From the Critique of Totalitarianism to
the Politics of Democracy
Should a critique disappear when its object is no longer present? Although politicians and journalists still use the concepts of fascism and communism rhetorically, perhaps taking the precaution of adding a “neo-” to cover their embarrassment, nearly no one any longer admits adhering to either, and neither does anyone seriously think that they will return any time soon. But of course no one thinks that the Roman Empire—or the Roman republic—will return soon, which doesn't prevent learning from those experiences. And there are those, still a minority, who believe that the only way to interpret the U.S. Constitution is by reference to its authors' supposed original intent. I use the terms “experience” and “intent” to stress that the study, and the critique, of totalitarianism does not belong to the domain of objective science based on neutral observation of nature or culture; it is philosophical—and therefore political, in a sense that I will define in the process of this analysis. Indeed, the critique of totalitarianism can serve as an introduction to modern political philosophy insofar as the immanent critique points beyond itself toward an understanding of the political problems confronting a democratic society that cannot take for granted its own foundations.