Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), who trained as a neurologist and general psychologist, pioneered psychoanalysis, the technique of encouraging free association. From his practice he developed the theory of repression, the idea that certain thoughts were held back from both oral expression and the patient’s conscious mind. His work also developed the notion of the unconscious, which he suggested was behind much of our thoughts and actions. In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud argued that to be civilized is to be unhappy, because it was civilization itself which forced us to repress out natural instincts—those most notably of aggression and sexuality. In this excerpt he discusses how aggression is a primal instinct and looks at how this instinct, along with the instinct for sex, is controlled and repressed in “civilized” society, to the detriment of ultimate human happiness.
From Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents. Trans. and ed., James Strachey. New York: W. W. Norton, 1961, pp. 58–63.
Oswald Spengler (1880–1936), may not have been the obvious candidate to produce the most talked-about book of his age. A somewhat sickly loner, he nonetheless touched something in the collective European consciousness, a melancholic post-war mood that enabled The Decline of the West to become a best-seller. Civilizations, being “organic,” have lifecycles, he argued, just like biological entities. He went on to argue that Western civilization has evolved through three major stages—the Magian, the Appollonian, and the Faustian. These correspond, respectively, to the belief in magic (including the major religions), the striving for order (Classical Greece and Rome), and the pursuit of power and knowledge (the modern West). The West had achieved its high point; from here things would take a downhill turn. In this excerpt he discusses what he calls the “world-city,” a cosmopolitan mélange of people and cultures comprised of rootless individuals without traditions, territorial identity, religion, what Spengler contemptuously refers to as “a mob.”
From Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West (1918).
British novelist and critic Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) was also known as a writer on history, travel, and many other subjects, as well as a sometime poet. He attended Oxford University where he received a degree in literature. Unable to pursue his two first choices of profession—scientist or Air Force pilot—because of poor eyesight, he turned instead to writing. He spent most of the 1920s and 1930s living in Italy and France, where he wrote his best-known novel Brave New World (1932), before moving in 1937 to America. Huxley was a lifelong pacifist, but in the 1930s he was a particularly active one. His book Ends and Means (1937) explored the causes of war, its consequences, and how although humanity agrees on what it wants, it has failed to agree on how to get there. His Encyclopaedia of Pacifism extended his interest in the subject, looking critically at all historical, social, biological, and psychological aspects of conflict.
From Aldous Huxley, ed., An Encyclopaedia of Pacifism. London: Chatto & Windus, 1937, pp. 7–9, 27–8, 72–5, 104–6, 122.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four terms as President marked a turning point in American history, establishing the principle of the federal government’s responsibility for public welfare and creating the federal governmental system that continues to the present day. It also established Keynesian economics (named after the British economist John Maynard Keynes), which calls for greater governmental expenditures in times of economic recession to compensate for lower spending by the private sector. FDR would go on to be reelected three times. He led America through most of World War II but died in office in April 1945, just three months before the end of the war. In the selection that follows, FDR lays out the general lines of his vision for America.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol. 2 (New York: Random House, 1938), 11–16.
A vision of the “American Century” is powerfully conveyed by this 1930 road map produced by the Gulf Oil Company. The map spins an idealized vision of America just before the Great Depression. Leisure opportunities,—boating, golf, and badminton, an d for both men and women—are all easily accessible by miles of paved roads. There is nowhere an automobile can’t go.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943. As leader of the Fascist Party, he governed the nation as Prime Minister, according to the constitution, until January of 1925, when he dropped all pretense and began to rule as dictator. He liked to think of himself as combining the traits of a scholar with those of a man of action – and his collected works fill twelve volumes. In the following essay, published in 1923 in a monthly journal (Gerarchia) that he himself served as editor-in-chief, he contrasts the virtues of Fascism (“Force”) with the vices of Liberalism (“Consent”).
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile
Through a series of small demonstrations and gatherings in 1919, Benito Mussolini (1883–1945) created, at least in his own estimation, a completely new political ideology. He named this philosophy for a symbol used in the ancient Roman empire: the fasces, which was a bundle of rods together with an ax and carried by lictors as a representation of power. Mussolini was installed as Italy’s leader, or “Duce,” in October 1922. He published an explanation of what he had achieved as well as a statement of his political beliefs in the Enciclopedia Italiana in June 1932. Reflecting on a decade of a ruthless grab for and maintenance of “totalitarian” power (the word itself was coined by this regime, and specifically with the collaboration of Mussolini’s court philosopher, Giovanni Gentile), Mussolini justified the violence inflicted by his regime and emphasized its fundamentally “moral” basis.
Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ed., A Primer of Italian Fascism, trans. Jeffrey T. Schnapp, Olivia E. Sears, and Maria G. Stampino (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 48–50.
Henry Ford (1863–1947) was the founder of the Ford Motor Company, which produced the world’s first affordable cars. While he was known as a pacifist in the First World War, in the second he made his anti-Semitic views widely known in publications such as the International Jew, which was printed as a four-volume series of booklets published by the Dearborn Publishing Company, which he owned. His Dearborn Independent newspaper also published a series of his anti-Semitic articles. In The International Jew, Ford recirculates many of the traditional anti-Semitic arguments, for instance, those concerning a Jewish conspiracy for global dominance via behind-the-scenes methods. In this excerpt he discusses the Jews in Germany and reiterates many widespread arguments concerning the extent of Jewish involvement in contemporary Germany’s financial and political woes.
From Henry Ford, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. 1920.
As a result of the failure of his Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in November 1923, Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was sent to a minimum security prison at Landsberg. However, he was paroled, four years before the completion of his sentence, in December 1924. Having met with the respect of his judges during his trial in February 1924 and with the approval of the Bavarian Supreme Court, although against the advice of state prosecutors, he had his sentence—after his conviction for a treasonable attempt to take over the state—commuted. Nevertheless, there were some restrictions, both in Bavaria and elsewhere in Germany, on Hitler’s speaking and freedom of movement. In spite of these restrictions, he emerged from prison with the manuscript of a new political statement of his life and philosophy, a document he entitled Mein Kampf (“My struggle”). As recently discovered documents reveal, Hitler hoped to use the proceeds from the sale of this book for a new car as well as to fund his political movement. The party growing out of this movement would be labeled the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, and he would be installed as its unquestioned Führer (leader) by 1925. The following excerpt from Mein Kampf reveals what he had learned about rhetoric and political action in his nascent career.
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Mannheim (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998), 469–471.
Halidé Edib Adivar
Halidé Edib Adivar (1884–1964) was a Turkish feminist and writer, best known for novels focusing on the status of Turkish women. Born in Constantinople (Istanbul), she was connected by family to the court of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and educated in a multilingual environment where she learned Arabic, English, and French. One of a new generation of women, her experiences spanned the old world of harems as well as the new world of professional women. Her early career involved writing articles on education for newspapers and work for the ministry of education. Her memoir is not particularly personal, focusing as it largely does on Turkey’s struggle for nationhood, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War, and the Nationalist politics of its first “modern” leader, Kemal Ataturk.
From H. Edib, The Memoirs of Halidé Edib. London: John Murray, 1926, pp. 11–4, 85–8, 142–8. Halidé Edib, The Turkish Ordeal: Further Memoirs. London: John Murray, 1928, pp. 25–34 (excerpts).
Albert Camus (1913 – 1960) was a French author, journalist, and philosopher. He is one of the founders of absurdism, a philosophy that developed in Europe immediately after World War II and that views the tendency of humans to seek inherent value and meaning in life as impossible goal.
Published in Paris, 1942 by Gallimard: Le mythe de Sisyphe. Translation by Clifford Backman from Parts 1 and 4 of the original
Born in 1893 into an upper-class family at a time when society expected neither intellectual nor professional achievement from such women, Vera Brittain obtained a scholarship to Somerville College at Oxford University in 1914. When the war began in August 1914, her brother, Edward, and his best friend, Roland Leighton, enlisted. Brittain left college the following year to study nursing, and she joined a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) unit. Having become engaged to Leighton while he was home on leave in August 1915, Brittain learned in December of that year that he had been killed in action on the Western Front. Continuing her nursing work, Brittain experienced the loss of numerous other friends and relatives, including her brother, over the course of the war. After the war, she returned to Oxford and developed an important literary career in her own right, publishing her beautifully written and compelling wartime memoir Testament of Youth in 1933. Throughout the 1930s, she advocated international peace and women’s rights, insisting that the shattering experiences of her youth should not be reinflicted on contemporary young people.
Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth (New York: Seaview, 1980), 239–241.
