From a world-renowned cultural historian, an original look at the hidden commonalities among Fascism, Nazism, and the New Deal
Today Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal is regarded as the democratic ideal, the positive American response to an economic crisis that propelled Germany and Italy toward Fascism. Yet in the 1930s, shocking as it may seem, these regimes were hardly considered antithetical. Now, Wolfgang Schivelbusch investigates the shared elements of these three "new deals" to offer a striking explanation for the popularity of Europe's totalitarian systems.
Returning to the Depression, Schivelbusch traces the emergence of a new type of state: bolstered by mass propaganda, led by a charismatic figure, and projecting stability and power. He uncovers stunning similarities among the three regimes: the symbolic importance of gigantic public works programs like the TVA dams and the German autobahn, which not only put people back to work but embodied the state's authority; the seductive persuasiveness of Roosevelt's fireside chats and Mussolini's radio talks; the vogue for monumental architecture stamped on Washington, as on Berlin; and the omnipresent banners enlisting citizens as loyal followers of the state.
Far from equating Roosevelt, Hitler, and Mussolini or minimizing their acute differences, Schivelbusch proposes that the populist and paternalist qualities common to their states hold the key to the puzzling allegiance once granted to Europe's most tyrannical regimes.
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Wolfgang Schivelbusch, winner of the Heinrich Mann Prize, Germany's most prestigious nonfiction award, is an independent scholar who divides his time between New York and Berlin. His books include The Railway Journey, Disenchanted Night, and The Culture of Defeat (0-312-42319-5), called "a work of brooding brilliance" by The
New York Times.
In September 1946, Sigfried Giedion, probably the most renowned historian of modern architecture, gave a lecture before the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. The editors of the Architectural Review were so taken with Giedion's ideas that they convened a symposium to discuss them, inviting such leading architects and architectural historians as Walter Gropius, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Gregor Paulsson, William Holford, Lucio Costa, and Alfred Roth, as well as Giedion himself. The symposium took for its title that of Gideon's original lecture: "The Need for a New Monumentality."
For the first time in the history of modern architecture, the discipline was subjecting itself to fundamental self-criticism. The chief insight to emerge was that modernists, in their struggle against the historicism of the nineteenth century, had perhaps focused too exclusively on architecture's technical, functional side, to the exclusion of the complex set of desires and expectations that transcends everyday utility and distinguishes architecture from mechanics or engineering. "The people," wrote Giedion, "want buildings representing their social, ceremonial, and community life. They want their buildings to be more than a functional fulfillment. They seek the expression of their aspiration for joy, for luxury, and for excitement. Monumentality consists in the eternal need of the people to create symbols that reveal their inner life, their actions, and their social conceptions. . . . This demand for monumentality cannot, in the long run, be suppressed."1
Most of the participants agreed that they should have been more receptive to such expectations in the years before World War II. In the wake of World War I, modern architects had aspired to provide structural expressions of social revolution to the masses, by and for whom it had been carried out. But the masses had never understood--much less liked--modern architecture. And during the Great Depression, capitalism's period of crisis, they were drawn to modernism's bitterest enemies, National Socialism and Fascism, because these offered them something they wanted and needed, something that modernism had refused to provide them: monumentality.
