The Three New Deals: Kinship?

“Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939” by Wolfgang Schivelbusch gives a new take on the ideals and foundations of totalitarianism and collectivism by juxtaposing the politics and economics that dominated the US, Germany and Italy during the 1930s. In this text, Schivelbusch investigates the fundamental similarities between the “three new deals.” Putting all three of this regimes next to each other gives a different perspective on the totalitarian regimes that rose after the Great Depression, as well as on Roosevelt’s democratically praised New Deal programs. Schivelbusch begins the book with a quote by Scottish philosopher David Hume. He states, “as force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and the most military governments as well as to the most free and popular.” Schivelbusch sets the tone using this quote by Hume from “Of the First Principles of Government” in an effort to portray and demonstrate some of the similarities and characteristics of the three governments that resulted from the First World War and the Great Depression in an effort to reestablish economic, political, and social order. Schivelbusch compares and contrasts all three new deals in order to offer a new explanation as to why Europe’s totalitarian systems became so popular. In his introduction, he explains that “the New Deal, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany all profited from the illusion of the nation as an egalitarian community whose members looked out for one another’s welfare under the watchful eyes of a strong leader” (15). This shows that these “three new deals” grew popular because it resulted in the improvement of its respective nations after suffering a Great Depression.

Although the United States fought against Italy and Germany in the Second World War, initially, there were many similarities between the three governments and economic systems. In the first chapter, Schivelbusch describes how similar Roosevelt’s New Deal economic policies were so similar to the policies enacted by Hitler and Mussolini especially. The chapter is titled, Kinship? From the very beginning, Schivelbusch challenges his readers to consider these close similarities despite the clear divide between the US, Italy, and Germany during WWII. It is described that the New Deal was often compared to Fascism because of its transition from a liberal free-market system to a system with corporatist characteristics. Schivelbusch cites a German paper that stated that “if not in the same words, [Roosevelt], too, demands that collective good be put before individual self-interest. Many passages in his book Looking Forward could have been written by a National Socialist. In any case, one can assume that he feels considerable affinity with the National Socialist philosophy” (19). In addition to policy, Schivelbusch also demonstrates the respect and sympathy that all politicians shared for each other. Mussolini and FDR in particular admired one another’s policy implementations as well as each other’s character up until the Italian led invasion on Ethiopiain 1935. Schivelbusch quotes Roosevelt stating, “there seems to be no question that [Mussolini] is really interested in what we are doing and I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy” (31). This is an interesting take considering that fascism is often linked to one of the many evils that the United States and its allies tried to rid the world of. Meanwhile, FDR himself praised the very beginnings and economic foundations that Mussolini preached and incorporated into Fascist Italy. Although Schivelbusch uses an ample amount of evidence that the “three new deals” may have shared similar origins, he also stresses the fundamental difference that the New Deal, unlike Fascism, had preserved individual civil liberties (30). Can we argue to opposite in terms of internment camps in the US that were formed later on in the war? Can we argue the Roosevelt indeed incorporated Fascist ideals? Lastly, can we consider collectivism as another characteristic of the rising modern world?

Understanding Bauman’s “Civilized Nazis” Theory in the Context of Modernity

In the introduction to his most famous work, Modernity and the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman argues from a sociological perspective that the genocide of non-Aryans by the Nazis in an effort of ethical cleansing can only be strictly understood in the context of a modern and civilized society. His view is quite radical, especially to those raised in the West who have been ingrained with the ideology that developed cultures exclude those that practice all forms of brutal savagery, particularly a Holocaust. Bauman throws away this traditional theory. He also rejects the thesis that the Holocaust was the work of madmen or explainable through European anti-semitic tendencies as extremely simplified and therefore non-considerable.

On the other hand, Bauman asserts his own powerfully convincing thesis — That the true potential of a modern, civilized society is actually exemplified through the Holocaust and is representative of the cruel reality that humans are capable of creating. He cautions that if not prevented, it is in the realm of possibility that either current or future societies are adapted to committing genocide on perhaps an even larger scale than what was witnessed in the dark period of the early 1940s. Further, he makes clear that this genocide was not committed by a group of anomic barbarians, but a so-called moralized and democratic society that not only allowed the creation of death camps but was complicit and vital to their functioning. Through implementing the production capabilities of the industrialized factory system, coordinated with the efficiently organized chain of command facilitated through bureaucracy, the Third Reich applied the advanced technological and business models available in the 20th century to a sophisticated killing machine, the concentration camps. To Bauman, the success of the Nazi’s mass murder scheme was rooted in its ‘correct use’ of bureaucracy. It was essential that the German administration utilized this formalized system of procedure to have efficiently achieved their government goals by synthesizing (1) the civil service composed of ‘normal’ citizens, (2) brute military force, (3) an industrialized mode of production, and finally (4) a single political party that provided an overall idealistic sense of a united nation. (13-14 Bauman) In the Third Reich, tied to the sense of a united nation was a united German Volk, of only the purest Germanic blood. Hitler’s functional objective of a judenfrei Germany was not originally presented in the terms of ridding the world of all Jewry through mass murder. His sinister dream of a ‘racially pure’ Aryan nation began in active forced deportation of minority groups to surrounding European nations. But as the war continued and the National Socialists political-military prowess and territory swelled, Germany quickly was responsible for more Jews than they knew what to do with or had any desire to humanely deal with.

