…colonization…dehumanizes even the most civilized man; that colonial activity, colonial enterprise, colonial conquest, which is based on contempt for the native and justified by that contempt, inevitably tends to change him who undertakes it; that the colonizer, who in order to ease his conscience gets in the habit of seeing the other man as an animal, accustoms himself to treating him like an animal, and tends objectively to transform himself into an animal. It is this result, this boomerang effect of colonization that I wanted to point out.Aimé Césaire
The much-feared boomerang effect of the “government of the subject races” (Lord Cromer) on the home government during the imperialist era meant that rule by violence in faraway lands would end by affecting the government of England, that the last “subject race” would be the English themselves.Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt's work has had an extraordinarily wide and deep impact on contemporary political theory. From debates on democratic theory and pluralism, theories of political action and judgment, to constitutionalism and human rights, the ubiquity and intensity of recourse to Arendt's work has cemented her status as one of the twentieth century's preeminent political philosophers. At the same time, in this canonization, her most overtly political works, critical essays, and public interventions have curiously played a less decisive role. This is arguably the case even with respect to Arendt's acknowledged masterwork, The Origins of Totalitarianism, which in her own lifetime defined her public reception and reputation and now occupies a more ambiguous place in current scholarship. Though commentators still consider Origins to be fundamental for framing Arendt's political horizon – and even setting the agenda of her future work – the theoretical contributions of the work are often construed in more limited terms, principally confined to the conceptualization of totalitarianism as a novel form of government. Tellingly, recent analyses of Origins tend to focus upon and emphasize the elements of that work that prefigure aspects of her more accomplished political philosophy. In this sense, the importance of Origins has been overshadowed by Arendt's later works, especially The Human Condition, but also Between Past and Future and On Revolution, which together are taken to “constitute her most enduring legacy in political theory.”
If Origins has come to hold a relatively subordinate place in the context of analyses and assessments of Arendt's political philosophy as a whole, then her account of imperialism – which occupies the large middle section of Origins – has left little or no imprint on the mainstream of Arendt scholarship. This neglect is all the more perplexing as Arendt's analysis of imperialism, especially her suggestive hypothesis linking imperialism to totalitarianism, has undergone a remarkable resurgence in recent years. The new interest in and engagement with Arendt's analysis, however, has been driven largely by work in imperial and German history, genocide and Holocaust studies, and postcolonial theory and criticism, that is, from outside the core of Arendt scholarship in political theory and philosophy. Substantively, the theoretical (and political) framework of this revival is marked by a deep investment in understanding European empire as a central – indeed, constitutive – historical process in the making of modernity. The central aim of this chapter will be to revisit the main lines of Arendt's analysis of imperialism in light of these new turns in critical interpretation, with a view toward assessing its internal coherence, theoretical significance, and political implications. The focus on the question of imperialism enables a different angle for exploring the relationship among history, politics, and philosophy in Arendt's work, as well as a reconsideration of Origins and its legacies for our new political moment.