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Totalitarianism on Screen: The Art and Politics of The Lives of Others

edited by Carl Eric Scott and F. Flagg Taylor IV

Availablecloth$70.00x 978-0-8131-4498-6
276 pages  Pubdate: 07/22/2014  6 x 9  5 b&w photos, 1 table

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From its creation in 1950, to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the German Democratic Republic’s Ministry for State Security closely monitored its nation’s citizens. Known as the Staatssicherheit or Stasi, this organization was regarded as one of the most repressive intelligence agencies in the world. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2006 film The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) has received international acclaim—including an Academy Award, an Independent Spirit Award, and multiple German Film Awards—for its moving portrayal of East German life under the pervasive surveillance of the Stasi.

In Totalitarianism on Screen, political theorists Carl Eric Scott and F. Flagg Taylor IV assemble top scholars to analyze the film from philosophical and political perspectives. Their essays confront the nature and legacy of East Germany’s totalitarian government and outline the reasons why such regimes endure.

Other than magazine and newspaper reviews, little has been written about The Lives of Others. This volume brings German scholarship on the topic to an English-speaking audience for the first time and explores the issue of government surveillance at a time when the subject is often front-page news. Featuring contributions from German president Joachim Gauck, prominent singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann, journalists Paul Hockenos and Lauren Weiner, and noted scholars Paul Cantor and James Pontuso, Totalitarianism on Screen contributes to the growing scholarship on totalitarianism and will interest historians, political theorists, philosophers, and fans of the film.

Carl Eric Scott is visiting assistant professor of politics at Christopher Newport University.

F. Flagg Taylor IV is associate professor of government at Skidmore College. He is the editor of The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism.

This is a thoughtful and original collection that addresses topics largely neglected in American and Western scholarly writing and the mass media. The close analyses of this remarkable film provide penetrating information and insight not only about the German Democratic Republic but also more generally about communist totalitarianism and its transformation in the post-Stalin decades. -- Paul Hollander, author of The End of Commitment: Intellectuals, Revolutionaries, and Political Morality in the Twentieth Century

An exciting collection of analyses about one of the most impressive political films of our times. Scholars, journalists, human rights activists and public intellectuals explore The Lives of the Others as a most persuasive and disquieting way to grasp the invisible means securing the totalitarian domination over the individual. I have presented the film to my students in courses on dictatorship and film. This outstanding book will be a perfect companion each time I teach this course again. -- Vladimir Tismaneanu, author The Devil in History: Communism, Fascism, and Some Lessons of the Twentieth Century

Totalitarianism on Screen explores the richness of The Lives of Others in brilliant fashion. Carl Scott and Flagg Taylor have set a new standard for English-language scholarship on one of the most influential German films in the post-war era. -- Gary Bruce, author of The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi

The essays assembled in Totalitarianism on Screen deftly explore the strange world of post-totalitarianism, the world of drabness, conformity, surveillance and mendacity that marked the final decades of communist totalitarian rule. They expose communist moral corruption even as they reveal the 'redemptive power of art' through learned, searching, and accessible treatments of the now classic film The Lives of Others. This is scholarship that speaks to the human soul and to the ultimate limits of all efforts to squelch liberty and the spontaneity of human life. -- Daniel J. Mahoney, Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship, Assumption College