Anda di halaman 1dari 15

This article was downloaded by: [University College London]

On: 16 March 2015, At: 05:00


Publisher: Routledge
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered
office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural


Politics of Education
Publication details, including instructions for authors and
subscription information:
http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cdis20

Hannah Arendt, education, and the


question of totalitarianism
Hannah Spector

Behavioral Sciences and Education, Penn State Harrisburg,


Middletown, PA 17057, USA
Published online: 16 Jun 2014.

Click for updates


To cite this article: Hannah Spector (2014): Hannah Arendt, education, and the
question of totalitarianism, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, DOI:
10.1080/01596306.2014.927113
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2014.927113

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE


Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the
Content) contained in the publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis,
our agents, and our licensors make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to
the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions
and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,
and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content
should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary sources
of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims,
proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or
howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising
out of the use of the Content.
This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any
substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,
systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/termsand-conditions

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 2014


http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01596306.2014.927113

Hannah Arendt, education, and the question of totalitarianism


Hannah Spector*

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

Behavioral Sciences and Education, Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown, PA 17057, USA
The aim of this paper is to consider the ways in which Arendts writings on
totalitarianism act as a warning sign for political and miseducational circumstances in
the USA. Because the term totalitarianism has been used imprudently (largely in the
mass media) to express repressive conditions in so-called models of democracy, this
paper seeks to both clarify and raise questions concerning its meaning as a form of
nation-state-sanctioned power and/or economic-technological force. This analysis
draws largely from Arendts definition of totalitarianism expressed as an antipolitical
phenomenon characterized by terror-ruled ideological indoctrination which destroys
both the public realm and the private identities. I contend that analyses of twentiethcentury totalitarianism are significant to todays unprecedented questions and circumstances germinating in and having significance beyond the USA. I also describe the
difficulty of action under extreme conditions. In the last analysis, I deliberate on the
site of education as a totalitarian coercion.
Keywords:
surveillance

totalitarianism;

freedom;

education;

ideology;

corporatization;

The question of totalitarianism, the question of freedom


In Hannah Arendt and Education, Mordechai Gordon (2001) points to the renewed
interest in the life and works of Hannah Arendt (p. 1). Gordon underscores that this
rekindled attention to the life and works of the political theorist had not yet attracted the
attention of educational philosophers who ought to take seriously and critically Arendts
writings on education and its relationship to the political (p. 2). As such, Hannah Arendt
and Education aims to address this omission. Given the date of publication, the collection
was quite obviously written just before 9/11 and previous to the Bush administrations
war on terror when the world began to change rather swiftly. This war ushered in
various modes of security that curtailed freedoms and tightened laws, creating what
German social theorist Ulrich Beck (2009) contends is a seemingly rational totalitarianism of defence against threats (p. 9). It might then appear understandable why
Arendts renowned text The Origins of Totalitarianism is barely touched upon in Hannah
Arendt and Education. Totalitarianism, so it may have seemed at the time, was a
twentieth-century politico-historical phenomenon having little to do with educational
conditions and concerns at the onset of the twenty-first century.
In recent years since 9/11, educational interest in Arendt has moved beyond studying
her writings on education toward a focus on how thinking with her about educational
questions and concerns can enrich scholarship in such subdisciplines as educational
studies and teacher education. This work has drawn largely from her studies on thinking,
*Email: hms22@psu.edu
2014 Taylor & Francis

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

H. Spector

judging, plurality, ethical responsibility, and freedom e.g., Biesta (2006); Dillabough
(2002); Phelan (2010); Todd (2009) given the crucial role that each of these concepts
(ought to) play in education for democratic citizenship and in cultivating autonomy.
While these themes in Arendts work are interrelated e.g., one must think before making
judgments; acting responsibly corresponds with using the faculty of judgment; to be free
means having the capacity to exercise ones human distinctness educational scholars
have not yet seriously attended to her writings on totalitarianism despite the fact that
thinking, judging, plurality, and responsibility arise out of Arendts concern with what
totalitarianism does to human subjectivity. Under extreme (totalitarian) conditions, the
ability to think for oneself is subverted (Arendt, 1973, p. 472), acting responsibly is
rendered impotent (Arendt, 2003, p. 45), and human plurality is transmogrified into
(in)human sameness (Arendt, 1973, p. 466). These concerns will be taken up throughout
the course of this paper. Indeed, it is the past reality of Nazism and Stalinism and the
ever-present threat of new totalitarianisms that rest at the core of Arendts thinking. With
this core concept in mind, I would like to place further attention on totalitarianism for two
reasons: to underscore why totalitarianism is not only a form of government of the past
but also a present and future concern of utmost importance and to draw connections
between twentieth-century totalitarian education and ongoing miseducational circumstances specifically within the USA. If other contexts are relevant, I leave that for others
to investigate.
Why have Arendts writings on totalitarianism been neglected in contemporary
educational scholarship? The answer to this question might have something to do with the
term totalitarianism itself, which can conjure up thoughts about and images of particular
persons (e.g., Hitler and Stalin) and places (e.g., concentration camps and gulags) that
seem terribly remote to educational scholars whose areas of research often involve policy,
theory, and practice. Indeed, Arendt (1973) refers to the Nazi concentration camps as the
central institution of totalitarian organizational power (p. 438). That said, it should also
be pointed out that the construction of gas chambers and large crematoria to rid the Reich
of its enemies took place at the end of 1941 and 1943, respectively. While the camps
functioned as central institutions of totalitarian power, the Nazis came to power in 1933
and fell in 1945. In other words, totalitarianism is not only about mass murder despite
some conflation of the two in popular imagination. Under a totalitarian movement,
various freedoms are also gradually taken away using both open methods and secret
actions before an entire society arrives at the gates of hell.
Additionally, the word totalitarian has been and continues to be used, misused, and
abused so much, so that it and related terms like Orwellian have become mundane even
in the face of pervasive and unprecedented forms of surveillance and terror. While
Arendts book describing the meaning of totalitarianism is arguably the preeminent text
on the subject, others written on totalitarianism and subsequent to her own describe it
altogether differently. As a case in point, Arendt (1973) reiterates throughout Origins that
a key characteristic of totalitarianism is its deliberately anti-utilitarian (p. 404) and
economic useless[ness] (p. 445) as illustrated in the extermination over exploitation of
so-called inferior peoples and at the cost of military action. Also, while there has been
abundant scholarship devoted to critiquing the efficiency gospel of Taylorism in
education, Arendts observation that totalitarianism is intentionally antiefficient would
certainly not help strengthen arguments against the 100-years-old dominance of
efficiency-minded school reforms. In contrast to Arendts theory of totalitarianism,

