Autarky & Nationalism

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. ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “Back to the Land,” in Three New Deals – Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939) (New York: Picador, 2006), 104)) 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 giants (( Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Three New Deals,133 )).

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.” (( Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 109 )) 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?


4 thoughts on “Autarky & Nationalism

  1. While I think it is difficult to say that the creation of a nation must predate the creation of a people (look at Israel), in a period of national reorganization and social restructuring it makes sense that the Fascist Mussolini would take the approach of framing first what the national ideals were, and then expect people to embody them (thereby becoming “Italians). The Fascist model is all about hierarchy and the worship of myths and ideals- in order to create a common nationality within the confines of the ethos, establishing national values would be the most effective first step.

  2. I do not agree. I believe the two, for dictators, should be mixed in with one another. I believe the most successful dictators are ones who are able to shape the lives of people while getting them to buy into that dictators form of government. The best example in my opinion, is Stalin in the Soviet Union. I believe Stalin was the most successful of the three dictators because of the fact that he was able to mix the idea of a ‘creation of the people’ with a ‘creation of a state.’ What I mean by that is that everything Stalin and the Communist party did emphasized individuals to be working for the state, to be pushing the state forward. In this system, it was about a collective. Young people in the Soviet Union would be taught in schools about how they could contribute to the state. For Stalin and the State, ‘focus on citizens’ had a duel purpose. To form good Soviet Citizens, but also to get the State moving torward its goal of a classless state.

    I believe that Mussolini was not as successful as Stalin, partly because he placed too much emphasis on creating a state rather than mixing the two together. Mussolini wanted to create an Italian state that would be powerful like before rather than trying to find rallying points to try and unify a rather divided population to help move the state forward and to give himself more control. I believe that his focus on Italy first rather trying to focus on both at the same time was a mistake. I believe that if a dictator cannot find that middle ground where you build a government around a unified population that backs the dictator, then the dictatorship is ultimately flawed. Mussolinis ultimately downfall can be looked at his failure to unite a divided population around certain ideals.

  3. I would tend to agree with Dalton. I think that Stalin’s approach still revolves around creating a state before creating a people. What separates Soviet Russia from Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or the United States is the Soviet definition of the state. The communist model incorporates a classless society into the very definition of the state. However, the proximity of the people and the state did not mean that Stalin did not have to construct national identities and values before turning towards creating a united people. The enormous bureaucracy that Stalin constructed shows that the national ideals created the people. Gulags exemplify how a significant portion of the Russia population struggled to embody the new national values that the state expected each person to embody.

  4. I agree with maltzd in that it is hard to distinguish whether or not the creation of the state must become before the creation of a unified people. However, in response to the quote by Mussolini (“After we’ve created Italy, the next task will be to create Italians.”), do you think that the issue of unity is something particularly more noticeable in Italy than in the Soviet Union, Germany or the United States? We’ve discussed in class about how there was a stark difference between the northern and southern portions of Italy in terms of economics and culture-this quote by Mussolini seems more relevant to Italy than the other countries compared in this chapter.

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