The Origins of Totalitarianism:Blind Obedience and the True Believers


Few thinkers understood tyranny, fascism, and totalitarianism better than Hannah Arendt. She has written profoundly about it in a number of books, including The Origin of Totalitarianism but all all of which are worth reading, and worth reading again.


She described totalitarianism this way:

“Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals. Compared with all other parties and movements, their most conspicuous external characteristic is their demand for total, unrestricted, unconditional, and unalterable loyalty of the individual member. This demand is made by the leaders of totalitarian movements even before they seize power. It usually precedes the total organization of the country under their actual rule and it follows from the claim of their ideologies that their organization will encompass, in due course, the entire human race.”


Even though Hannah Arendt wrote that more than 60 years before Trump ran for the American presidency in 2016, there is a lot here to help in understanding Donald Trump. I do not claim that the followers of Donald Trump constitute a totalitarian movement. I merely say, that so far, his movement of followers have embraced their leader in such a way that bears a striking resemblance to earlier totalitarian movements. We all must remember that Hitler was first of all elected to power in Germany, considered by many to be the most civilized country in Europe at the time! It could happen again. It could happen in North America.


The blind obedience and loyalty of Trump supporters is astonishing. Before he was elected, Trump said he could stand in Times Square in New York and commit a murder and it would make no difference to his followers. Was he far off the truth? It seems that no matter what Trump says or does his fans will accept it. They don’t care. They support Trump no matter what. I refer to that as theological devotion, because only that type of belief is sufficient to maintain the faith in the political leader. They are true believers.


In 2019 impeachment proceedings concluded in the American House of Representatives in the U.S. and then passed to the Senate for the trial. As we know, only 1 Republican Senator, Mitch Romney, voted to convict Donald Trump after the hearing in the Senate and that was on only 1 of the two charges.  The evidence of wrongdoing to me seemed overwhelming. Yet his Republican supporters in the Senate and the House of Representatives remained absolutely steadfast. No one cared. They just wanted to be on his side. The political leaders, even those who once said they would never support him, like Lindsay Graham the Senator from South Carolina, remained absolutely loyal. Ted Cruz the Senator from Texas voted to acquit Trump even though Trump had insulted him and his family.


The Republican Senators did not want Trump to campaign against them in the next election. So they paid absolute obeisance to him, no matter how unhinged he seemed. Totalitarian leaders would be impressed by the undying loyalty of his supporters and political underlings.

In 2020 the American House of Representatives again approved articles of impeachment against president Trump. That time 10 Republican Senators joined the Democrats in agreeing to impeach him. Undying support hardly diminished. That should surprise no one. The true believers remained steadfast.

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