HISB92H3 - Modern Europe: 1789 to Present
The Collapse of Democracy and the Road to War, 1936 - 1942
President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) the President of the United States during WWI
and he proposed a very optimistic view of ending the war and the future. This was
based on liberalism and the importance of democratic institutions, self0determination
across Europe, etc. He endorsed voting as a process of self-determination
• Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) had quite the opposite view, he believed that Western
civilization was crumbling. His thesis basically was that all civilization would fall and
Europe’s was on the verge of this. He saw no goals, no ambitions of this changing
within the Western world.
• The end of the first world war saw the establishment of Spengler’s ideas and people
believed it more than Wilson’s. People were looking for solutions through political
movements and ideologies
• At the end of WWI, new states were established on ideas of democracy, and equal
rights. However twenty years later, Spengler proved correct, in 1920 every European
State except Hungary was democratic. Yet twenty years after that most European
states were dominated by the authoritarian dictatorship. Only Czechoslovakia was
democratic in 1938
• Many believed that a crisis of civilization was collapsing and everything they had
associated with modernity and progress was collapsing, they looked for answers in
new ideologies and new ways of doing things
• Europeans believed their civilization was decaying, preventing their return to the dark
ages, which the death of Western civilization would surely provoke war, etc.
• At the root of these ideas of liberal states was established during the inter-war years
• Financial stability was seen as the job of the state and because inflation was so high in
most states it was seen that the government failed the people.
• Creating new civic culture for example the respect was absent in most if Europe in the
period before WWI.
• In much of eastern and southeastern Europe the concept of a citizen was being
evoked civil rights in the period before WWI .
• Europeans increasingly perceive a ‘crisis of civilization’ that their political leaders and
institutions were unable to deal stop.
• Precipitated by the failure of the liberal state and democratic institutions to avert
revolution and economic crisis that begins in the 1920s but become acute after Wall
Street Crash (October 1929) - this led to chaos around the world, lower industrial
output and growing welfare lines. This excellerated the flight of unemployment and
farmers were bankrupt. Market capitalism seem less and a less rational to individuals.
• Results in a turn towards more authoritarian forms of government, and many plans to
address this was to wait it out. There was no real policy to address the unemployment
and public debit; they were left to watch their governments do nothing HISB92H3 - Modern Europe: 1789 to Present
• Anger towards the government led to discontent with liberal ideas. By the end of the
1930s, many Europeans were ready to leave liberal governments. Part of the appeal in
shifting away from democracy was seen in the lure of fascism, etc.
• Many instead emulate Hitler and Mussolini, because it was seen that their states were
more stable. A generation of European thinkers embraced Mussolini's Politics of
Action. During this period political new order was based on authoritarian rule
There where many people that were hostile to the extreme right political groups and
their ideas. Street battles took place and continued until the second world war. Political
division emerged intellectuals began calling of the French people to transcend the
limits of Democracy through acceptance of anti-democratic ideas that would endorse
social cohesion. An example of this was The Spanish Civil War that took place July
1936 to April 1939. For the next three years people who supported the republic and
Franco, entered into a civil war that echoed WWII, etc.
• Many did not support the Fascist government
Nazi Germany and the Road to War
• After coming to power Hitler enacted many reforms that limited the economic impact of
the Great Depression in German society. Even today German politicians talk about
how Hitler did this - one way this was done was through limiting economic spending as
well as taking women out of the workforce
• The Four Year Plan (September 1936): German military and economy must be ready
for war in four years. Cabinet Minister believed that Soviet Union was becoming a
threat, because of the new Bolshevik rule and this resulted in a rapid increase in
rearmament and industrial activity surrounding the war.
• This plan was surrounded around economic beliefs that Germany was too crowded so
there was a need for expansion and enhance industrial production in steal, metal,
rubber, etc that could sustain an healthy war. Rationing was instituted in Germany
before the war, institutions had to limit its profit, etc. Showing that Germany’s
economic and political essence was centralized around the war.
• Hitler did not intend to go to war in 1939, his image of a coming war was more
theoretical. He was concerned with making his presence known and that the purpose
of the war was for Germany expansion.
• The government began instituting the collection of scrap metal, so that they could be
given to the metal industry, starting in 1937. Hitler then in 1938, ordered the collection
of anything metal and the hunt for scrap metal was on. Women began their way back
into the workforce, however the Nazis tried to delay this by enforcing young marriage.
• More preparation was predicated on contradictory impulses, the basic aim of the Four
Year Plan was to sustain Germany’s economy so that they would be able to fight a
long war, that was not far from Hitler’s mind
By excellerating the process, the plan created tensions that could only be resolved by
being military action closer and closer to the present. Fear that the war that would e
fought would come before Germany was ready (apparent to Hitler in 1937). This forced
Hitler, to plan a blizkerg or lightening war. HISB92H3 - Modern Europe: 1789 to Present
• From the time Mien Kempf was published, the Greater Germany empire had been
clear, it lay in the East and included all the territories it lost in the first world war. In
particular he wanted the Boltic states. Hitler saw the post Versailles not only has
humiliation, but as a threat to the Germany people. All of Hitler’s foreign policy was
based on regaining territories lost through Versailles and expanding to the East.
• All the gains of Hitler from 1936-1939 came about without engaging in a full fledge war.
All of this was done through the appeasement policy because Britain and France were
not able economically to engage in a War.
• In the early 1939, Hitler invades Czechoslovakia and Poland, resulting in war with
France and Great Britain which surprised Hitler.
• In less than a year only Britain would remain, to fight off Britain. Germany, defeated
Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and French through the use of Blitzkrieg.
This worked because it forced the Allied forces to make rash decisions that ended up
• With France out of the war and Britain on the sidelines, Hitler’s attention turned to the
east. He invaded Russia, was a strategic attack to eliminate Britain’s last possible ally.
In June 1941 Operation Barbarossa was implemented. Most of the army of 3.8 million
people would die in the east in a struggle that was unlike anything see, against Sov