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.