In Schivelbusch’s fourth chapter titled “Back to the Land,” the author discussed the term “autarky,” or national economic self-sufficiency, which became the watchword of the 1930s. More than just an economic concept, the idea of autarky was applicable to nationalism as well. Schivelbusch noted that by 1933, nationalism was more than one hundred years old, and its popularity rose and fell in cycles corresponding in contrast with cosmopolitanism.1 However, the Great Depression led to the rediscovery of the nation and its embodiment (the state). The chaotic times incited a movement of nations looking inward and becoming more introverted and defensive, in hopes of achieving a self-sufficient economy immune to crises like the Great Depression.
Various initiatives were introduced to instill a sense of community and the rebuilding of domestic infrastructure. In general, all three governments hearkened back to times of pre-industrialization and advocated regionalism, decentralization of economic institutions, and the re-agriculturalization of the society. These initiatives were categorized collectively under the ‘back-to-the-land’ movement. The obsession with autarkic ideals was short lived however. While at the time of the collapse of capitalism it was logical to question whether or not industrialization had been a mistake, the presence of this mentality was brief. According to Schivelbusch, the reason for decline in these projects could be attributed to an ebbing in hostility by the middle class towards capitalism and industrial giants2.
One reason why these initiatives were attempted was to further the development of nationalism by first focusing inward. A quote that I found particularly interesting was spoken by Mussolini about “nationalizing” people. Regarding this question, Mussolini said “After we’ve created Italy, the next task will be to create Italians.”3 Do you agree with this idea that the creation of a nation must come before the “creation” of a people? Why or why not? Can you cite other historical examples that demonstrate either side of this argument?