Wolfgang Schivelbusch opens in his book “Three New Deals” by discussing the history of 1930s monumental architecture and its varying reception in the decades after 1945. Specifically, the author notes that in studying the monumental architecture initiatives of the United States, Germany, Italy, and Russia, one can find striking similarities between these various projects, an observation that was taboo to mention in the generations following World War II. Talking about this topic allows Schivelbusch to make two general declarations derived from this specific example. 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, Schivelbusch 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” (Schivelbusch, 9). When transitioning to the regimes of Roosevelt, Mussolini, and Hitler, Schivelbusch will demonstrate that like the monumental architecture of these respective systems, there will be fundamental similarities.
The author opens the first chapter by focusing on the year 1933, saying that “…it represented the nadir of the liberal-democratic system and the high point for the rival Fascist-totalitarian order” (Schivelbusch, 17). During this year, FDR came into the presidency, and was given an unprecedented amount of power. The author notes how FDR’s subsequent emergency relief efforts were seen as a type of reassurance for the Nazis and Fascists, who saw themselves confirmed by the actions of the US, arguably one of the most powerful nations in the world at that time. Schivelbusch continues along this thread by stating that comparisons between Roosevelt’s initiatives and those of other totalitarian ideologies were topics of conversation not just in Europe, but the US as well, and weren’t always positive. What stood out as particularly intriguing was the discussion about Roosevelt’s personal opinions regarding Mussolini and the Italian’s economic and social order. According Schivelbusch, New Dealers tried to avoid associating their policies with the autocratic and totalitarian systems of Europe, especially in public. However, Roosevelt in private was much more honest about his admiration of Mussolini. While Roosevelt felt “…a world of social, ideological, and political difference [with Hitler], [he] had nothing but ‘sympathy and confidence’ in Mussolini up until the mid-1930s” (Schivelbusch, 30-31). The authors reasons that this was because Italy was not seen as a threat, while Germany was. However, I wonder if there is anything more to Roosevelt’s reasoning, thoughts?