Hannah Arendt on the Mob Mentality

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In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes:

    For the propaganda of totalitarian movements which precede and accompany totalitarian regimes is invariably as frank as it is mendacious, and would-be totalitarian regimes usually start their careers by boasting of their past crimes and carefully outlining their future ones. The Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction”…”

Arendt goes on to say:

    The attraction of evil and crime for the mob mentality is nothing new. It has always been true that the mob will greet “deeds of violence with the admiring remark: it may be mean but it is very clever.”

By mob, Arendt means “a group in which the residue of all classes are represented.” In other words, the mob consists of people who, through economic or political circumstances, have been deprived of their class standings and impoverished. Arendt tells us that “the mob hates society from which it is excluded.”

This put me in mind of the Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh or whatever you want to call it.) Reports of its atrocities – massacres, beheadings, the raping of women and girls – have actually resulted in it attracting jihadis from all over the world. This is clearly a case of evil-doing having a “morbid force of attraction”.

Consider the case of Cherif and Said Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo shooters. Abandoned by their parents and placed in foster home, they moved to a northern suburb of Paris where they engaged in petty theft and drug dealing before they gravitated toward radical Islam.

The mob, which was the mains support of the Nazis, may well be the main support of IS as well.

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