Nothing to do with technology/knowledge/learning…so if that’s why you’re here, move along. As a parent, one of my most satisfying experiences is having my children ask good questions. Today, my daughter, Alysha, emailed me the following question:
I’m in Social watching a documentary on Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.I I was just curious as to what made the 1920s a dictatorship in three different countries? Was is just the depression, and aftermath of WWI? And I know we looked at this earlier, but what makes a dictator? How do they come into power, and what makes a dictatorship so attractive to people? I realize the propaganda played a major role; can all humans so easily fall propaganda? I was reflecting back on 1984, and the novel shows propaganda to the extreme.
Sorry for all the questions, you don’t have to answer them all…and I guess I can’t force you to answer any.
Have a good day at work. Chat to you soon.
I have a million things to do (after my trip to Oslo next week and getting ready for my trip to New Zealand tomorrow), but it’s such a treat (yes, glowing father with puffed out chest) to have a question like this plop into my email, I replied with:
All very good questions.
In late 1790s, as both the industrial and the French (as well as American and other European) revolutions started, society was thrown into disarray. In particular, regions of Europe were shifting from Monarchical control to varying blends of democracy. In the process, people were transferred from farms/agricultural lifestyles into cities and factories. Over the next century, tremendous technological innovations occurred, but this produced significant challenges to the social fabric of society – i.e. child labour, work as the defining attribute of success (rather than, say, a contemplative lifestyle). Progress was the theme. Europe, in this transition, experienced significant power shifts – both in terms of country-wide governance, but also in terms of people entering factory work.
As any period of transition, this produced suffering for many people. Philosophers – notably Marx – began to evaluate the impact of technology and capitalism on people and society. Capitalism (or perhaps more accurately, dramatic changes in society) produced inequality – some were very rich, others very poor. Alternative government models such as communism and fascism drew the attention of leaders. In fairness, people have always suffered under idiot rulers, see for example the history of Rome .
Dictatorship worked because many people will accept a wrong, but confident answer instead of a tentative but right answer. When people suffer, they grasp for sources of help, regardless of possible long term impact. Consider the concerns in Pakistan now with the floods – there are fears that al queda (sp?) will gain stronger threshold because people feel that their existing government is not taking care of them.
A similar situation – exacerbated by WWI and the financial collapse of late 1920s meant that people turned to people who had (or appeared to have) answers to the problem of their suffering.
Obviously, the whole process is more complex than I outline above, but essentially, it was a toxic mix of inequality produced by industrialism, governance shifts (tracing back over a century, but still not having fully worked through society), post-WWI suffering, alternative philosophies of political organization (based on Marx, but Neitsche can’t escape blame either as he advocated for an un-mooring of traditional structures of organization – i.e. religion – and the pursuit of Ubermensch (superman) as a means of altering power relationships in society…and, even Kant contributions can’t (hehe) be ignored as he set in motion the view of enlightenment as that of individuals doing for themselves what others had done for them in the past. Voltaire, Rousseau and others fleshed out this concept of power/control. Thinkers in Britain (which, as a society, was more accommodating to differentiating philosophies – for example, Marx spent a good portion of his life there) also contributed to advancing many of the ideas of democracy and governance. Unlike countries like France that eventually did away with the monarchy, UK chose a more accommodating model by creating monarchy-within-constraint model), and the significant shifts in economic value and production. Wow. that is one of the longer sentences I have written.
Final point: the value of studying history is found in exactly the topic you raise: how do different patterns evolve in different eras and do they share an underlying DNA? For example, and ask your teacher this if you have time – does the context that gave rise to the dictatorships of the early 20th century have any parallels in the world today? Do the dramatic changes in society – from industrial to knowledge work, physical to digital, as well as growing inequality from the wealthy to the poor – present a similar context for change and upheaval? After all, times of change are when society, especially its weakest members, are most susceptible to douche bags and idiot philosophers who promise short-term solutions, but deliver long term suffering. Of course, when I am a bit less negative, I would also say that the same context of upheaval can lead to a better, more equal society. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions in Greece and Rome (I’m not that well acquainted with changes in middle east or asian regions to draw examples from there), people generally fall to hype and sure answers, instead of uncertain but thoughtful approaches to complex problems. Hmm…any parallels to political activities to our southern neighbours?
Love you – have a great day
Do you have any additional advice to give Alysha? I completely missed her point about propaganda – I did send her a link to CBC’s Spin Cycles report.