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education

Marcuse (1964) describes advanced industrial society as tending toward totalitarianism:


totalitarianism is not only a terroristic political coordination of society, but also a nonterroristic economic-technical coordination which operates through the manipulation of
needs by vested interests (p. 3). Is one theory right and the other wrong? How can
totalitarianism be antieconomic and be aimed at maximizing outcomes?
Originally from Germany, Arendt and Marcuse were writing in a post-World War II
USA context up through the 1970s. Yet, it would seem that Marcuses totalitarianism as
marked not by terror, torture, and mass murder but by subliminal mind control through
technological means and an overwhelming efficiency and increased standard of living
(p. xlii) reminiscent of Aldous Huxleys World State has forecasted todays Global North
conditions in more accurate ways even if his study was written purely as an argumentative
description of mid-twentieth-century advanced industrial society. But in the twenty-first
century service-oriented society, do not our creature comforts, our consumer choices, and
our personal computers and handheld gadgets that provide a platform where one can
express personal opinions in social forums attest to freedom? If you have been
indoctrinated and manipulated (Marcuse, 1964, p. 6) by the ideology that provides
such comfort and encourages a look-at-me mentality, Marcuse would say: No, you are not
free. Nor are you capable of creating conditions of freedom because you cannot, recalling
Kant, think for yourself. But, like the thoughtless citizens of Brave New World, you are
happy. According to Arendt, in order to be free, at least in ancient Greece, one needed,
first, to be liberated from the demands of daily life necessities which were relegated to the
freedom-less life of household slaves. Today, such relegation is not only out of public
sphere sight but also geographically distant, relocated to the Global South which sustains
the Global Norths liberation, generally speaking. However, in addition to mere
liberation[,] freedom as a demonstrable fact (Arendt, 2006, p. 147) requires a
common public space of inter-est (Arendt, 1998, p. 182) to meet with equal-others for
the purpose of speech and action on worldly interests. In others words, freedom and
politics go hand in hand.
Arendts study of antipolitical totalitarianism, on the other hand, was meant not only
to be a description of Nazism and Stalinism but also functioned as a field manual
(Young-Bruehl, 2006, p. 34) to detect future totalitarianisms in their initial stages even if
they might not look the same as their predecessors. Furthermore, we know that
democracies such as the Weimar Republic have paved the way for totalitarian
movements. Indeed, self-proclaimed exemplars of democracy can act rather ruthlessly
when promoting democracy including [using] totalitarian means (Young-Bruehl, 2006,
p. 40) as initially evident under anti-Communist ideology and its cold war measures.
Moreover, if Arendt were alive today, it is hard to imagine she would get stuck on the
antieconomic aspects of the totalitarianisms of her time given that this form of
government is capable of local variations (Wolin, 2008, p. xvii). Part of her point in
bringing to our attention the uselessness of the camps, their cynically admitted antiutility (Arendt, 1973, p. 456) was to help convey the incomprehensibility and unheardof unpredictability (p. 347) of totalitarian governments in a world that had been, and
largely continues to be, utilitarian. The unheard-of corresponds with what Arendt also
refers to as totalitarianisms everything is possible (p. 440) principle. Ironically,
because Nazi crimes crimes that were legal in the sense that they followed the rules
of natural law were beyond the pale of what seemed humanely possible, it made it
that much easier to commit them (see Spector, 2009). What do twentieth-century