As Bauman explains, The Final Solution was enacted and rationalized in a civilized nation through a tri-fold effect that would only have been possible in a modernized state. First, the SS hierarchy always shifted duty for otherwise immoral acts to a superior in command. Second, killing was always performed when capable at a physical distance with the aid of technology and never with zealous motivation, only professional efficiency due to the Fuhrer and Vaterland. In this way, responsibility for mass murder was diverted (in the minds of the killers) by the flick of an electrical switch and the psychological intention of murder was detached from the physical act of murder. Gas chambers were used purposefully; a chemical and technological barrier between the victim and the killer was intentionally in place. Shooting was discouraged and by the time the Einsatzgruppen mobilized, executioners who were overzealous about the concept of carrying out the firing squad were removed from that station. Finally, the Nazis systematically removed anything close to resembling humanity and humanness from their victims through removal of all basic rights, starvation, torture, and forced slave labor. In this way, the ‘invisibility’ of the Muselmanner (walking corpses) was complete. The murder of millions under the Third Reich regime was possible because each dead body was not considered as a corpse; it was just another final, capitalized product of the factory-line system.

In Bauman’s summarizing words, “It [the Holocaust] was a legitimate resident in the house of modernity; indeed, one who would not be at home in any other house.” (Bauman 17) He emphatically rejects the notion of the German Final Solution as an irrational aberration from traditional civilized tendencies. In fact, he presents civilization not a force that has overcome barbarism, but one that actually supports natural violent tendencies towards ethnic minorities. He continues to explain his meaning of civilization, which in his words has dual, co-existing potentialities for extreme good as well as extreme evil. In Bauman’s sociological viewpoint, the humanity that put the man on the moon and co-orchestrated the Olympics is the same humanity that allowed the death camps of the Third Reich to murder 6 million Jews and 5 million other civilians, all in the heart of Western Europe only 70 years ago. He quotes Rubenstein to what he concludes as the ultimate lesson of the Holocaust, “Both creation and destruction are inseparable aspects of what we call civilization.” (Bauman 9) In conclusion, Bauman explores the devastation of the Holocaust as strictly a rationally explained historical incident explicitly to be considered in the framework of highly bureaucratic and highly industrialized nations, both of which are only possible in a modernized civilization.

Modernity: Crop Tops or Mindless Bureaucracy?

In Bauman’s article, Modernity and the Holocaust, it is questioned whether the Holocaust was a social phenomena or the culmination of European antisemitism. Genocide is a ‘normal’ aspect of human civilization, one group reaches a point where it believes it is necessary to eliminate the other. Often this is carried out by senseless violence and bloodshed, Rwanda for example. It is a logical conclusion that the Holocaust occurred due to ethnic and religious hatred, yet, the murder of millions of Jews was carried out by a systematic, and well-oiled machine, the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is something that has exploded in modern life, and with it came the Holocaust. As Bauman states, “whatever moral instinct is to be found in human conduct is socially produced. It dissolves once society malfunctions” (Bauman 4). In the case of Nazi Germany, the people were willing to give up many freedoms and power to achieve normality in their lives given the turbulence following WWI. The Jews were a common scapegoat. The leaders of Germany made it morally acceptable to its soldiers and citizens to commit the Holocaust by making violence authorized, routine, and dehumanizing the victims. Given this, the everyday man could have a hand in a mass murder. Only 10% or so of SS men were sadistic or considered madmen, most were normal men, the accountant down the street, the salesman, the father of four. Men no longer felt responsible for their actions when they were following orders, the man who gave the order to kill did not pull the trigger and did not feel responsible, he merely signed a piece of paper. The man who did pull the trigger felt no responsibility as the actions were not his own, he was merely following orders, being a good soldier.

The Holocaust could not have occurred without the chain of bureaucracy, which is a development of modernity. The Holocaust was a failure of modernity, the bureaucratic system was corrupted, used for unthinkable cruelty, yet was utilized to its utmost potential. The Holocaust is a product of the modern world, no longer is it necessary to run through a village brandishing torches and pitchforks to remove undesirables, you merely have to file the proper paper work to send millions to their graves. This is the triumph of the modern world.