Creating a Modern Public

In the fifth chapter of Three New Deals titled “Public Works,” Wolfgang Schivelbusch compares the motivations for and the goals of the large public projects carried out by Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the United States during the 1930s. Schivelbusch argues that each country’s project responded developments within the Soviet Union, their shared competitor ((Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “Public Works,” in Three New Deals – Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939) (New York: Picador, 2006), 104)). Although Italy’s drainage of the Pontine Marshes, German’s construction of the autobahn, and the United States’ construction of dams and power plants through the Tennessee Valley Authority Act uniquely reflected each country’s unique social context and needs, all of the projects reflected the modern theme of promoting individualism through collectivism. 

These projects drew the attention of the entire nation while only actually affecting a small portion of the population. Nevertheless, with each project the state created a new national prize and monument around which the people could feel a sense of pride. The projects themselves served as propaganda, they created fantasy’s that masked the national reality. Mussolini galvanized and militarized the Italian people with his “harvest battle” as he marched tractors and people into new cities long before the start of WWII ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 151)). To quote David Lilienthal, a member of the TVA’s board of directors, the new electrical dams and towns created by the TVA  represented “a token of the virility and vigor of democracy” during the depths of the depression and a period where only 20 percent of American home had electricity ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 151)). Hitler preemptively constructed the autobahn before the motorization of Germany ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 170)). These national projects united the people around a sense of achievement while also promoting a sense of individuality. The new Italian agricultural land and towns promoted self sufficiency and an independent lifestyle. In the American and German projects, the myth of widespread electricity and mobility respectively fostered a sense of freedom that technological developments facilitated. All three projects left the majority of the population yearning for a new lifestyle; albeit, a national dream.

As Schivelbush outlines in chapter four titled, “Back to the Country,” the aforementioned states tried to develop the same sense of collective individualism in their efforts to institute economic autarky, national economic stability achieved through individual self-sufficiency ((Schivelbusch, Three New Deals, 107)). Furthermore, each state’s program reinforces one of core characteristics of a modern state outlined by David L. Hoffmann in his book Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices. Hoffman identified the modern state’s ability to “utilize the emotional and mobilizational power of traditional appeals and symbols, themselves disembedded from their original context and recast for political purposes” ((Hoffman, David L, and Yanni Kotsonis. Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices. (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 247)). Postwar, modern governments seemingly never acted without some ulterior or latent political motive. What other government programs support this thinking? Could a modern government ever implement policy devoid of propagandistic values? How did/has the public works of Italy, Germany, and the United States changed our view of government programs? Did these public works achieve their goals? How are they viewed today?

Public Works

The management of a country is like managing a machine.  Occasionally its parts need to be fixed or replaced to keep the machine moving forward.  For a country, a leader must install or fix its parts to help the country move forward.  In the, Three New Deals, WolfGang Schivelbusch spent his fifth chapter on public projects that were introduced in the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy, the United States, and Nazi Germany.  Schivelbusch wrote that Italy, the United States, and Germany, under the conditions of the Great Depression, looked to the Soviet Union for innovation and progress.  He stated that the leaders of these countries introduced programs in which they would help their countries move forward.

One of the more intriguing projects that Schivelbusch discussed in his fifth chapter was   on the ‘Autobahn’.  The autobahn, according to Schivelbusch represented what the TVA represented for the United States: “a promise that……had implied not just an increased convenience but also a kind of symbolic salvation.” ((Schivelbusch, Wolfgang.  “Public Works” in Three New Deals.  New York: Picador. 2006, 169.))  The autobahn represented a sense of progress for German people.  It meant that people did not have to rely on the state as much.  What really intrigued me about this is that Germany decided to complete the autobahn before they completed the Volkswagen.  How could a country like Germany install a major highway in before people had cars?  As Schivelbusch stated, it was about capturing peoples imaginations about the possibilities, making people excited for the future and excited about the prospect of driving along the German landscape. ((Schivelbusch, Wolfgang.  “Public Works” in Three New Deals.  New York: Picador. 2006, 172.))  

What strikes me about the autobahn, to me, is that it represented freedom.  It seemed like a way of venturing off into the German land without any care in the world.  Considering that Nazi Germany had repressed many freedoms, it seems strange to me that the Nazis would build a highway that could give Germans a dream of endless possibilities.  Do you think that the autobahn was part of a greater dream of the Nazis?