H. Spector

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

totalitarianisms as described in terroristic political terms and economic-technical


coordination[s] (Marcuse, 1964, p. 3) have to do with present-day US activities at home
and abroad? Why should these concerns matter to a largely apathetic US citizenry,
citizens of other countries, and the (potential) stateless noncitizen? (How) do c/overt
totalitarian procedures get played out in sites of education and what are the ramifications
of such procedures? These questions will be addressed in the following sections.
The morality of freedom and the lives of others
There has been abundant scholarship written across disciplines devoted to critiquing the
corporate takeover of America and its interests largely by Marxist and Marxist-influenced
theorists. In short, the goal of a corporation is to maximize profit for shareholders without
much concern for the impact it might have on others and/or the planet. The terms
corporate tyranny and corporate hegemony have been used at least since the last quarter
of the twentieth century to describe one of the greatest threats to freedom in both its outer
and inner manifestations. In the documentary film The Corporation (2003), a brief history
is provided on how a corporation came to be legally defined as a person. In the film, the
personality of a corporation, however, is compared with that of a psychopath.
A corporation is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches
social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the
human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. How these characteristics get played
out in the particular depends on the corporation, as the film illustrates. But perhaps the
comparison between corporations and psychopaths is harsh. For the emergence of a form
of corporate, self-regulation which uses a business model called Corporate Social
Responsibility attests to nonpsychopathic, even ethical tendencies. Since there has been
growing public concerns for corporations to act more responsibly, corporations with a
conscience have found ways to do so while meeting their primary mission: increasing
profit (Friedman, 1970). This is the meaning of corporate social responsibility and clean
capitalism.
It has only been in the last few years that corporate power has been described in
totalitarian terms and in specific relation to the USA. According to Chris Hedges (2010),
[t]here are no constraints left to halt Americas slide into totalitarian capitalism The
American empire is over. And the descent is going to be horrifying. Sounding manic or
rightfully sounding the alarm, one must decide for oneself, these corporate vampires
have drained the blood of the country. Hedges puts the blame on the private sector and
an economic coup detat (Johnston as cited in Hedges, 2010) for the coming collapse of
the USA. What to do? Inspired by and drawing from Albert Camus, we must take action,
become rebels with a cause. Rebellion offers us the only route left to personal freedom
Those who do not rebel in this age of totalitarian capitalism are complicit in their own
enslavement thereby committing moral suicide. Like freedom and politics, it would
seem that freedom and morality also go hand in hand. Whether or not the US empire is
over is debatable as will be deliberated upon shortly. Moreover, totalitarianism, at least on
its own terms, is too totalizing to resist or to rebel against, making Hedges call to action
against it difficult if not impossible. Totalitarianism isolates individuals by pressing them
up against each other which destroys the space between that is freedom (Arendt, 1973,
p. 466). In order to communicate with others, let alone successfully rebel against an entire
system, one needs a space from which to do so. This is pure physics. Additionally,
rebellion is more closely linked with reaction than it is action. Where action miraculously

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education

starts something new, reaction is characteristic of the disintegration of personality


(Arendt, 1994, p. 240) or human plurality. As discussed earlier, plurality and freedom are
indivisible. Understanding the relationship between the two calls us to stop-and-think,
as Arendt (1978, I: p. 78) would say, about the verifiability that the USA has descended
into totalitarian capitalism or at least in the way Hedges describes. This does not mean,
however, that the USA is without totalitarian features.
Wolin (2008) describes the fusion of corporate control and political power in the USA
as inverted totalitarianism. Not derivate of its classical totalitarian counterparts whose
power rested with the government, inverted totalitarianism mobilizes itself domestically
and globally by exploiting the authority and resources of the state (p. xxi) while also
aligning itself with other forms of transnational power, namely private industry. Wolin
also argues that classical totalitarian regimes boasted of their totalitarian character
(p. 52) whereas inverted totalitarianisms hide their personality, particularly to their
citizenry, evincing instead former democratic practices in the present-day democratic
myths they construct. As a case in point, if I am told repeatedly that I live in a democracy
and that freedom and democracy must be spread with the ultimate goal of ending
tyranny throughout the world (Bush as cited in Bass, 2008) and everyone around me
believes this the chances are that I believe it, too, because, recalling Marcuse, I have
been indoctrinated and manipulated by its ideology. If the conditions around me prohibit
my ability to think and to act, what are the chances that I might break [my] servitude and
seize [my] own liberation (Marcuse, 1964, p. 7)?
Since the publication of Wolins book, however, there have been movements and
protests, such as Occupy Wall Street (OWS), which might call into question the argument
that the USA is an inverted totalitarian power if totalitarianism means total control. Only
a short time ago, OWS had incredible momentum and media publicity which would seem
to signify at least some fissures in the amalgamated corporate-state totalitarian system.
From its inception, however, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) treated OWS,
which it acknowledged to be a peaceful organization (Wolf, 2012), as a potential
criminal and terrorist threat (Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, 2012). In fact, during the
occupy movement, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the FBI, the police, and
the big banks themselves not only worked together in different capacities to systematically monitor and spy on protestors but also to violently crackdown on and dismantle the
ill-defined, leaderless movement. These supposedly distinct organizations had so
completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole had become one gigantic,
uniform entity, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council (Wolf,
2012). In other words, may be Wolin (2008) is right, or nearly right. Today, OWS has
become not much more than an afterthought with a now marketable Occupy this or
that turn of phrase and with little hope of making it into American history textbooks for
more than one reason.
While there are simply too many examples of recent applicable acts of aggression by
the US Government to be amply discussed in a paper of this length, I reference a few
others here to call attention to warning signs of (anti)political totalitarian procedures,
particularly when looked at in sum. If OWS sit-ins were perceived as a potential terrorist
threat and violent police shutdowns helped dismantle the movement, if prisoners at Abu
Ghraib were abused, tortured, raped, and killed during the war in Iraq by US military
personnel and/or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA; Benjamin, 2007; Scherer &
Benjamin, 2006), if the US military engages in drone warfare which is by far the

