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?


Autarky Envisioned

The idea of autarky was present throughout all of Europe as each nation was affected by the Great Depression.  As the Depression impacted each nation’s economy, a new ideology needed to be introduced to the capitalist society.  Individuals were against the rapidly growing materialistic and capitalistic world as it could be the only explanation for the Depression.  But how was autarky envisioned in the totalitarian state such as Germany and Italy, alongside the democratic United States?  In Schivelbusch’s Three New Deals, autarky can be explained beyond the economic standpoint.  ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, (New York: Picador, 2006) )).

As the Depression hit, the rush to create a self-sufficient economic was significant.  If a nation was unable to support themselves the nation would suffer even more.  Regionalism was introduced as well as inner colonization.  This inner colonization as Schivelbusch explains brought forward the importance of nationalism.  The nation must find opportunities in which individuals could become an nation and develop a sense of national pride.  Propaganda and public works projects financed by the state were established to find this national pride within the community.  Individuals were brought to live in small communities in where there were able to develop a sense of family within the state.

Establishments of public works projects and state-funded propaganda gave the government a new view of nationalism and the impact it could make to suppress the effects of the Depression.  While several of these public works projects failed such as the settlements located on the outskirts of major cities, nations were able to develop a national pride that allowed them to gain strength that was needed in WWII.