George Orwell is the pen name of Eric Blair (1903–1950), one of the most important writers in the English language during the twentieth century. Orwell is famous for two widely read novels, Animal Farm (1946) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in which he pilloried modern totalitarian governments whose suave claims to act in the name of “the people” could not disguise their unprecedented intrusion into the private lives of citizens. But Orwell deserves to be well known for his investigative reporting and prose essays of the interwar period as well. After World War I he worked as a police officer in Burma (modern Myanmar), lived the life of homeless and subsistence workers in Paris and London, explored the hardships of Welsh coal miners, and fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1938). His writing about these experiences, along with criticism and political commentary, is distinctive for its clarity and vivid detail and for the unsentimental decency with which he addressed the realities of life for ordinary people.
ii Orwell was educated, not very happily, at boarding schools in England. Rather than go to university he joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma for five years in the 1920s. The experience produced his novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essay reprinted here. Britain fought three wars in the Victorian era (1824–1826, 1852, 1885) to bring the ancient Burmese kingdoms under its control. Even after annexation to the Raj, village resistance and jungle insurgency taxed the authorities’ ability to police the countryside. Very few Europeans wished to settle in Burma for long. Those who did tended to be employees of distant firms attempting to establish rubber plantations in the drier zones of upper Burma. As Burmese Days reveals, British soldiers, police, minor civil servants, and businessmen, with a handful of family members, secluded themselves as much as possible from native life. Those any distance from the cultural life of the capital city experienced long periods of discomfort, tedium, and frustration, unalleviated by much sense that they were bringing progress or prosperity to those they ruled.
George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays, 3–12. Copyright © 1950 by Harcourt, Inc.
Adolf Hitler’s promises of desire for lebensraum (“living space”) and a renewal of the former glory of the empire appealed to German nationalism. In 1938, Hitler set his sights on Poland, claiming that the large German ethnic population in the port city of Danzig needed protection and should be under German control. After Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Hitler traveled to Danizig on September 19 and delivered this speech.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
Fatima Mernissi is a Moroccan feminist and sociologist. After studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, she received her Ph.D. from Brandeis University before returning to Morocco. Mernissi’s work has largely focused on the role of women within Islam, and she has examined the ways in which traditional Islamic cultures have treated women versus how the Qur’an (the source of much of Islamic “orthodoxy”) treats them. Her first book Beyond the Veil (1975) became a classic in the fields of anthropology and sociology. Doing Daily Battle: Interviews with Moroccan Women (1989) was prompted in part by the suggestion that feminism was a Western concern. For the book, Mernissi interviewed a hundred women, mostly from the lower classes, and collected a great deal of material on a diversity of subjects such as culinary culture, spirituality, sex, and family.
From Fatima Mernissi, Doing Daily Battle: Interviews with Moroccan Women. Trans. Mary Jo Lakeland. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1989, pp. 126–44, 213–7 (excerpts).
Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) was one of the foremost British modernist writers. A member of the influential set of writers, artists, and philosophers known as the Bloomsbury Group, her best-known works include the novels Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando, as well as the nonfiction essay, A Room of One’s Own. Woolf was at the height of fame as a novelist when she wrote Three Guineas. Divided into three distinct essays, it takes the form of letters in response to requests for financial support for various admirable causes. The third essay acts both as a statement of radical pacifism and as an attempt to decode the root of all wars, which she sees as a distinctly male desire for aggression. To directly resist Fascism, therefore, is to extend the male need for dominance and not to control or terminate that desire. In this excerpt, she asks her correspondent why he thinks she should be of any use in coming up with a solution to the war. Women, after all, have been shut out of education and public office throughout history, so in what ways can they be expected to solve the muddles made of public life by men? While she recognizes the acute global crisis underway, she explores the even deeper cultural malaise of patriarchy that underlies it.
From Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas. London: Hogarth Press, 1938, Part 3.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
During his first inaugural address as the president of the United States in March 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt had warned his fellow Americans, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Through a series of radio broadcasts called “fireside chats,” the president continued to reassure the American public during the darkest days of the Depression. He would go on, in January 1941, to enumerate the “four freedoms” to which every American, and perhaps every person around the globe, was entitled. Among these were freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and, perhaps most importantly, freedom from fear.
Suffering from debilitating illness in the final years of the war, Roosevelt persisted in envisioning a world in which those four freedoms could be guaranteed—and in which the unprecedented and horrific suffering of World War II could be transformed into a new period of human development. As Thomas Paine had argued about the American Revolution, there was now a chance “to begin the world over again.” Roosevelt prepared an oration on the subject to be delivered on the occasion of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. The war was drawing to its close in Europe, and would end several months later in Asia—but Roosevelt did not live to see the achievement of peace. Although he died on April 12, 1945, the day before he was to deliver this address, the prepared speech demonstrates the tenor of Roosevelt’s thought at this point in his life.
Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, the American Presidency Project, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=16602.