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

H. Spector

biggest terrorist campaign in the world (Chomsky, 2013) as a method of counterterrorism and despite the fact that President Obama has recently stated that the global war
on terror is over, if the FBI has acknowledged that their agency has employed drones for
domestic surveillance purposes, raising concerns about invasions of privacy, if the
National Security Agency (NSA) is engaging in by far the most extensive surveillance
system the world has ever known, not only for national security reasons but also for
national interests (Snowden as cited in BBC, 2014), spying on anyone and everyone if
they want to by literally watch[ing] every keystroke you make (Greenwald as cited in
Goodman, 2013), if whistle-blowers like the now imprisoned Chelsea Manning and
currently stateless, passportless Edward Snowden are treated as traitors under the 1917
Espionage Act, then it would appear we should not only be concerned about corporations
controlling our lives or about totalitarian capitalism.
If the US Government is not controlling its citizens lives and the lives of others, then
they are watching it legally under secret laws (Lichtblau, 2013), or so some have begun
to appreciate in the culture of paranoia that the NSA is breeding. It has been argued that
the legacy of Snowden is paranoia (Kendzior, 2013). Though paranoia often has negative
denotations for example, a paranoid person experiences delusions often of persecution
can certain kinds of paranoia serve as effective forms of resistance to social or political
control (Melley, 2000, p. 18)? Novelist Thomas Pynchons characters, for example,
engage in operational paranoia which [is] marked by a self-critical suspicion of the
world. Is it fair to say that in this historic moment, if you and I are not at least a bit
paranoid, we are not paying attention? When the head of the NSA was asked in March
2013 if his organization engaged in blanket domestic surveillance activities, he said
no. In what universe is it paranoia to be angry about all of this (Robinson, 2014)?
If, on one hand, the legacy of Snowden is paranoia, on the other hand, people are also not
particularly concerned that they live in a surveillance state because those same people
have been living in a world for decades that has celebrated exposing ones private life in
public places, as divulged on and profited by TV talk shows, reality TV programs, and
social media platforms. Concurrently, social media forums like Facebook provide endless
opportunities to at once secretly and openly stalk ones friends, normalizing that which
at one time was grounds for filing a restraining order.
In 2006, the German film The Lives of Others opened to international critical acclaim.
The story is about a Stasi officer, Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, whose job is to bug the home
of and spy on a playwright, Georg Dreyman, and his actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria
Siedland. A great deal of the story revolves around Wiesler who secretly listens in on
virtually every conversation taking place in the good couples home. Over time, Wiesler
begins to sympathize with Dreyman and seems to fall in love with Siedland while also
becoming disillusioned with the aims of the Stasi and his role in the organization. Though
Wiesler is eventually demoted for not doing his job sufficiently, in the last flash-forward
scene, he is also rewarded by Dreyman, who dedicates his latest novel to Wiesler for his
sense of humanity in what was an inhumane East German world. The director of the film,
Florian Henckel von Donnersmark (as cited in Funder, 2007), said that his story is not
meant to be an accurate depiction of a Stasi officer but rather aims to tell a fantastical
account of the basic expression of belief in humanity. Based on her extensive interviews
of former Stasi officers and East German resisters, Funder (2007) points out that:
No Stasi man ever tried to save his victims, because it was impossible. (Wed know if one
had, because the files are so comprehensive.) Unlike Wiesler, who runs a nearly solo

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

surveillance operation and can withhold the results from his superior, totalitarian systems rely
on thoroughgoing internal surveillance (terror) and division of tasks The thoroughness of
the regime was horrifying: it accumulated, in the 40 years of its existence, more written
records than in all of German history since the Middle Ages To understand why a Wiesler
could not have existed is to understand the total nature of totalitarianism. Knabe talks of
the fierce surveillance within the Stasi of its own men, of how in a case like Dreymans there
might have been a dozen agents: everything was checked and cross-checked.

Following Funders (2007) understanding of the way totalitarianism operates at least


within the former East Germany, is it warranted to charge the USA and its not quite Stasilike instrument of surveillance, the NSA, of totalitarianism given that it gave birth to a
Wiesler in Snowden? Whether the USA is too sloppy in its surveillance operations to be
considered totalitarian and/or they are biting off more than they can chew, un/necessarily
spying on anyone and virtually everyone is no easy task. As has been pointed out by
critics, the NSAs surveillance program is not an effective and efficient way of keeping
us safe (Levinson-Waldman, 2013) from terrorists, which begs the question, why is it
being done? In light of Snowdens revelations, former NSA official turned whistle-blower
William Binney (as cited in Bamford, 2012) has indicated that the USA is quite close to
becoming a turnkey totalitarian state. Yet, instead of fighting for ones right to privacy
as protected under the Fourth Amendment, American citizens turn over their private
information without batting an eye. In other words, we are seeing the coming together of
Orwell and Huxleys premonitions, a mass surveillance state spying on (not only) zombie
citizens.
The site of education: authoritarian, tyrannical, or totalitarian?
There has been considerable scholarship devoted to questioning and critiquing the
corporatization of higher education in North America beginning with Bill Readings The
University in Ruins. The ramifications of such corporatization can be seen in manifold
ways of which I reference but a few: the transformation of students into customers; the
ubiquitous rise in the financial cost of earning a degree, especially in (highly) competitive
schools whose degree earners acquire a certain job marketability; universities colluding
(secretly) with corporations, privatizing information that should be public documents
(Petrina, 2006), undermining original research for its own sake, and threatening
(academic) freedom which includes engaging in dissent; college and university rank
tyranny (Mills, 2012) and the glory and tyranny of citation impact (Leung, 2007), the
latter of which stimulates rank and instills mild to major forms of psychic terror in
those needing impact. However, (corporate) tyranny is neither authoritarianism nor
totalitarianism.
For purposes of clarification, Arendt (2006) describes the differences between these
three forms of antidemocratic power using a set of images. Authoritarianism is shaped
like a pyramid whose seat of power is located at the top (p. 98) and each layer
beneath the top possesses some mode of authority albeit less and less the closer to the
base. Largely since the publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational
Reform, critics have referred to the reports influence on subsequent US education
reforms as an authoritarian assault upon the public school curriculum (Parkay, 1985,
p. 120). Even before this time, Dewey (2009) described the undemocratic structure of
schools as a regime of authority in which public education is planned, arranged, and
directed by a few (p. 3) which undermines teachers and students individuality and

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

H. Spector

freedom. Subsequently, those working in the bottom bracket of the pyramid are put in a
position where thinking for oneself is a liability and exercising ones judgment and the
faculty of imagination can go largely undeveloped. Schools have, in effect, become dead
zones of the imagination (Giroux, 2013). The breakdown of these faculties thinking,
judging, imagination rest at the heart of Arendts analysis of the banality of evil. As
such, attending to Arendts field manual that is Origins in educational scholarship is not
without merit given todays political and miseducational climate.
Tyranny is the rule of one over all. Structurally speaking, its top remains suspended,
supported only by the proverbial bayonets, over a mass of carefully isolated, disintegrated,
and completely equal individuals (Arendt, 2006, p. 99). If we are to follow Mills (2012)
critique of the corporatization of higher education in which the rise of the administrators
of different ranks within the system undermine the influence that faculty once had in
shaping university education, what kind of system or at least features of a system are we
talking about: authoritarianism, tyranny, or something else? As higher education is
experiencing an influx of different levels of administrators, faculty have also become
increasingly powerless due to internal reorganizations including the contraction of tenure
and tenure-track positions and the expansion of adjunct faculty and graduate teaching
assistants who are used, generally speaking, on a needs basis. Ginsberg (2011) argues that
todays university is characterized by the rise of an all-administrative university and the
fall of the faculty. If this is the case, then we are seeing neither traditional authoritarianism
nor tyranny but inverted authoritarianism whose image is a pyramid turned on its head.
Structurally different from both authoritarianism and tyranny is totalitarianism. The
organization of totalitarian power is not as transparent as that of the former types. Its image
is that of an onion, in whose center, in a kind of empty space, the leader is located
(Arendt, 2006, p. 99). What makes totalitarian rule the most impervious of the three is that
the outer layers of the onion contain many parts which create a deceptive faade of
normality to the outside world because of their lack of fanaticism and extremism. This
faade whose many administrative organizations multiply offices, duplicate functions
(Arendt, 1973, p. 413), and set up fake departments (p. 371) for purposes of propaganda
creates an effect in which everything appears normal. Moreover, because so many offices
are responsible for the same responsibilities, all sense of responsibility is destroyed (p. 409).
However, if one peels away the outer layers, the inner layers contain radical extremism
(Arendt, 2006, p. 99), an extremism which is difficult to comprehend from the outside. In a
totalitarian state [r]eal power begins where secrecy begins (Arendt, 1973, p. 403).
If one were to posit the argument that the US Government has taken the shape of an
onion whose outer layers tell a different story from the inner ones, might some of those
be: the CIA, the FBI, the DHS which was created as a response to 9/11 along with some
other 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work[ing] on
programs related to counterterrorism who do the same work, creating redundancy and
waste (Priest & Arkin, 2010), major media networks which are owned and operated by
monolithic corporations, and over 50 years of school reforms whose outer layer missions
tell a favorable story, most recently, of students becoming college and career ready?
Peeling the outer layers away, what do some of the inner layers look like? Even before
the public knew about Snowdens revelations or Abu Ghraib, there was COINTELPRO, a
covert FBI project led under J. Edgar Hoover that spied on and worked to undermine
domestic dissident political groups by enhanc[ing] the paranoia endemic in these [New
Left] circles to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox (FBI

