Friday, July 08, 2011

Totalitarianism and Crackpots

Intellectual, spiritual, and artistic initiative is as dangerous to totalitarianism as the gangster initiative of the mob, and both are more dangerous than mere political opposition. The consistent persecution of every higher form of intellectual activity by the new mass leaders springs from more than their natural resentment against everything they cannot understand. Total domination does not allow for free initiative in any field of life, for any activity that is not entirely predictable. Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with thsoe crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.

Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism: Part Three of the Origins of Totalitarianism. Harcourt (New York: 1976) p. 37. As she notes in a footnote, the reason is that the first-rate talent who agrees with you, no matter how much he or she agrees with you, does so from having made his or her own assessment and decision (free initiative) -- that is, does so in a way that reserves the right, even if only hypothetically, to disagree with you. Even the very fact of free agreement with totalitarianism is a danger to totalitarian authority: what totalitarianism demands is helpless agreement, agreement that could not be otherwise.

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