Hannah Arendt's work is highly speculative and uses the superfluity notion to revisit the biopolitics of a racial city in South Africa; Johannesburg. Superfluity refers to the dialects of expendability and indispensability of not only labor but also people and things. It refers to the use value that labor has and any act of quantifying it, insofar numerical representation is a fact.

Superfluity according to Hannah Arendt

She is talking about Johannesburg in South Africa during the apartheid period as it developed as a mining camp during the Witwatersrand gold rush in the nineteenth century. Like any other colonial time, it found itself hard to resist the temptation of imagining itself as an English town. The mimicry tradition continues to determine unconsciously the language of the city. There is also the idea of a metropolis in European thought as that of being civilized and capital rationalization. A defining moment for such metropolitan modernity can be realized when two spheres rely upon functional relations among people and things (Mbembe, A. Aesthetics of superfluity).  

One of such moments according to Arendt is epitomized by the labor instrumentality like in production, circulation and reproduction of capital. Another moment is also found in the way that the circulation of commodities and goods and the process of buying and selling results in a culture that nourish self stylization. Another moment is found is found in luxuries which come with pleasure that affect the sensory foundations of mental life and the role they play in subject formation. By all the above, a distinctive commercial civilization emerged based on race brought up by the sale of property. In this way Johannesburg was to become not only a central site for the rebirth of modern Africa but also for the entanglement of modernity in Africa. She brings the idea that cities born out of mimicry are capable of nemesis, being able to understand capacity to identify oneself while trying to invent something original (Mbembe, A. Aesthetics of superfluity).

What is loneliness? Why does Arendt think it causes (or promotes) totalitarian rule

Loneliness occupies an interesting position in Arendt's thoughts of political theory. Loneliness emerges as a component in struggle with identity, collective struggle with oppression and its challenges in the modern political life. Loneliness involves being deserted by oneself which diminishes the potential for political action.

Arendt equates loneliness directly with the idea of totalitarianism. To effectively do this, she differentiates between loneliness and isolation and gives the circumstances under which isolation turns to loneliness. Someone who is lonely is not in a position to control his/her feelings unlike an isolated person. Loneliness can stem from even being with people and to me this is more of depression. No matter the people surrounding you, one can still be lonely and also when people stop recognizing you (The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt).

In the origins of totalitarianism, Arendt deconstructs the historical processes and ideologies which later fall into totalitarianism regimes. She gives the examples of Stalin in Russia and Hitler in Germany in the twentieth century. Through loneliness effects, she pinpoints why these rational human beings were inclined to adhere to their rational ideologies of totalitarian movements to a seemingly unique condition that is inherent in our modern societies. The experiences that loneliness manifests in individuals, that of mot belonging to the world at all, is one such radical and desperate experiences that loneliness brings. For totalitarian movements, their success depends on their ability to exploit the loneliness and desperation fostered in the modern individual through destruction of pre-existing institutions and manifested ideologies (The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt).

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Like most external thinkers, Arendt maintains the idea that people are born into this world tabula rasa, without any inherent beliefs or rights. She argues that human rights and freedoms acquire their meaning and can function like they are meant to when individuals belong to a group or by belonging to a political hierarchy. Therefore, any idea and or concepts without powerful social institutions are mere fancies or imagination and thus non-binding words. Arendt gives meaning to the live of human beings by use of historical institutions which were formulated by the sacrifices and relationships made by the preceding generations who play a vital role in her work. She gives an example of traditional cultural institutions and ideas in Europe in the early twentieth century with such societal divisions such as class, political parties and the positivist philosophy.

All these began to shrink with their unauthentic lives and brought about disillusionment. The disillusionment then brought into the modern world the fertile soil for totalitarianism to grow, she puts it that, "people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction and the distinction between true and false no longer resist" (Pg.474). Clearly according to her, it is this disillusionment and loneliness which the radical promises and worldview of totalitarian movements gaining power. She gives several examples of these radicals (Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels speeches) promoted their discourses of hate and thus expanding their reach and power (The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt).

Totalitarianism could have been avoided if common sense prevailed. According to Arendt, this discrepancy is excusable. According to her, acting politically is only one of the possibilities in public spheres. This sphere provides the common world people to share and think in public and acting places. People have to see that public sphere can be renewed. She believes that the public sphere is a possibility to counteract the self-destruction in modern times. if people renewed their habitality, evil in the world can be faced and phased out. And as such, if this hate speech was not planted, then mass murders under totalitarian could have been avoided.

What makes Arendt's approach to these issues philosophical? 

Hannah Arendt's is a twentieth century philosopher whose writings are not organized into a systematic philosophy expounding and expanding over a sequence of works. Her approach product is unthinkable. She critically gives thought on totalitarianism, revolution and judgment. She is a philosopher of the modern condition who possessed an enormous grasp of historical ideas. A primarily political theorist, she had an orthodox approach has set some unsettling view among political scientists.  Her reflections on the distinctiveness of modern democracies and their revolutions have been an important development of republican thought. She has decisively influenced critical attempts to theorize political reasoning and deliberation. Arendt's work has had immense influence over political thinkers. This is especially from her theory and analysis of totalitarianism on the nature and origins of political violence (Internet encyclopedia of philosophy).


Arendt in her book totalitarianism equates loneliness with the idea of totalitarian governments.   By differentiating between isolation and loneliness, she goes on to show how loneliness is a recipe to totalitarian form of government. She gives the example of Stalin in Russia and Hitler in Germany to cement her thinking. She talks about superfluity as a defining moment for such metropolitan modernity can be realized when two spheres rely upon functional relations among people and things. Hannah Arendt is a great philosopher as she tells her story in more than a historical, political or psychological view.

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