Compare and contrast the liberal democratic and authoritarian visions of modernity as epitomized by various states in the 1930s. What features did they have in common?

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The best examples of the states that epitomized modernity during the 1930's were Nazi Germany, the United States, and the Soviet Union. All three states were quite novel in that they directly intervened in the life of the individual citizen and they all required that the citizen give up some...

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The best examples of the states that epitomized modernity during the 1930's were Nazi Germany, the United States, and the Soviet Union. All three states were quite novel in that they directly intervened in the life of the individual citizen and they all required that the citizen give up some of his/her own personal liberty for the betterment of the whole state.

Under the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, banks and businesses had to give up some of their profit motive in order to make room for necessary regulation. This was done in the name of fairness. People also lost land to public works projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority. This was done in the name of the greater good, i.e. the electrification of the Tennessee Valley. All of these regulations and trade-offs were done with the public's permission since the leaders who did all of these things were elected and were subject to re-election. Roosevelt's view of society involved everyone working in cooperation with the state providing the framework of governmental programs for regulation and economic stimulation. Though he was called a socialist by his detractors, Roosevelt's ultimate goal was to enhance capitalism through public-private partnerships.

Adolf Hitler put people to work on infrastructure projects as well as rebuilding the German armed forces. Hitler did not want any opposition to his own futuristic view of Germany so he killed anyone capable of political dissent and rounded up others to be placed in concentration camps. Hitler created racial enemies and used that as part of his ability to stay in power and to invade countries whom he claimed wronged Germany. Hitler ended free elections by killing his opposition.

Stalin also put people to work on infrastructure projects such as digging canals and improving the Moscow subway system. Stalin hoped to export Soviet industrial products as well as communism as a way of life. While Hitler turned the people against other races, Stalin turned his people against whom he called the kulaks, people whom he claimed resisted collectivization and made their money off poor peasants. Stalin's belief that the kulaks were greedy was not based in fact but it was effective in turning the people against each other in class warfare. Stalin also tried to crush any sense of nationalism in potential breakaway areas such as Ukraine by killing the intelligentsia and crushing language studies in these areas. Stalin also practiced food requisition even when his own country was starving. Stalin used the power of the state in order to industrialize as quickly as possible, even though it meant killing many of his own people and sending any potential dissenters to gulags. While Roosevelt practiced mainly voluntary cooperation between the public and private sectors, Stalin forced cooperation in his dictatorship. Stalin also arranged for the death of his rivals, even those who were living in exile such as Leon Trotsky.

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I will briefly examine the governments of the United States, the USSR, and Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The U.S. was a liberal democracy, the USSR a dictatorial communist regime, and Nazi Germany a fascist dictatorship. Both the USSR and Nazi Germany were authoritarian, totalitarian regimes in which the citizen was expected to comply in all ways with the ideology of the state.

One commonality between all three states was the attention paid to the social welfare of those deemed citizens. Franklin Delano Roosevelt expanded the role of the federal government to try to insure that all white U.S. citizens could prosper and lead secure lives. Stalin's communism, in theory, was dedicated to the idea that Soviet wealth should be spread equally among all loyal communists. Likewise, Hitler extended social benefits to Aryan citizens deemed part of the "volk" or folk culture of Germany. Likewise, in all three systems, a part of the population was excluded: blacks in the US were still exposed to extreme discrimination, including lynchings; those suspected of non-communist tendencies in the USSR were often killed or sent to brutal work camps; and in Hitler's Germany, non-Aryans such as Jewish and Roma people were subject to genocidal extermination.

All three political systems increased the political power of the central government. All three improved the economic status of the "worthy" working and middle classes in their societies.

Unlike in the U.S. however, the totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Hitler were brutal dictatorships that increased the fear level among their citizens, increased the power of police and security forces, and severely limited or eradicated individual rights and freedoms.

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Liberal democracy and authoritarian visions of modernity represent starkly different worldviews. In abstract, these ideologies are virtual opposites, but as we will see, in practice, some similarities will emerge. In the 1930s, the profound tension between liberal democracy and authoritarianism provoked mass conflict and, eventually, the Second World War. What follows are some key similarities and differences:

Representative democracy is a hallmark of the liberal democratic state. Citizens elect politicians to represent their interests in federal and local governments. In authoritarian regimes, elections take a back seat. Authoritarian leaders demand a strict obedience to authority but do not seek to "legitimize" their authority through an election. Many authoritarian regimes are run by militaries, and if there is a parliament, it is often symbolic.

Individual rights
Liberal democracies prioritize individual rights and freedoms. Personal liberty—the ability to make decisions without the encroachment of others—is a very important aspect of liberal democracy. These rights are enshrined in documents like the Bill of Rights. Authoritarian regimes prioritize national identity more than individual freedoms. Individuals are expected to bypass their personal interests and desires for the sake of the state. Authoritarian visions of society place much more emphasis on group identity than the rights of any individual citizen. Unlike liberal democracies, which typically have a codified constitution, under authoritarian regimes there are no fixed rights.

Rule of law
The rule of law was first established by the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta, which was first put in place to check the power of an unruly English king, is now considered the bedrock of liberal institutions. The rule of law establishes that no single person is above the law: the rulers and ruled are accountable to the same laws. Under authoritarianism, this convention is completely ignored.

However, in practice, liberal democracies don't always lift up the rights of individuals over those of the political community. Particularly in the 1930s and 1940s, liberal democracies forced citizens to join the army (conscription) and limited the food supply (rationing). Though liberal democracy holds up an idealistic notion of rugged individualism, in times of tumult citizens were often asked to sacrifice their personal liberty for that of the community.

Some scholars, especially following the political upheavals of 2016, argue that in the 20th and 21st centuries's liberal democracies have taken a sharp turn towards authoritarianism. After 9/11, the United States government suspended many features of its constitution, and United States presidents increasingly govern by executive order, bypassing the will of elected politicians.

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