Loneliness and Politics06-10-2021
John Douglas Macready considers the importance of Arendt’s analysis of loneliness as the fertile ground for totalitarian and ideological politics.
The widespread anxiety over the global eruption of right-wing populism, which was exacerbated by the election of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, and the succeeding four years of his presidency, produced a renewed interest in the political theory of Hannah Arendt, especially her analysis of totalitarianism in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). In that work, Arendt proffered a peculiar definition of totalitarianism as “organized loneliness. Loneliness, she argued, “prepares men for totalitarian domination” by destroying the public space between human beings and pressing them together in the “iron band of terror” that organizes human beings by the tyranny of an ideological-logic. Political theorists have seized on this insight in recent years in search of an explanation for the increasing number of authoritarian regimes and autocratic leaders whose flirtations with fascism were inspiring a swell of populist and nationalistic mobs driven by wild and often absurd ideologies. Could Arendt’s loneliness thesis—that loneliness prepares people for totalitarianism—provide a diagnostic tool for interpreting our own current political crisis?