Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Total Domination: The Holocaust, Plurality, and Resistance, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Total Domination

The Holocaust, Plurality, and Resistance, 1st Edition

By Michal Aharony


248 pages

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Responding to the increasingly influential role of Hannah Arendt’s political philosophy in recent years, Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Total Domination: The Holocaust, Plurality, and Resistance, critically engages with Arendt’s understanding of totalitarianism. According to Arendt, the main goal of totalitarianism was total domination; namely, the virtual eradication of human legality, morality, individuality, and plurality. This attempt, in her view, was most fully realized in the concentration camps, which served as the major "laboratories" for the regime. While Arendt focused on the perpetrators’ logic and drive, Michal Aharony examines the perspectives and experiences of the victims and their ability to resist such an experiment.

The first book-length study to juxtapose Arendt’s concept of total domination with actual testimonies of Holocaust survivors, this book calls for methodological pluralism and the integration of the voices and narratives of the actors in the construction of political concepts and theoretical systems. To achieve this, Aharony engages with both well-known and non-canonical intellectuals and writers who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Additionally, she analyzes the oral testimonies of survivors who are largely unknown, drawing from interviews conducted in Israel and in the U.S., as well as from videotaped interviews from archives around the world.

Revealing various manifestations of unarmed resistance in the camps, this study demonstrates the persistence of morality and free agency even under the most extreme and de-humanizing conditions, while cautiously suggesting that absolute domination is never as absolute as it claims or wishes to be. Scholars of political philosophy, political science, history, and Holocaust studies will find this an original and compelling book.


"It seems only fitting that a philosopher who abhorred rootlessness and thoughtlessness should become the object of Michal Aharony's empathic and thoughtful critique — a moving complement to Arendt ’s pathbreaking work on totalitarianism."James Miller, New School for Social Research

"There is no doubting the importance of Aharony’s subject or the value of her contribution to the understanding of it. Her book is thoroughly researched, uses original material as well as published texts, and is coherently presented and well written … Congratulations must be given to Michal Aharony on an excellent and important addition to our understanding of a very complex and challenging subject." Raymond Auerback, The Wiener Library. Full review can be found here: https://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/Blog?item=201&returnoffset=0

"By the time … Aharony (has) finished her critique, a reader has good reason to question very influential ideas of once highly regarded formative figures in the study of the Holocaust. Rarely in the annals of modern scholarship have so few so maligned so many at so great a cost to Truth and Honor." - Arthur Shostak, Department of Sociology, Drexel University, The European Legacy

"This is a good book. Its advertised purpose is to correct a one-sidedness in Hannah Arendt’s construction of totalitarianism: namely, that Arendt reflects very deeply on the animating logic of totalitarianism’s perpetrators, but curiously little on the perspective of the victims. Viewed in larger perspective, the book also contributes to an ongoing discussion. That is a discussion in which Arendt’s voice is fundamental, and which concerns how we ought to interpret the significance of the institution of the concentration camp—both for the practice of totalitarianism and, indeed, for modernity at large." - Richard Shorten, Arendt Studies

Table of Contents

Selected Contents: Introduction 1. A Theoretical Account of Hannah Arendt’s Conception of "Total Domination" 2. Hannah Arendt’s Sources: The Public Discourse about the Concentration Camps 1943-1947 3. Witnessing 4. The Process of Dehumanization 5. Resisting Dehumanization 6. Resisting Dehumanization – The Case of the Sonderkommando 7. Total Domination Reconsidered – Between Theory and Human Experience Conclusion: Arendt against Arendt. Bibliography. Index

About the Author

Michal Aharony is currently teaching in Beit-Berl College, Israel. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hebrew University, the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, and the Open University, Israel. Her research interests include history of political ideas in modern political thought and Holocaust studies.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought

This series explores core issues in political philosophy and social theory. Addressing theoretical subjects of both historical and contemporary relevance, the series has broad appeal across the social sciences. Contributions include new studies of major thinkers, key debates and critical concepts.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PHILOSOPHY / Political
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory