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



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 dynamic character-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.


Corresponding author

Hans-Jörg Sigwart is Senior Lecturer (Akademischer Oberrat) at Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen–Nürnberg, Kochstraße 4, 91052 Erlangen, Germany ( and currently Thyssen Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Central European University, Nador utca 9, 1051 Budapest, Hungary.


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



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