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education

as cited in Jalon, 2006). Additionally, the USA has created in response to 9/11 two
governments: the ones its citizens were familiar with, operated more or less in the open;
the other a parallel top secret government visible to only a carefully vetted cadre
(Priest & Arkin, 2011, p. 52).
While these particular inner layers of extremism have obviously been exposed to the
public by whistle-blowers and journalists, understanding the inner ideology of school
reforms does not seem to have the same visceral impact on the populace even when such
reforms get critiqued in news media by people who once played roles in the inner layers,
most notably Diane Ravitch. These reforms are not just driven by fears that the USA will
lose in the race to space or the race to the top, which actually does not sound on the
surface all that terrible in a country that largely believes in and is driven by the value of
competition. These reforms also aim to discourage thinking which would inevitably
include questioning what it takes to outwardly and inwardly win the race. Nevertheless, it
would seem that when outer freedoms such as civil rights are threatened, a strong sense of
moral outrage manifests in powerful pockets of the populace. This outrage might be due
to the fact that outer freedom is different than inner freedom. As a political theorist,
Arendt (2006) spends less time entertaining the notion of inner freedom given that this
inward, nebulous space is empirically and theoretically unascertainable. It is the domain
of psychology (p. 142). However, when considering the ways in which inner freedoms
are threatened in sites of education, can we be so certain that this outer-inner manifestation
is apolitical and therefore unworthy of political analysis?
Wolin (2008) argues that under National Socialism, the primary task of all
educational institutions was the indoctrination of the population in the ideology of the
regime (p. 67). However, under the political coming-of-age of corporate power
(p. xxi) that is inverted totalitarianism, things have apparently changed. Why purge
dissident academics and/or spend time cultivating a loyal intelligentsia (p. 68) when
professors can profit from the new system, too? As a case in point, during the Vietnam
War, the Academy functioned as places of protest, yet, during the war in Iraq, the
Academy had become self-pacifying (p. 68). Such acquiescence is also a characteristic
of twentieth-century totalitarianism, at least according to Arendt (1973) who understands
that the aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy
the capacity to form any (p. 468). By convictions, Arendt means demonstrating
sympathy and/or support for particular ideas or values. Indeed, a key step in preparing
human beings for total domination is the murder of the moral person (p. 451). It is a
concise description of totalitarian education that sets the stage for Arendts later writings
on thinking, judging, and plurality as fundamental to freedom.
In the twenty-first century US context, the murder of the moral person is carried out
in largely the same albeit more subtle ways as was done under twentieth-century
totalitarianisms: through ideology and terror (pp. 460479). Regarding the latter, while
classical totalitarian regimes literally cracked open peoples skulls and performed other
overt displays of horror and intimidation, todays methods of domestic style head bashing
cannot be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears, per say. In our schools, terror is
induced not with brute force but by psychological means: through a constant threat by the
government that schools will be shut down, and teachers will lose their jobs if students do
not pass various standardized tests. Many schools across the country and the people who
teach and learn in them are living in a state of fear, particularly as standardized testing
begins to intensify under the Common Core. Seeking to avoid the death penalty, schools

