Arendt points to the stress laid by both leaders on historical necessity: on acting out the economic laws of Marxist class-struggle or the biological laws of struggle for racial supremacy. Seeking to distinguish totalitarianism from the innumerable tyrannies that had preceded it, she laid particular emphasis upon this. The hallmark of tyranny had always been lawlessness: legitimate government was limited by laws, whereas tyranny meant the breach of those boundaries so that the tyrant could rage at his will across the country. But (as experienced by its adherents) totalitarianism was not lawless in that way, though its laws were not civil laws protecting rights, but the supposed “laws” of Nature or of History. According to those inexorable laws, human existence consists of the life or death struggle between collectivities – races or classes – whose motion is the real meaning of history.

For totalitarianism, “all laws have become laws of movement.” Neither stable institutions nor individual initiative can be allowed to get in the way of this frantic dynamism. “Total terror . . . is designed to translate into reality the law of movement of history or nature,” and indeed to smooth its path, “to make it possible for the force of nature or of history to race freely through mankind, unhindered by any spontaneous human action.” Human beings (even the rulers themselves) must serve these forces, “either riding atop their triumphant car or crushed under its wheels,” and individuality is an inconvenience to be eliminated by “the iron band of terror, which destroys the plurality of men and makes out of man the One who unfailingly will act as though he himselfwere part of the course of history or nature.”