The conflation of monumental--that is, backward-looking, neoclassical--architecture with the Third Reich and the other totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century reflects the political and ideological oppositions of the 1920s and '30s--as does the association of modern architecture with liberal democracy and the social-welfare state. The underlying assumptions entailed therein remained unquestioned into the 1970s. Even as late as the 1990s Bruno Zevi, the Italian patriarch of modern architecture, expressed "disgust" and "contempt" for an academic conference devoted to 1930s--read: Fascist/totalitarian--neoclassicism. In an article in the leading Italian architecture journal, L'architettura, he accused the organizers of "obfuscation, ignorance, arrogance, and idiocy," adding that the conference didn't deserve to be taken seriously because it promoted "excrement, shit, vomit, and spew."2
For decades critics ignored, or chose to ignore, the fact that neither Italian Fascism nor early Soviet Communism fit the paradigm. They also disregarded the affinities many leading practitioners of the modernist New Architecture movement in Germany--including Mies van der Rohe--had felt with Fascism during the initial years of the Third Reich. It took an entire generation after World War II before scholars, as part of a general effort to locate Nazism within a wider historical context, came to today's consensus that the earlier equations were too simplistic. Suddenly they woke up to the fact that neoclassical, monumental buildings had been constructed in Washington, Paris, London, and Geneva during the 1930s, just as they had in Berlin, Moscow, and Rome. They recognized that Mussolini's program of architectural functionalism, or "rationalism," was nothing other than an extension of modernism and that even the Third Reich, the great exemplar of antimodern philistinism, had taken a modernist approach when dealing with function rather than representation. They acknowledged that there had been architecturally modern Fascists and architecturally traditional liberals and that 1930s neoclassical monumentalism was just as widespread as the modernism that the Museum of Modern Art had dubbed the International Style in 1932. Instead of reducing neoclassicism to a side effect of totalitarianism, scholars became more interested in how various national, political, and ideological systems applied what Giorgio Ciucci calls "the specific aesthetics of power."3 Architectural historian Louis Craig's term "government international" sums up this style well, as does Franco Borsi's assertion that "monumental architecture could signify equally the strength of the institutions in the democracies and the aggressive power of the state in the dictatorships."4
Critics began to ask why a majority of democratic nations in 1927 rejected modernist designs for the headquarters of the League of Nations, choosing instead a neoclassical, monumental one, why the Third Republic in France built the neoclassical Palais de Chaillot for the 1937 World's Fair, and why the architecture of Washington, D.C., received a monumentalist infusion under Roosevelt's New Deal. The answers were the same. Scholars gradually recognized neoclassical monumentalism--whether of the 1930s, the Renaissance, the French Revolution, or the Napoleonic empire--for what it is: the architectural style in which the state visually manifests power and authority. Although neoclassicism temporarily lost its hold with the rise of nineteenth-century liberal capitalism, in which the state restricted itself to a supervisory role and allowed the private sector to determine architectural aesthetics, it regained it in the twentieth century, beginning with increased state regulation of the economy in the years before World War I, continuing through the state's mobilization of the economy during the war, and culminating with its near-total intervention during the Depression.* The various state solutions to that crisis amounted to a defeat for liberal capitalism and a triumph for governmental authority.
Both the revolutionary states of Bolshevism and Fascism, as well as the reformist ones of the capitalist democracies, needed an architecture that would tower on behalf of, but also above, the people like a temple, inspiring trust, respect, and a quasi-religious sense of deeper meaning and community--while at the same time showing the rest of the world who it was dealing with. A concrete embodiment of the competition between political systems was the constellation formed by the three most spectacular buildings at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris. The monumental Palais de Chaillot, for which the government of the Third Republic had torn down the old Trocadéro, was strategically placed at the end of the central axis, flanked by the "massive pavilions" of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The Palais symbolized France's self-perception as a major power, unwilling to back down before the two dictatorships, or rather, firmly holding center stage while shunting its rivals off to the sides.5
The primary sites for monumental construction and self-representation in the 1930s were capitals. Paris had already undergone a major monumental reconstruction under Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the 1860s and could thus be left relatively untouched. But in Germany, the Soviet Union, and Italy, the regimes planned Haussmannesque transformations of Berlin, Moscow, and Rome. With varying degrees of radicalism, roads were constructed and expanded, and urban thoroughfares were laid out in widths previously reserved for city squares. Quaint old buildings, derided by Mussolini as "picturesque garbage," were torn down to make room for colossi such as the Hall of the People in Nazi Berlin and the Soviet Palace in Moscow, which aimed to set new records for height and volume.6 (The Soviet Palace, for instance, was to stand over 1,345 feet tall, crowned by a 229-foot statue of Lenin.) Finally, city planners implemented state measures concerning traffic and hygiene suggested by prominent Sovietophile architects such as Corbusier, Gropius, and Ernst May. These were "plans of war," as Lazar Kaganovich, the man Stalin put in charge of the redevelopment of Moscow, characterized the Soviet General Plan of 1935.7 The enemy that was to be eradicated was the laissez-faire architectural legacy of nineteenth-century liberalism, an unplanned jumble of styles and structures.
Not every regime pursued this struggle with the same resolve, and nowhere was total victory achieved. Fascism made the least progress toward its stated goal--assuming it was meant seriously--of tearing down much of Rome's medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture and uncovering the antique city, which would then be blended in with new monumental structures.8 Adolf Hitler and Albert Speer's attempt to replace Berlin with a new Nazi capital called Germania was hardly more successful, largely because military defeat interrupted construction before it could truly get under way. It was Stalinism that best succeeded in giving the national capital the desired face-lift. But even in Moscow, the state's most ambitious project, the Soviet Palace, was never realized.