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.

Knowing Your Surroundings

Although the two texts this evening certainly convey their historical narratives in different manners, they both strike a remarkably similar theme. Throughout Yoram Gorlizki and Hans Mommsen’s rather exhaustive comparison of Nazism and Communism’s unique implementations and Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s analysis of Hitler and FDR’s ability to garner public adoration and support, you can see how each leader deliberately and continuously tailored their actions to their environment.

In the second chapter of Three New Deals, Schivelbusch identifies more than just FDR and Hitler’s common interaction with the people. While such exchanges proved vital to each leader’s success, the mediums they employed dictated their success. Both men operated within the boundaries of their peoples’ comforts. The widespread American ownership and familiarity with radios allowed FDR to capitalize on such technology. Conversely, radio’s limited presence, and thus familiarity, among German households rendered such technology ineffective ((Shivelbusch, Wolfgang. Three New Deals. New York: Picador, 2006, p. 66-68)).

In their essay “The Political (Dis)Orders of Stalinism and National Socialism,” Gorlizki and Mommsen build off of a concept that Shivelbusch stresses later in the chapter. He notes that Hitler and FDR connected with the people only as much as the prevailing political situation demanded. The frequency of Hitler’s public appearances diminished once he completed his ascension to total power. His speeches, which were originally delivered to develop a supreme national confidence in him, assumed the role of a bookmark: an occasional reminder of his place ((Ibid., p. 65)). Meanwhile, FDR’s fireside chats continued due to the necessity to constantly maintain support in a democratic government ((Ibid., p. 65)). It is this political awareness that Gorlizki and Mommsen also acknowledge in Hitler but also extend to Stalin. Gorlizki and Mommsen identify the manner in which Hitler’s public speeches and creation of his deific status suited the very functions of the Nazi government. The decentralized structure of the Nazi party paid tribute to Hitler’s demeanor. His charisma and connection to subordinates empowered them to act with authority ((Gorlizki, Yoram and Hans Mommsen. “The Political (Dis)Orders of Stalinism and National Socialism.” In Beyond Totalitarianism: Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick, 41-86. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. p. 55)) Similarly, the centralized structure and goals of Russia’s Communist government pushed Stalin to influence public mentality through extensive administrative juggling and realignment instead of public broadcasting ((Ibid., p. 64)). In Stalinist Russia, the party came before the leader and the entire government needed to reflect the party’s standards.

Each leader consciously situated himself exactly where his political system required. From FDR’s intimate, reassuring fireside to Hitler’s empowering speeches, each leaders’ actions were meticulously rehearsed and precisely tailored ((Shivelbusch, Wolfgang. Three New Deals. New York: Picador, 2006, p. 70-72)). Their individual success came from their ability to successfully control their country in whatever manner the political and social atmosphere required.



Three New Deals

In the early 1930s, Germany, Italy, and the United States endured a period of economic downturn known as the Great Depression.  These three countries took separate roads toward recovery.  However, in the book, Three New Deals, Wolfgang Busch argues that the United States may have had more in common with the National Socialists in Germany and the Fascists in Italy.

In Chapter One of his book, Wolfgang Schivelbush gives a detailed narrative about Nazi Germanys’ and Fascist Italy’s perspective on Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.  Schivelbush notes that in the first half of the 1930s, Germany and Italy held a positive position on Roosevelt and his new deal.  Nazi Germany, according to Schivelbush, believed the beginnings of the new deal echoed their “Revolutionary Program”.(Schivelbush 18).   Though FDR did adapt some socialist ideas in his policies, FDR made sure that these ideas were in line with American values and to help quell any concerns over the direction of American democracy.  While intrigued occurred in Germany over FDRs policies, Facists in Italy took interest in FDR and his policies.  Benito Mussolini stated in his book that “The Appeal to the decisiveness and masculine sobriety of the nation’s youth, with which Roosevelt here calls his readers to battle, is reminicent of the ways and means by which Fascism awakened the Italian people”.(Mussolini quote in Schivelbush’s Three New Deals, 23).  Mussolini praised FDR as a strong man who was able to take grasp of power in the United States and move it in a fascist friendly direction.

At home, the National Socialist and Fascist comparisons helped give FDR negative attention, particularly from his political opponents.  Political and civilian opponents believed  that FDR attempted to not only destroy civil liberties and gain more constitutional power, but also establish friendships with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  Though Constitutional powers were never completely destroyed and an alliance with Italy and Germany never happened, FDR did push against these boundaries so that he could attempt to get the United States get back on its feet.