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

10

H. Spector

have transformed themselves into test-prep machines. Concurrently, with the marketization of education, testing and test preparation industries are booming. Companies like
ETS, Kaplan, and Pearson are eagerly profiting off of anxious parents and children who
feel compelled to boost their scores. The murder of the moral person can also be seen in
the many cases of collective test tampering which have cropped up in school districts up
and down the east coast of the USA (see Otterman, 2011).
Criticisms of this sort are not new; however, they should be considered in light of
other modes of power exercised on schools such as zero-tolerance policies, everincreasing video surveillance cameras placed in school hallways, and the Common Cores
new stealthy student-tracking database that will allow the government access to intimate
information from birth onward (Berry, 2013) contradicting the Family Educational
Rights and Privacy Act. This database gathers information on students including healthcare histories, income information, religious affiliations, voting status, blood types and
homework-completion rates (Malkin as cited in Berry, 2013). One can only speculate as
to how this information will be used. While this tracking system is getting under way, the
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already funneled in $160 million to develop and
market the Common Core (Simon & Shah, 2013). When looked at together, these forms
of invisible terror and surveillance enacted on schools appear to be deceptively tamer
versions of those modes carried out by the US Government in other domains. In a country
that claims to be a free society propagating the noble mission of spreading freedom
throughout the world, for its citizens to not be suspicious of or slightly paranoid about
present circumstances and future possibilities, those citizens might well be on the road to
committing moral suicide.
Ideology is the second of the two methods of preparation needed in building a
totalitarian power. As Arendt (1973) explains, there are three components to ideological
thinking: ideology is concerned with the element of motion (p. 470) in which the force
of nature and the unfolding of history cannot be changed. Specific to Nazi Germany,
Aryans are the master race and whatever happens along the way to achieving
Aryanization is part of an inevitable process; totalitarian logicality is divorced from all
experience as understood through the five senses whose sixth sense is primarily taught
by the educational institutions (p. 471); finally, reality starts out with an axiomatic
premise in which life experiences no longer interfere with its doctrine. While Arendts
analysis of ideology explains how totalitarianism works, little attention is paid to the
ways that it gets played out in particular youth settings such as schools. We do know, for
example, that ideological indoctrination was quite explicit in Nazified classrooms,
venerating Aryans and denigrating Jews and other so-called inferior races by way of
rhetoric and pseudoscientific methods.
Whether or not we can call the US totalitarian does not detract from the fact that it
contains, like other countries, a grand narrative. A central component of this narrative is
the belief in manifest destiny. In the nineteenth century, this narrative played out on the
prairie by expanding westward until settlers reached the Pacific Ocean. On this westward
march, Native Americans were destined to extinction (Clay as cited in Miller, 2006,
p. 144), and the white mans destiny was beyond our control (see Miller, 2006, p. 144).
With seemingly nowhere left to go, US exceptionalism has adopted a somewhat different
verbiage in spreading freedom throughout the world. The frontier has expanded.
Concurrently, US public schools and the students who spend their days in them are taught
to celebrate diversity, and teachers are taught to differentiate instruction in the hopes

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 11


of meeting the needs of a plurality of learners. This rhetoric can be seen on hallway
posters and in curriculum manuals. Yet, because the bottom line is meeting (state)
standards which emphasize twenty-first century skill sets whose common standard is
the Common Core which can only work when married to common tests (Hess, 2012)
that require students, for example, to use evidence to inform or make arguments rather
than the personal narrative and other forms of decontextualized prompts (engageNY,
n.d.)! it seems obvious what is really taking place beneath the outer layers of the onion.
Human plurality and (self)understanding are being subverted; life experience is irrelevant
to what really matters (the test); and learning is not about thinking for oneself but winning
the big race.
Whether or not the USA and its sites of education are totalitarian remains a question.
One of the fundamental ways that totalitarianism works, however, is to destroy plurality,
replacing it with One man of gigantic dimension (Arendt, 1973. p. 466). We do know
that public education has become a location for corporate and state power to colossalize.
Standardized testing is a multibillion-dollar industry, and the Common Core is collecting
private data on children and their families. Arendt (1973) refers to the concentration camp
as the central institution of totalitarian organizational power (p. 438) and the living
corpse its model citizen (p. 456). Are schools the model institutions of US organizational power, and are those whom work for and in them its model citizen?
Acknowledgements
An earlier version of this paper was presented at William Pinar, William Doll, and Donna Trueits
20132014 lecture series Ethical Engagement with Alterity at the University of British Columbia,
Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy. Much gratitude goes to them for inviting me to
participate in their series. I would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers and Mary Napoli for
their helpful suggestions in refining this article.

References
Arendt, H. (1973). The origins of totalitarianism. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace.
Arendt, H. (1978). The life of the mind. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Arendt, H. (1994). Essays in understanding 19301954. New York, NY: Schocken Books.
Arendt, H. (1998). The human condition (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Arendt, H. (2003). Responsibility and judgment. New York, NY: Schocken Books.
Arendt, H. (2006). Between past and future. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Bamford, J. (2012, March 15). The NSA is building the countrys biggest spy center. Wired.
Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/
Bass, G. (2008, October 11). Despot watch. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.
nytimes.com/2008/10/12/books/review/Bass-t.html?_r=0
BBC. (2014, January 26). NSA engaged in industrial espionage Snowden. BBC. Retrieved from
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/25907502
Beck, U. (2009). World at risk. (C. Cronin, Trans.). Malden, MA: Polity Press.
Benjamin, M. (2007, May 22). The CIAs latest ghost detainee. Salon. Retrieved from http://www.
salon.com/2007/05/22/cia_prisoner/
Berry, S. (2013, August 13). Childrens privacy at risk with Common Core Curriculum Standards.
Breitbart. Retrieved from http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/08/12/Children-sPrivacy-At-Risk-With-Common-Core-Curriculum-Standards
Biesta, G. (2006). Beyond learning: Democratic education for a human future. Boulder, CO:
Paradigm.

