The anti-totalitarian left between atrocity and justice

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This article is an exercise in historical retrieval for the purposes of clarifying, and endorsing, a normative political theory against totalitarianism. In the existing range of normative positions, one political platform squeezed is a convincing anti-totalitarian left. From one direction, the radical left engagement is Olympian; from the other, the legacy of Cold War liberalism mutes the critique of injustice, even whilst on the critique of repression and violence it is loud and clear. The moral and political authority of humanism is at stake in both these dominant positions. The radical left position – which is derived from Western Marxism – increasingly rejects humanism as sententious and non-heroic. Conversely, liberalism tells a falsely reassuring story in which humanism is tamed to a post-totalitarian vison of a moral and political minimum. 'Decency' is the thread the article finds by which to coax a post-totalitarian humanism away from the negative and liberal emphasis, and towards uses which are generative and geared to experience. The main contribution is to highlight underplayed and common aspects of the political theories of George Orwell, Hannah Arendt, and Albert Camus. In the latter part of the article, thumbnail sketches of these three thinkers are offered in order to tease out a core set of anchoring values for an anti-totalitarian – ‘decent’ – left: solidarity, moral nuance, and sensitivity to vulnerability.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-150
Number of pages31
JournalIl Pensiero Storico
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

ISBN 9798472898683
Published in print June 2021


  • totalitarianism
  • hannah arendt
  • albert camus
  • george orwell
  • cold war liberalism
  • radical left
  • decent left


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