Washington, D.C., saw a similar rash of construction projects. Most of the large-scale neoclassical buildings associated with the city of today were built between 1933 and 1939. They include the Federal Triangle, the National Gallery, the National Archives, the Supreme Court Building, various departmental and other government buildings, the Smithsonian Museum complex, and the Jefferson Memorial. In contrast to concurrent activity in Berlin, Rome, and Moscow, and to Haussmann's remodeling of Paris seventy years earlier, the basic layout of the city remained unchanged, and no historical buildings were demolished. For more than a hundred years, Washington had remained an impressive network of streets with a small village attached. What took place in the 1930s, then, was neither a war against the existing city nor a renewal based on the destruction of a previous urban layer but the architectural closing of empty spaces that had long been reserved for the construction of the capital.
The work undertaken between 1933 and 1939 explicitly harkened back to a plan for Washington conceived in 1902; that plan in turn was based on one drawn up in 1791 at George Washington's behest by architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant, who had fought with the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. Raised at Versailles, L'Enfant brought to the job his childhood impressions of the Baroque palace gardens with their broad avenues and their interplay of straight, curved, and diagonal lines, which yielded an impressive variety of perspectives. Architectural historian John W. Reps has described it as a "supreme irony" that an architectural style "originally conceived to magnify the glories of despotic kings and emperors came to be applied as a national symbol of a country whose philosophical basis was so firmly rooted in democratic equality."9
It is no less ironic that the Baroque monumentality L'Enfant imported from Europe to America allowed the city of Washington to make the transition to the twentieth century with far less destruction than in the European capitals. The vision for Washington essentially took a giant leap from pre- to postliberal monumentalism. Daniel Burnham, the man behind the 1902 plan,10 summed up his philosophy in a curt imperative worthy of any of Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin's urban developers: "Make no little plans, they have no power to stir men's souls."11
* * *
There are two lessons to be derived from the history of 1930s monumental architecture and its varying reception in the decades after 1945. The first shows how the same stylistic, formal, and technological developments--within architecture and elsewhere--can be used to serve radically different political systems. The second lesson demonstrates how poorly later generations are able to distinguish between form and content, especially when the object of historical study, as is the case with a defeated dictatorship, elicits general condemnation. Little has changed since Hegel's complaint about the flaw in "abstract thinking": that it cannot conceive of a handsome murderer.
Around the time that simplistic equations of monumentalism and totalitarianism fell out of fashion, historical research took a new direction. Fascism, National Socialism, and Stalinism were no longer seen as examples of sheer evil, and the complexities of their economic, social, psychological, and cultural structures came in for closer examination. Scholars discovered that Fascism and Nazism possessed, alongside their repressive and murderous tendencies, a social-egalitarian component and that the mass popularity of both regimes in the 1930s was due more to the latter than to the former. This scholarly recognition of the "socialist" side of National Socialism, as well as the engagement with Nazism's belief that its racial doctrine entailed the promise of equality for all members of the German people, or Volk, seemed shocking only because that side of Nazism had been so fully suppressed after 1945.
Much the same process--in reverse--was evident in reevaluations of U.S. history. The New Deal, idealized as the heroic benevolent alternative to the regimes in Germany and Italy, began to attract some criticism. Once historians were willing to consider the multiple components of National Socialism and Fascism, instead of merely categorizing both as "totalitarian," they also began to look beyond the simplistic dichotomy of liberal democracy on the one hand and repressive dictatorship on the other. This new scholarly direction tended to dispatch the legend of Roosevelt as infallible statesman and invited discussion of the New Deal as a series of economic misadventures, achieved through the force of mass propaganda and owing its success solely to America's victory in World War II. Still, these revisionist efforts to place the New Deal, Fascism, and National Socialism in a more differentiated historical context had lit...
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Descrizione libro Henry Holt & Company, Gordonsville, VA, U.S.A., 2006. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. Condizione sovraccoperta: New. First US Edition. A survey of the social reforms enacted and contemplated as part of America's New Deal, Italy's Fascist revolution and Germany's National Socialism. Does not claim that the New Deal can be characterized as Fascist, but shows striking similarities in conception and implementation in the three countries in the period before the start of the war. 242 pages, Photos, Notes, Index. remainder mark Published @ $26.00. Codice libro della libreria 15217
Descrizione libro Metropolitan Books, 2006. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. book. Codice libro della libreria M080507452X
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Descrizione libro Metropolitan Books, 2006. Hardcover. Condizione libro: New. Never used!. Codice libro della libreria P11080507452X
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