"Totalitarianism is merely an application of the principle of the "banality of evil."-Hannah Arendt
With this phrase, Arendt meant to draw attention to how people misunderstand the origin and nature of evil regimes. Evil regimes are not always the products of fanatics, paranoids, and sociopaths, though, of course, power breeds fanaticism, paranoia, and sociopathology. Instead, the total state can be built by ordinary people who accept a wrong premise concerning the role of the state in society.
If the role of the state is to ferret out evil thoughts and bad ideas, it must necessarily become totalitarian. If the goal of the state is that all citizens must come to hold the same values as the great leader, whether economic, moral, or cultural, the state must necessarily become totalitarian. If the people are led to believe that scarce resources are best channeled in a direction that producers and consumers would not choose on their own, the result must necessarily be central planning.
On the face of it, many people today do not necessarily reject these premises. No longer is the idea of a state-planned society seen as frightening. What scares people more today is the prospect of a society without a plan, which is to say a society of freedom. But here is the key difference between authority in everyday life — such as that exercised by a parent or a teacher or a pastor or a boss — and the power of the state: the state's edicts are always and everywhere enforced at the point of a gun.
It is interesting how little we think about that reality — one virtually never hears that truth stated so plainly in a college classroom, for example — but it is the core reality. Everything done by the state is ultimately done by means of aggression, which is to say violence or the threat of violence against the innocent. The total state is really nothing but the continued extension of these statist means throughout every nook and cranny of economic and social life. Thus does the paranoia, megalomania, and fanaticism of the rulers become deadly dangerous to everyone.
It begins in a seemingly small error, a banality. But, with the state, what begins in banality ends in bloodshed.