In their early revolutionary stages of development, to be sure, and whenever and wherever they meet opposition, totalitarian movements employ tyrannical measures of force and violence, but their nature differs from that of tyrannies precisely in the enormity of their threat of world destruction.

That threat has often been thought possible and explained as the total politicalization of all phases of life. Arendt saw it, and this is crucial, as exactly the opposite: a phenomenon of total depoliticalization (in German Entpolitisierung [see “Freiheit und Politik”]) that appeared for the first time in the regimes of Stalin after 1929 and Hitler after 1938.

Totalitarianism’s radical atomization of the whole of society differs from the political isolation, the political “desert,” as Arendt termed it, of tyranny. It eliminates not only free action, which is political by definition, but also the element of action, that is, of initiation, of beginning anything at all, from every human activity.

Individual spontaneity–in thinking, in any aspiration, or in any creative undertaking–that sustains and renews the human world is obliterated in totalitarianism. Totalitarianism destroys everything that politics, even the circumscribed political realm of a tyranny, makes possible.

From Totalitarianism, the inversion of politics: read more