Title

Of politics and social science : ‘Totalitarianism’ in the dialogue of David Riesman and Hannah Arendt

Document Type

Journal article

Source Publication

European Journal of Political Theory

Publication Date

4-1-2004

Volume

3

Issue

2

First Page

191

Last Page

217

Publisher

Sage Publications Ltd.

Keywords

Concentration Camps, David Riesman, Hannah Arendt, Social Science, Totalitarianism

Abstract

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, David Riesman and Hannah Arendt were engaged in an animated discussion about the meaning and character of totalitarianism. Their disagreement reflected, in part, different experiences and dissonant intellectual backgrounds. Arendt abhorred the social sciences, finding them pretentious and obfuscating. Riesman, in contrast, abandoned a career in law to take up the sociological vocation, which he combined with his own heterodox brand of humanistic psychology. This article delineates the stakes of the Arendt Riesman debate by examining Arendt’s critique of social science and Riesman’s defence of a sociological interpretation of totalitarianism. In addition, the article argues that Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism misdescribed the nature of Nazi and Bolshevik societies in ways that damaged her political account more generally. Riesman intuited that weakness and, as the following article shows, modern historical research has confirmed it.

DOI

10.1177/1474885104041047

Print ISSN

14748851

E-ISSN

17412730

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2004 SAGE Publications Ltd.

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Full-text Version

Publisher’s Version

Recommended Citation

Baehr, P. (2004). Of politics and social science: ‘Totalitarianism’ in the dialogue of David Riesman and Hannah Arendt. European Journal of Political Theory, 3(2), 191-217. doi: 10.1177/1474885104041047