“We Do Our Part”: Looking at FDR, Hitler, and Mussolini

Three New Deals by Wolfgang Schivelbusch is a historical analysis comparing Roosevelt, Mussolini, and Hitler between the years of 1933 and 1939. Schivelbusch states his thesis in the introduction; he argues that the programs of FDR, Hitler, and Mussolini (specifically the New Deal, Fascism, and National Socialism) all gave a new vision to their respected nation. Each leader did this through post liberal state-capitalist or state-socialist systems, rising as autocrats through legal means, and seeking a nation of protection and equality. Schivelbusch is clear to point out that he argues commonality between these leaders’ regimes, not sameness.

In chapter one, Schivelbusch elaborates on commonalities from Europe’s view, America’s view, common ground between the two, and with a section on “liberators from capital”. In this first section on Europe’s view, Schivelbusch focuses on Roosevelt’s embracement of national socialist economic and social policies. This adaptation can be seen through Roosevelt’s philosophy of collective good of the nation over individual interest. Hitler initially agreed with FDR’s general philosophy of sacrifice, as Mussolini agreed with his economics strategy of a more state-run economy with the National Recovery Administration. However, in the mid-1930s, criticisms of FDR’s policies exploded, ending the seeming ideological harmony between these three countries. In the second section of America’s view, Schivelbusch explains why FDR’s policies were often referred to as fascist. He explains the term “Fabian socialism”: a civilized version of fascism. Schivelbusch describes how commentators during FDR’s presidency used the term fascism while still acknowledging the general preservation of individual liberties. Like any political statement, this was a highly debated topic. Was Roosevelt maintaining liberty? Roosevelt has a keen likening to Mussolini’s economic policies until the mid-30s. Roosevelt kept his research of Mussolini’s policies secretive due to the public’s eye on his policies. Roosevelt knew Germany posed a great threat to the United States than Italy, perhaps influencing his interest in Italy’s politics rather than Germany. The term pragmatism also came up in this section, being described as “America’s philosophy of modernization”. In the liberators section, Schivelbusch talks about the rise of reform, focusing of America’s Progressive movement. He ends with the Progressive ideology, “Laissez-Faire is dead. Long live social control.”

The introduction explains the importance of monumental architecture; how does this fit into what Schivelbusch discussed thus far in chapter 1?

2 thoughts on ““We Do Our Part”: Looking at FDR, Hitler, and Mussolini

  1. I think by using the example of monumental architecture, Schivelbush is trying to derive greater implications from that specific lesson. When he discusses the reception of monumental architecture after 1945, he notes that later generations of scholars blatantly refused to acknowledge any similarities between initiatives started in Berlin, Rome, or Washington DC. However, discussing this particular debate allows the author to make two general declarations. First, the author argues that the same stylistic, formal, and technological developments (both in architecture and beyond), can be used to serve radically different political systems. Second, Schivelbush criticizes later generations for being unable to differentiate between form and content, especially “…when the object of historical study, as is the case with a defeated dictatorship, elicits general condemnation” (Schivelbush, 9). In essence, Schivelbush uses monumental architecture as the groundwork to demonstrate his reasoning. If scholars are too caught up in emphasizing the differences between certain things, we certainly lose a great deal of information that can help us to put events (like the Nazi regime) into larger context. It was only when Fascism, National Socialism, and Stalinism were no longer seen as examples of sheer evil that scholars were able to examine the complexities surrounding their economic, social, psychological, and cultural structures and begin to truly understand them.

  2. Kind of interesting to think what would’ve happened had National Socialism taken hold in the United States after the depression. Economic hardship drove the German people to accept a system that promised (and provided) change, could the same thing have happened in the United States? We like to sit on a ‘high horse’ so to speak in terms of international morality, but it is quite conceivable that had Hitler been our President and Roosevelt the Chancellor of Russia, the United States would have followed in lock step with National Socialism, and the German people would’ve happily embraced the new deal. Revisionist history that can’t be proven, yes, but it’s something to think about.

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