Democracy has faced several challenges with regard to its growth. The historical period of 1930 to 1950 witnessed great difficulties in the ideals of democracy around the world. At the center of the crisis of democracy were the four European powers at the time: Germany, Britain, the USA, and the Soviet Union. Leaders and the citizens of the larger Europe were grappling with certain difficulties concerning the tenets of democracy, whether to support democracy or not relied heavily on the personal interest of a certain political leader or the national interest of the whole nation. Therefore, dictators like Germany’s Hitler waged war on other countries, basing their actions on the opposition to Western democracies. Most importantly, the evaluation of the crisis of democracy in the 1930s is important in fathoming the beliefs of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt concerning democracy.
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The Crisis of Democracy
The crisis of democracy refers to the challenges that characterized the growth of democracy between 1930 and World War II. For instance, Hitler was opposed to democracy and the principles which governed the practice. As a German Chancellor, Hitler abolished any independent organization that could have served as a platform for oppositionists to his regime1. In Hitler’s later years after 1933, Germany continued to undermine all forms of democracy and treaties too. Berlin thwarted the Versailles Treaty and continued with its armament program while Britain and its allies did nothing to question Hitler’s motives2.
Furthermore, democracy was threatened by the Soviet Union’s dictatorial tendencies, which matched those of Hitler in some ways. In the early 1930s, Stalin ordered forced state ownership of Soviet farmsteads, seizing family lands, and combining them into enormous state-owned operations, which resulted in widespread famine3. Undeniably, the rise of dictatorship marked the historical period between 1930 and 1945 in Europe, therefore posing a threat to democracies.
The Soviet Union in the 1930s
The Soviet Union was alarmed by Germany’s political developments under Hitler and it began to prepare itself against any aggression. Through the minister of foreign affairs, the Soviet Union was capable of infiltrating the military ranks and obtaining secret information about Hitler’s plan4. Additionally, the Soviet was not at war with Germany alone, but it was also at war with themselves. In The Nazi Menace, the author, Hett, observed that “paranoia and isolationism were all but inevitable Soviet’s political culture”5. There were fears that there existed enemies within the Soviet’s social structures, who were colluding with foreign capitalists. Before 1939, the worry about foreign dissidents made Stalin murder a thousand more people than Hitler did because of their ethnicity6. Evidently, the paranoiac nature of the Soviet Union played a major role in cultivating despotism in Stalin.
The Atlantic Charter of 1941
To acknowledge the common principles that were in both Britain’s and USA’s policies, the two nations formulated a document, the Atlantic Charter. The 1941 meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt that culminated in the formulation of the charter came in the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union’s territories7. Remarkably, Atlantic Charter was a response by Britain and the USA to the growing Nazi menace. Through the document, the two leaders spoke of the fundamentals of democracy. The principles discussed included the rights to self-determination by citizens within a country, freedom from fear and desire, systems of general security, economic amelioration, and social security8. Therefore the Atlantic Charter became the founding document through which the current United Nations (UN) was formed9. Precisely, the charter helped in restoring world order through the democratic tenets it propagated.
Differences Made By European Leaders amid Crisis in Democracy
The crisis of European democracy was intense in the 1930s because of the changes that were made by the anti-democracy regimes. Stalin centralized power through what he believed was the provision of security to the Soviets and the paranoid pursuit of personal safety in power10. The Soviet leader conducted a military purge on the officers he deemed to be opposed to his views. For instance, Tukhachevsky was falsely accused of military treason and charged by Stalin because of the former’s military innovation mindset11. Stalin had resorted to the subversion of democratic rule to authoritarianism as means of political survival. Moreover, Stalin rejected Western liberal and capitalist democracy and instead opted for Communism12. Centralization of political power through military purges and mass murder of particular groups of people are among the key differences that were made by Stalin.
Another leader who made a difference in how his people viewed democracy was Hitler. The German dictator advocated policies against the Jews who lived in Germany. By illustration, the anti-Semitism schemes behind the emigration call for the Jews formed part of the crisis of democracy13. Indeed, extreme nationalism made Hitler radicalize the German soldiers and also rally them against democracy and peace-making. In his address to the German defense officers during Konstantin von Neurath’s sixtieth birthday, Hitler tells them democracy and pacifism were impossible14. To emphasize his objectives, he ended the address by asking the generals to fight alongside him for the great goal15. Later in June 1941, Hitler led his country to attack the Baltic States, Byelorussia, Ukraine, and European Russia and drove all the inhabitants of the region while keeping others as their slave workers16. Therefore, Hitler was responsible for initiating racial prejudice that forestalled anti-democratic tendencies within the German populace.
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Contrary to both Hitler and Stalin, two European leaders supported democracy. Britain’s Winston Churchill and America’s Franklin Roosevelt made significant contributions to the ideals of democracy. Churchill even warned of the growing Nazi menace in the 1930s, which made him fall far out of public esteem17. Additionally, Churchill was referred to as a wise, persuasive advocate of democracy18. He worked steadily to build an alliance between the Soviets and his country, Britain, in a bid to thwart Germany’s aggression19. As a member of the House of Commons, Churchill had liberal views and did not ascribe to political expediency. Traditionally, he was expected to support his party’s decision in all matters, but this was not the case as he always opposed the Conservative administration20. Apart from the forewarning of Hitler’s rise, he anticipated nuclear energy for peaceful solutions to conflicts and wars21. Churchill prognosticated the German aggression, contributed to the formulation of the Atlantic Charter, and envisioned nuclear weaponry in the wars.
Equally important, Franklin Roosevelt made some specific contributions toward the American goal of self-realization during the Nazi regime’s expansive threats of the 1930s. The USA did not want to bring itself into another war such as World War I; therefore Roosevelt administration signed a law that prevented America from supporting any faction in an international conflict. Roosevelt signed the Neutrality Act in 1937, which prohibited the arming of American merchant ships22. Roosevelt’s government realized that war might erupt at any time due to the increasing Hitler’s rearmament drive. In 1938, Roosevelt again offered to initiate a global disarmament campaign through a message he sent to Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister at the time23. Clearly, the US president’s initiative showed that he was interested in internationalism, and America could not ignore the political aggression which existed amongst its neighbor states. Roosevelt also came to the Jewish aid as he bypassed the Congress and he merged German and Austria immigration quotas by executive order hence permitting more Jewish refugees to the US24. Analytically, the Nazi menace made Roosevelt effect changes to the laws that were beneficial to the American citizenry.
In summary, the growing Nazi menace helped create European leaders who were either progressive or regressive in their thinking. Racism, especially anti-Semitism and mass killings, characterized the crisis of democracy. Of great significance to the quandary were the thriving dictatorships that were essentially symbolized by a crackdown on all real and perceived oppositionists. However, the Soviet Union played a key role during Hitler’s despotic reign in Germany. Notably, the union was at war with itself, which added to the possible aggression that was anticipated from Germany. To mitigate the increasing effects of the Nazi menace, Britain and the USA formulated a document, the Atlantic Charter, that pave the way for forming the current UN. Further, the rise of despotism was informed by either centralizing political power or paranoia that engulfed the dictators regarding their security and territories. Therefore the crisis of democracy was inevitable as it helped in streamlining European politics.
- Benjamin C. Hett, The Nazi Menace: Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and the Road to War (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2020), 36.
- Ibid., 62.
- Ibid., 31.
- Ibid., 62.
- Ibid., 349.
- Ibid., 350.
- Ibid., 23.
- Ibid., 58-61.
- Ibid., 63
- Ibid., 156
- Ibid., 30.
- Ibid., 31.
- Ibid., 349.
- