Today Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal is regarded as the democratic ideal, the positive American response to a crisis that propelled Germany and Italy toward National Socialism and Fascism. Yet in the 1930s, shocking as it may now seem, these regimes were not considered entirely antithetical. In his book, Wolfgang Schivelbusch investigates the shared elements of these three "new deals" to offer an original explanation for the popularity of Europe's totalitarian systems.
By reconstructing Depression-era attitudes toward security and government, Schivelbusch traces the emergence of a new type of state—one bolstered by mass propaganda, led by a charismatic figure, and designed to project stability and power. The gigantic public works programs favored by all three regimes not only put people back to work, they also convinced them of the government's unshakeable authority.
Schivelbusch uncovers stunning commonalities: the symbolic importance of the TVA dams, the German autobahn, and the reclamation of the Pontine marshes; the seductive persuasiveness of Roosevelt's fireside chats and Hitler's mass rallies; the vogue for monumental architecture; the omnipresent banners, badges, and buttons enlisting citizens as loyal followers and supporters of the state.
Schivelbusch does not equate the political systems identified with Roosevelt, Hitler, and Mussolini or minimize their acute differences. Rather, by exploring their similarities, he both deepens our understanding of the New Deal and puts forward a provocative explanation for the still-mysterious popularity of Europe's most tyrannical regimes.