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10-08-2015, 16:55

RETREAT FROM DEMOCRACY: THE RISE OF DICTATORIAL REGIMES

In Europe, the first clear step to war took place two years later. On February 3, 1933, only four days after he had been appointed chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler met secretly with Germany’s leading generals. He revealed to them his desire to remove the “cancer of democracy,” create a new authoritarian leadership, and forge a new domestic unity. His foreign policy objectives were equally striking. Since Germany’s living space was too small for its people, Hitler said, Germany must rearm and prepare for “the conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization.” From the outset, Adolf Hitler had a clear vision of his goals, and their implementation meant another war. There was thus a close relationship between the rise of dictatorial regimes in the 1930s and the coming ofWorld War II. The apparent triumph of liberal democracy in 1919 proved extremely short-lived. By 1939, only two major states in Europe, France and Great Britain, remained democratic. Italy and Germany had installed fascist regimes, and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin was a repressive totalitarian state. A host of other European states, and Latin American countries as well, adopted authoritarian systems, while a militarist regime in Japan moved that country down the path to war. Dictatorship was by no means a new phenomenon, but the modern totalitarian state was. The totalitarian regime extended the functions and powers of the central state far beyond what they had been in the past. If the immediate origins of totalitarianism can be found in the total warfare of World War I, when governments exercised controls over economic, political, and personal freedom to achieve victory, a more long-tem cause stemmed from the growth of the state as the primary focus of human action at a time when traditional sources of identity, such as religion and the local community, were in a state of decline. Under such conditions, as the philosopher Hannah Arendt noted in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), alienated intellectuals found fertile ground for their radical ideas among rootless peoples deprived of their communal instincts by the corrosive effects of the Industrial Age. The modern totalitarian state transcended the ideal of passive obedience expected in a traditional dictatorship or authoritarian monarchy. It expected the active loyalty and commitment of its citizens to the regime and its goals and used modern mass propaganda techniques and high-speed communications to conquer citizens’ minds and hearts. That control had a purpose: the active involvement of the masses in the achievement of the regime’s goals, whether they be war, a classless utopia, or a thousand-year Reich. The modern totalitarian state was to be led by a single leader and single party. It ruthlessly rejected the liberal ideal of limited government power and constitutional guarantees of individual freedoms. Indeed, individual freedom was to be subordinated to the collective will of the masses, organized and determined for them by a leader or leaders. Modern technology also gave totalitarian states the ability to use unprecedented police powers to impose their wishes on their subjects. Totalitarianism is an abstract concept that transcended traditional political labels. Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany grew out of extreme rightist preoccupations with nationalism and, in the case of Germany, racism. Communism in the Soviet Union emerged out of Marxism and the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus totalitarianism could and did exist in what were perceived as extreme right-wing and extreme leftwing regimes. This fact helped bring about a new concept of the political spectrum in which the extremes were no longer seen as opposites on a linear scale but came to be viewed as similar to each other in key respects.

 

 

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