An Elegant Treatment of Twentieth Century Collectivism

David Boaz judiciously reviews Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s excellent bookThree New Deals: Reflections on Rooseveltâ??s America, Mussoliniâ??s Italy, and Hitlerâ??s Germany, 1933â??1939 in Reason: “Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt — What FDR had in common with the other charismatic collectivists of the 30s.”

6 Responses to “An Elegant Treatment of Twentieth Century Collectivism”

  1. Fascism was the liberal democracy of its day — the form of social organization adopted (wholly or in part) by all the dominant nation-states of the world. Centralization, standardization and control were at the core of technological progress of the day. It can be seen how “assembly-line logic” seeps into management techniques of the day and education. Eventually what works so marvelously (by 1933 standards) in those fields permeates the political thought as well.

    Fascism (in all its forms) was the most modern, the most efficient, the most admirable and the most desirable form of social organization for any country seeking to modernize itself. It was praised by the political and scientific majorities and proscribed to the developing nations of the day just like the liberal democracy is today.

    In hindsight we see that it was not the best form of social order (to say the least). This makes me wonder how people will look at liberal democracy in 2081…

  2. â?¦ perhaps it was the size of the United States that made it resistant to illiberal ideologies. Both Germany and Italy are much smaller, have less climate differentiation and less regional differences in modes of living, culture, history. Pre-modern and early-modern forms of communication were just incapable of supporting effective centralization over such a range of diversity.

  3. “it was the size of the United States that made it resistant to illiberal ideologies…Pre-modern and early-modern forms of communication were just incapable of supporting effective centralization”

    I’m pretty sure Nazism wasn’t established with smoke signals and coconut shell communication.

  4. Here’s case where size doesn’t matter. The United States had a very different intellectual history and hence a different culture; far more individualistic and skeptical of government.

    Even with this framework of informal institutions, FDR was able to pursue economic policies quite similar to those of Nazi Germany and Facist Italy. He was hampered in this, though, by the Constitution and by relatively effective opposing sets of players (e.g. Congress).

    Conversely, size didn’t prevent the world’s largest country, Russia, from developing an extremely illiberal and centralized system. It functioned poorly, but lasted for 70 years.

    So I think the size of a country isn’t the issue.

  5. Yes Charles, but is the size of the country a contributor to why the American culture is the way it is?

    In Russia, vast lands east of Urals are rich but inhospitable; agriculture is hampered by climate, no natural harbors. When the government in Moscow/St. Petersburg emerged as the head of all independent institutions, it was not the first among equals. It sent parties of criminals guarded by soldiers to develop resources to be sent back to the capital so it can rival London and Paris and fight expensive wars. The government sent grain, people and manufactured goods in return.

    In the US, size of the country and abundance of resources fostered self-reliance. Federal government, an institution with centralizing tendencies, came into being among already existing institutions. These institutions did fine for over a century and just defeated the strong centralized power. Federal government was the first among equals, maturing alongside these institutions it was explicitly and implicitly limited from the beginning.

    I think that in America illiberal ideologies of the last century were a choice among many, while in Russia it was the only game in town. And the size of both countries was a contributing factor in the development of their cultures.
    By the way, my original point was that FDR, Mussolini and Hitler were modernizing their states in the best way known at the time and not gathering power with evil intentions. Back in the day it was centralized nationalist and expansionist state, now itâ??s liberal democracy. These days plenty of people think that those who advocate it have evil intentions. They are marginalized for reasons that seem valid. In a similar way free-market liberals were marginalized 80 years ago. What does the esteemed community thinks about that?

  6. I don’t understand your point. The increased isolation of the Siberia & the Russian far east should have made them *more* self-reliant, rather than less. The American rivers meant that it was *easier* for control to be extended, not more.

    Marxism surely wasn’t the only game in town in Russia; the Bolsheviks weren’t a majority even among the socialists. Same goes for Nazis. There were well-defined competing ideologies, ceratinly with much more respectable intellectual pedigrees that National Socialism & Fascism.

    Marginally related question: does anyone have any info on Adam Mueller, the German Catholic philospher? I’ve been trying (without much luck) to learn how much influence he had on subsequnt political thought in Gemany, as he seemed to me to be an early proto-fascist.

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