Unlike the violence and coercion used by ordinary tyrants it does not have a utilitarian purpose such as repressing opposition, and it reaches its climax only after genuine opposition has already been repressed; its only function is to further the project of total domination by crushing out all human individuality. “Common sense protests desperately that the masses are submissive and that all this gigantic apparatus of terror is therefore superfluous; if they were capable of telling the truth, the totalitarian rulers would reply: The apparatus seems superfluous to you only because it serves to make men superfluous.”

Ideology complements terror by eliminating the capacity for individual thought and experience among the executioners themselves, binding them into the unified movement of destruction. Ideologies – pseudo-scientific theories purporting to give insight into history – give their believers “the total explanation of the past, the total knowledge of the present, and the reliable prediction of the future.” By making reality as experienced seem insignificant compared with what must happen, they free ideological thought from the constraints of common sense and reality. But in Arendt’s view the most dangerous opportunity they offer (seized by both Hitler and Stalin) is their stress on logical consistency.

Both leaders prided themselves on the merciless reasoning with which they pursued the implications of race- or class-struggle to the murder of the last “objective enemy.” In their hands the ideologies were emptied of all content except for the automatic process of deduction that one group or another should die. Ideological logicality replaced free thought, inducing people to strip themselves of individuality until they were part of a single impersonal movement of total domination. For totalitarian ideologies do not support the status quo: they chart an endless struggle that is inexorable in its destructiveness. Total power turns out, then, to mean inevitable destruction. The job of the totalitarian regime is simply to speed up the execution of death sentences pronounced by the law of nature or of history.