Political Leadership

The desire to make such historical comparisons is especially evident when examining the political systems of systems of Europe and the United States in the period surrounding World War II. Yoram Gorlizki and Hans Mommsen’s article “The Political (Dis)Orders of Stalinism and National Socialism” and Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s book Three New Deals make comparisons between the political systems of Hitler, Stalin and Roosevelt.

Both the pieces look at the leadership qualities of Hitler and compare them to another notable leader during the same time. With new Soviet archival information, Gorlizki and Mommsen argue that the Soviet Union under Stalin and Germany under Hitler were fundamentally different in leadership, country development patterns, and how WWII impacted the their systems ((Yoram Gorlizki and Hans Mommsen, “The Political (Dis)Order of Stalinism and National Socialism,” in Beyond Totalitarianism, ed. Michael Geyer and Shela Fitzpatrick (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 42.)). This difference is in part a result of the countries differences in “socioeconomic development and national integration” when Hitler and Stalin came to power ((Ibid., 43-44.)). According to Gorlizki and Mommsen Hitler did not micromanage and work closely with the day-to-day procedures and functions the government ((Ibid.,64-65.)). This laissez-faire approach was quite the opposite of how Stalin preferred managed his political system. They cite that Hitler’s great strengths were in his charisma and ability to exploit propaganda opportunities which the party relied heavily upon to generate support for the National Socialist party ((Ibid., 55,64.)).

Like Gorlizki and Mommsen, Schivelbusch also evaluates the Hitler’s ability to captivate an audience through public speaking. He had the ability to create a sense of commonality between himself and German citizens. Joachim Fest described a typical speech by Hitler as “a hybrid between a circus, grand opera, and Catholic liturgy” ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Three New Deals (New York: Picador, 2006), 62.)). These speeches were highly rehearsed and followed a common formula which was meant to engage and create emotion with the live audiences. This was then compared/contrasted with Roosevelt’s Fireside chats which were also highly rehearsed and meant to create a connection between Roosevelt and the individual. This reflected a technological and cultural transition in the United States. ((Ibid.,70-72.))

Schivelbusch makes the strong statement that without such charisma and ability to engage an audience the New Deal and National Socialism would not have been possible. To what extent do you agree?

3 thoughts on “Political Leadership

  1. The charisma and vitality of Hitler and FDR directly caused their rise to power, according to Schivelbusch. They held sway over the general public with their ability to be more than their political party, be the everyday man and yet also the hero the masses needed.1 With the charismatic personalities they possessed, Hitler and FDR were able to insert themselves into the hearts and minds of the people. Both Hitler’s rallies and FDR’s fireside chats held an intimacy between them and the listeners.2 To Americans FDR became more personable, a nightly visitor, to Germans Hitler became almost a demigod, one to be revered. This differs with Stalin and the Soviet Union. The Communist Party and the state were principle, the man leading it was not as important as the machine, therefore such rallies or radio talks were not necessary.

    1. Schivelbusch,Wolfgang. Three New Deals (New York: Picador, 2006), 50.
    2. Ibid., 55.

  2. I believe FDR was an ideal candidate to pass the New Deal in the 30s. Interwar Europe and America were damaged by economic upheaval following the great depression, which led to people of the modern world to become anxious and apprehensive. FDR had the gift to transform from a presidential figure to a fireside friend, something that was very reassuring to his radio audience at the time period. FDR remains on the other end of the spectrum from Hitler, who was seen as so powerful he was basically depicted as a messiah. If a nation is pulling out of depression, people are going to be looking for a leader who will save them and can trust.

  3. I agree that charisma and engagement are important to the rise of National Socialism and the effectiveness of the New Deal. However the historical and political context for both are equally as important. In those two cases each country is proceeding from a failed democracy and/or economic system. Without those two factors would it have been so necessary for Hitler or FDR to try and connect to the people? The Stalinist Soviet Union, a different political and economic system did not require a direct connection between leader and people. So I would argue that only in the case of certain countries and economies was such charisma and engagement necessary for political success.

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