Y490 Dr. Lewis
Feb. 19, 2002
Beyond the Movement
In her article “The Totalitarian Leader,” Hannah Arendt argues that a leader is both at the center of and beyond a political movement. The leader she describes operates in differently in different areas of the political movement he leads. The relationship he has to the different organizational branches depends entirely on what he represents to the people of each organization. The leader’s position is protected by those in the topmost layer of the organization because the leader is seen as a personification of the political movement. It is this layer of political organization which Arendt is most concerned with. She uses the examples of Hitler and Stalin to question why the men just below the leader never overthrow him to claim power for themselves. Their relationship to him, she says, is an important factor in explaining their behavior. Whereas other layers of the organization depend on the leader’s ability to be a number of different things, the topmost layer is blinded by a loyalty to the leader that makes them both unable and unwilling to dethrone him.
In the beginning of her article, Arendt emphasizes the importance of the leader’s “ability to spin intrigues among its members and upon his skill in constantly changing its personnel.”() This crafty ability is so important during the beginning of a leader’s career and it serves the purpose of lining up men beneath him that owe him the loyalty the leader needs to keep power. Hitler and Stalin both did this so well, Arendt argues, “so that after a few years hardly any man of importance remained who did not owe his position to them.” () This hierarchy has the job of representing the leader to the other ranks of both the movement and the masses. Because the leader’s henchmen depend on him for their lofty positions, his position as leader is secure against revolts. Arendt is less interested in showing us that leaders like Hitler and Stalin are protected from their seconds-in-command than she is in explaining to us why they are. Leaders possess such security, as she writes on page 212, “because of these men’s sincere and sensible conviction that without him everything would be immediately lost.”
The loyalty on which a leader depends leads to his personal representation of the movement. While he is protected by the movement, he acts as a protector of it. This is different from other party leaders, our author notes, because he claims responsibility for everything that happens within the movement. His subordinates need to be loyal if their every act is going to be in his name. Arendt calls this the “most important organizational aspect of the so-called Leader principle.” () Not only are the subordinates appointed by the leader but they are what Arendt calls “walking embodiments” of the leader. () An ordinary dictator or despot is more likely to use his second-in-command as a scapegoat than he is to claim responsibility for a failure beneath him. But a leader takes total responsibility for the movement and as a result he has to identify with each of his subordinates on a close level.
Tell me what you think via email