Political Characterology: On the Method of Theorizing in Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism

by Hans-Jörg Sigwart, University of Erlangen–Nürnberg

Hans-Joerg Sigwart

Abstract: “Notwithstanding its status as a modern classic, Hannah Arendt’s study on The Origins of Totalitarianism is generally considered to be lacking a clearly reflected methodological basis. This article challenges this view and argues that in her study Arendt implicitly applies a characterological method of political theorizing that provides a genuine conceptual framework for systematically connecting structural analysis with ideographic historical investigations and with a political theory of action. On this conceptual basis, the study renders an analysis of anti-Semitism, imperialism, and totalitarianism not merely in terms of abstract structural concepts, but in terms of dynamiccharacter-context constellations. Arendt’s account not only shows interesting parallels to a number of similar conceptual reflections, especially in the 20th century’s theory debate; it can also serve to inspire the current debate on methodology in political theory.”

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American Political Science Review is political science’s premier scholarly research journal, providing peer-reviewed articles and review essays from subfields throughout the discipline. Areas covered include political theory, American politics, public policy, public administration, comparative politics, and international relations. APSR has published continuously since 1906.