Commonalities vs. Sameness

In Three New Deals, author Wolfganf Schivelbusch  argues how three powerful states were all led by common ideals leading up to WWII.  This is not to confuse with ‘same’ ideals in any sense.  While these terms may seem alike, Schivelbusch clearly states there is a difference.  He argues that while the United States, Germany, and Italy had common features the three cannot be considered identical in any way.  It is difficult to place the United States, a democratic society, in the same category as two authoritative countries, but Schivelbusch continues to explain how they represent one another while being different at the same time.

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal consisted of a series of acts that were established to help the United States recover from the Great Depression.  While the New Deal looks as it could help the recovery process, it ultimately did nothing but create criticism both internationally and domestically.  Much of the criticism was towards FDR and his Fascist and National Socialist fascinations.  Schivelbusch argues how Germany and Italy identified the similarities of FDR’s economic solutions and supported his dictatorial leadership style.  While these solutions may have been similar to those of the Fascist or National Socialist, they are not identical in any matter.

Another element Schivelbusch recognizes that is common within these three states is the use of  propaganda, particularly war propaganda.  War propaganda was used create a sense of nationalism through the respected states, and Italy and Germany seemed to create a strong idea of nationalism.  Stated, “fascism and National Socialism saw themselves as the continuation of solders’ solidarity, as heroic, messianic movements that would invigorate nations still ruled by outdated ideas with new revolutionary spirit.  Politics was a call to arms on the home front” (39).  FDR and the United States did not have anywhere near the strength of the Germans or Italians, but was convinced he could spread it.

Literary Styles in Week 4

Darnton does a wonderful job of getting into the mindset of these apprentices and attempting to create reasoning for their actions. By building and explaining the mindset of the worker in eighteenth-century France, Darnton is able to relate their actions to actions that the reader currently partakes in such as Marti Gras and the craziness that currently occurs. By adding an explanation as to the cruelty towards animals, Darnton is not able to justify the actions rather, he is able to explain their reasoning. One thing I did not feel Darnton did well was his use of organization within the chapter. As a reader, I did not see where he was going and it felt like he jumped around a little bit, albeit with transitions. With his choice of the introduction, it felt as if the chapter was going to be on cats and their “role” in eighteenth-century France.

In the second piece, Schivelbusch builds a solid argument by organizing his thoughts in the first two paragraphs and then seems to follow that organization, first by explaining the importance of light and then his main argument about the railroad revolutionizing. He uses a historgraphical perspective, using at the time observations and anecdotes to build his argument which really seems to work. He also writes similar to Tuckman using imagery in his choice of primary sources and his writing. I also found it intriguing that rather than just focus on the railroad and what it did for Europe, he focused on the improvements that the railroads made and the difference class made for travelers. All in all, I felt as if Schivelbusch created an easier to read paper with which one could relate, a must in the field of writing history.

Manipulating History: Week 4 readings

One theme that I want to pick out of the readings for this week is that of creating history to say what we want it to. This idea was first introduced to us by the historians in the first week, and later propagated by Tey in her novel Daughter of Time. Grant’s nurse tells him that it is her personal belief that people hate changing their opinions on something. If they were raised thinking one thing, it is almost impossible to get them to change their views, even if faced with historical facts. In our readings for this week, this theme is also incorporated. In Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s article on trains, he writes: “The carriage…remained, in spite of all obvious shortcomings and dangers, the European standard for half a century thereafter.” I think this quote explains the phenomenon that Grant’s nurse talked about in Daughter of Time. People are afraid of change, they like what is familiar. Because of this, people are hard-fixed in their ideas and ways of life.

I also want to focus on the argument put forward by Natalie Zemon Davis in her article “The Rites of Violence: Religious Riot in Sixteenth-Century France” because I think it is a very interesting argument to make. Davis attests to the fact that riots are not chaotic mobs like they are normally viewed, but rather have a very coherent sense of order in them. When I first read that as her goal of the essay on page two, I did not believe that she would be able to convince me of what appeared to be a ludicrous argument. By the end of her essay, however, I completely agreed with Davis’s argument. This just goes to show that if a historian, or any writer backs up their claim with solid evidence and well-written conclusions, they can convince their audience of their point of view.