.

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