Student Question

What are arguments for and against totalitarianism and democracy in the 1920s and 1930s?

Quick answer:

One benefit of totalitarianism is its efficiency, with one person deciding the major issues for the country. One major downside is repression of the people. Democracy is more fair, as it allows more people to decide issues, but it can be very inefficient.

Expert Answers

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Under totalitarian rule, the economies of Germany and Italy rebounded. The Soviet Union under Stalin bragged out growth with massive undertakings in internal improvements and food exportation. Many inhabitants of Germany and Italy loved what Hitler and Mussolini did for the economy, and many Americans toured the Soviet Union in order to find a better alternative to capitalism.

There were downsides to the rule of these three leaders, however. Anyone who spoke out against the leadership of these three men was executed. Minority groups such as Jews in Germany and Ukrainians in the Soviet Union were directly targeted for abuse. Some of the measures taken by Stalin killed millions in the name of progress, such as when his food exportation plan made a famine even worse. Totalitarian leaders can also have imperialistic designs, such as when Mussolini decided to restore the Roman Empire with invasions of North Africa.

Democracies such as the US and Britain benefit from being somewhat kinder to the individual citizen. Citizens are allowed to criticize the government and vote leaders out, such as when Hoover lost the presidency to Roosevelt in 1933. There are some downsides to democracies, however. Sometimes, the people do not know what is in their best interest, such as when the British public pressured the government to appease Hitler when he was annexing his neighbors prior to the invasion of Poland. Roosevelt had to be mindful of the America First movement in his plans to aid Britain in the early days of WWII, since many Americans did not want to enter another European war.

Democracies can also be inefficient since Hoover was unable to change the course of the American economy between 1929 and 1933 due to his own reluctance and a Democratic-led Congress that wanted him out in the election of 1932. When compared to totalitarian governments, democracies are more respectful of individual dissent; however, this becomes a burden when government has to act quickly in order to head off a disaster.

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