In her essay, “Social Science and Concentration Camps” (1950), Hannah Arendt wrote that “The supreme goal of all totalitarian governments is not only the freely admitted, long-range ambition to global rule but also the never-admitted and immediately realized attempt at the total domination of man (Arendt, Essays in Understanding, p. 240).” Totalitarianism sought not just to conquer the world, but to fundamentally change humanity. As Arendt pointed out in the final part of Origins,
Total domination, which strives to organizes the infinite plurality and differentiation of human beings as if all of humanity were just one individual, is possible only if each and every person can be reduced to a never-changing identity of reactions, so that each of these bundles of reactions can be exchanged for any other. The problem is to fabricate something that does not exist, namely, a kind of human species resembling other animal species whose only ‘freedom’ would consist in ‘preserving the species.’… The camps are meant not only to exterminate people and degrade human beings, but also serve the ghastly experiment of eliminating , under scientifically controlled conditions, spontaneity itself as an expression of human behavior and of transforming the human personality into a mere thing, into something that even animals are not; for Pavlov’s dog, which, as we know, was trained to eat not when it was hungry but when a bell rang, was a perverted animal. (Arendt, OT, 565)
The concentration camps were barbaric laboratories in which human beings were transformed into ‘perverted animals,’ living corpses. How did this happen? Arendt suggests that the process was carried out in three stages. First, the juridical person was destroyed by an arbitrary arrest, not for what the person believed or did, but simply for who they were. This stage rendered the person stateless and removed them from the protection of the law, excluding them from the common human community. Next, the moral person was destroyed by separating the person from the rest of the world and placing them in the concentration camp where both their life and death become meaningless, and the capacity for spontaneous speech and action was extinguished through the instrument of fear. Finally, the individual was destroyed by the constant, bureaucratic implementation and normalization of torture. The uniqueness of the individual was completely destroyed (Arendt, “Social Science and Concentration Camps,” in Essay in Understanding, p. 240).
These three stages of total domination destroyed what Arendt referred to as the three basic conditions of human life on earth: life, worldliness, and plurality (Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 7). The condition of life is the base line for human existence, the biological processes that make human life possible and express themselves in drives toward self-preservation, reproduction, and growth, all of which are framed by birth (natality) and death (mortality). The condition of worldliness is the artificial environment that human beings co-create and inhabit and is made up of human artifacts. Human beings are world-builders, in contrast to animals who simply inhabit their natural environments. The last condition of plurality is what Arendt sees as the fundamental political condition, without which, politics would not be possible, and it serves as the law of the earth, “the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.” Human beings are unique and diverse individuals that cannot be reduced to a “single individual,” as the Nazis tried to do in the concentration camps (Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 7). The systematic destruction of the juridical, moral, and individual person, destroys the basic conditions that make life possible on earth: life, worldliness, and plurality. This is why Arendt can say in Eichmann in Jerusalem, “There exist many things considerably worse than death, and the S.S. saw to it that none of them was ever very far from their victims’ minds and imagination (Arendt, EJ, p. 12).”