In This Review

The Totalitarian Experiment in Twentieth Century Europe: Understanding the Poverty of Great Politics
The Totalitarian Experiment in Twentieth Century Europe: Understanding the Poverty of Great Politics
By David D. Roberts
Routledge, 2006, 525 pp.

This ambitious book is not an easy read. It is a defense of the concept of totalitarianism, encompassing fascism, Nazism, and Soviet communism, three cases "sufficient to reveal the supranational, historically specific dimension, in both origins and ensuing dynamic." It is also a view of totalitarianism that does not put its main emphasis on ideology or see totalitarianism's essence as being in exclusion; it sees totalitarianism instead as an attempt "to nurture and focus human energies and capacities, even ethical capacities, to make ... new collective action possible," to transcend liberal individualism in order to accomplish the tasks of what Roberts calls "great politics." He shows the origins of totalitarianism in World War I, as well as in the flaws of liberal thought. (He is more interested in discussing the views of other students of totalitarianism than in the history of the three totalitarian regimes.) The book ends with an appeal for new forms of "collective history-making action ... in a constructive though post-totalitarian spirit," for a "renewed radicalism" that would be "a weak, totalist alternative to post-totalitarian triumphalism on the one hand, and to post-totalitarian loss of nerve on the other." What exactly does he have in mind?