Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, and the Social Sciences
by Peter Baehr
Stanford University Press, 2010 Cloth: 978-0-8047-5650-1 | eISBN: 978-0-8047-7421-5
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
This book examines the nature of totalitarianism as interpreted by some of the finest minds of the twentieth century. It focuses on Hannah Arendt's claim that totalitarianism was an entirely unprecedented regime and that the social sciences had integrally misconstrued it. A sociologist who is a critical admirer of Arendt, Baehr looks sympathetically at Arendt's objections to social science and shows that her complaints were in many respects justified.
Avoiding broad disciplinary endorsements or dismissals, Baehr reconstructs the theoretical and political stakes of Arendt's encounters with prominent social scientists such as David Riesman, Raymond Aron, and Jules Monnerot. In presenting the first systematic appraisal of Arendt's critique of the social sciences, Baehr examines what it means to see an event as unprecedented. Furthermore, he adapts Arendt and Aron's philosophies to shed light on modern Islamist terrorism and to ask whether it should be categorized alongside Stalinism and National Socialism as totalitarian.
Peter Baehr is Chair Professor of Social Theory and Fellow of Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University. He is the author of Founders, Classics and Canons: Modern Disputes over the Origins and Appraisal of Sociology's Heritage (2002) and editor of the Viking Portable Hannah Arendt (2000).
"This book is a jewel, at once a splendid essay in intellectual history and an original meditation on the limits and possibilities of social science. One rarely encounters profundity with elegance. Baehr offers both."—John Hall, James McGill Professor of Sociology, McGill University
"In this book, Peter Baehr undertakes a careful, lucid, and highly nuanced examination of some of the finest contemporary perspectives on how best to conceptualize and explain totalitarianism. He goes on to ask how we are to understand what is unprecedented in history. The result is exceptionally illuminating, not least because the author thinks and writes on the level of those he discusses."—Steven Lukes, New York University
Baehr "provides an original and compelling account of Arendt's critical engagement with social scientists around the question of totalitarianism." —Robert Fine, University of Warwick
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