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

12

H. Spector

Chomsky, N. (2013, October 10). Chomsky to RT: All superpowers feel exceptional, inflate security
myth for frightened population. RT. Retrieved from http://rt.com/op-edge/chomsky-interviewforeign-policy-960/
The Corporation. (2003). Big picture media corporation. Retrieved from http://www.thecorpora
tion.com/index.cfm?page_id=312
Dewey, J. (2009). Democracy in education. In C. Kridel. (Ed.), Classic editions sources: Education
(pp. 15). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
Dillabough, J.-A. (2002). The hidden injuries of critical pedagogy. Curriculum Inquiry, 32,
203214. doi:10.1111/1467-873X.00223
engageNY. (n.d.). Shift 5: Writing from sources. Common core Shifts. Retrieved from www.
engageNY.org
Friedman, M. (1970, September 13). The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.
The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.colorado.edu/studentgroups/libertarians/issues/
friedman-soc-resp-business.html
Funder, A. (2007, May 4). Tyranny of terror. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.
theguardian.com/books/2007/may/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview12
Ginsberg, B. (2011). The fall of the faculty: The rise of the all-administrative university and why it
matters. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Giroux, H. (2013, August 13). When schools become dead zones of the imagination. Truthout.
Retrieved from http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/18133-when-schools-become-dead-zonesof-the-imagination-a-critical-pedagogy-manifesto
Goodman, A. (2013, December 31). Glenn Greenwald: The NSA can literally watch every
keystroke you make. Truthout. Retrieved from http://truth-out.org/news/item/20948-glenngreenwald-the-nsa-can-literally-watch-every-keystroke-you-make
Gordon, M. (2001). Hannah Arendt and education. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Hedges, C. (2010, March 8). Calling all rebels. Truthdig. Retrieved from http://www.truthdig.com/
report/item/calling_all_rebels_20100308/
Hess, R. (2012, December 12). The price of uniformity. Education Week. Retrieved from http://
blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2012/12/the_price_of_uniformity.html
Jalon, A. (2006, March 8). A break-in to end all break-ins. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from
http://articles.latimes.com/2006/mar/08/opinion/oe-jalon8
Kendzior, S. (2013, August 13). Snowden and the paranoid state. Aljazeera. Retrieved from http://
www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/2013858490192123.html
Leung, K. (2007). The glory and tyranny of citation impact: An east Asian perspective. Academy of
Management Journal, 50, 510513. doi:10.5465/AMJ.2007.25525592
Levinson-Waldman. (2013, June 7). Against our valuesand bad at keeping us safe. New Republic.
Retrieved from http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113416/nsa-spying-scandal-data-mining-isntgood-keeping-us-safe
Lichtblau, E. (2013, July 6). In secret, court vastly broadens powers of N.S.A. New York Times.
Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/in-secret-court-vastly-broadens-powersof-nsa.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Marcuse, H. (1964). One dimensional man: Studies in the ideology of advanced industrial society.
Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Melley, T. (2000). Empire of conspiracy: The culture of paranoia in postwar America. Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press.
Miller, R. (2006). Native America, discovered and conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark,
and Manifest Destiny. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Mills, N. (2012). The corporatization of higher education. Dissent. Retrieved from http://www.
dissentmagazine.org/article/the-corporatization-of-higher-education
Otterman, S. (2011, October 17). In cheating cases, teachers who took risks or flouted rules. The
New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/18/nyregion/how-cheatingcases-at-new-york-schools-played-out.html?pagewanted=all
Parkay, F. (1985). The authoritarian assault upon the public school curriculum: An additional
indicator of risk. The High School Journal, 68(3), 120128.
Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. (2012, December 22). FBI documents reveal secret nationwide
occupy monitoring. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.justiceonline.org/
commentary/fbi-files-ows.html?print=t

Downloaded by [University College London] at 05:00 16 March 2015

Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education

13

Petrina, S. (2006). Something to hide? Faculty Focus. 39(6). Retrieved from https://www.academia.
edu/5496441/Something_to_Hide_UBC_SFU_and_UVIC_Want_Secrecy_Instead_of_Freedom_
of_Information
Phelan, A. (2010). Bound by recognition: Some thoughts on professional designations for teachers.
Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 38, 317329. doi:10.1080/1359866X.2010.528198
Priest, D., & Arkin, W. (2010, July 19). Top secret America. Washington Post. Retrieved from
http://projects.washingtonpost.com/top-secret-america/articles/a-hidden-world-growing-beyondcontrol/print/
Priest, D., & Arkin, W. (2011). Top secret America: The rise of the new American security state.
New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Robinson, E. (2014). Defining the NSAs role. Truthout. Retrieved from http://truth-out.org/news/
item/21059-defining-the-nsas-role
Scherer, M., & Benjamin, M. (2006, March 16). The Abu Ghraib files. Salon. Retrieved from http://
www.salon.com/2006/03/14/chapter_1/
Simon, S., & Shah, N. (2013, September 18). The common core money war. Politico. Retrieved
from http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/education-common-core-standards-schools-96964.
html#comment-1049628965
Spector, H. (2009, September 9). Classification and disciplinary systems: The birth of the monster
prison. PsyArt: An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Retrieved from http://
www.psyartjournal.com/article/show/spector-classification_disciplinary_systems_the_classification_
disciplinary_systems_the_
Todd, S. (2009). Toward an imperfect education. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.
Wolf, N. (2012, December 29). Revealed: How the FBI coordinated the crackdown on occupy. The
Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/29/fbi-coordi
nated-crackdown-occupy
Wolin, S. (2008). Managed democracy and the specter of inverted totalitarianism. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press.
Young-Bruehl, E. (2006). Why Arendt matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.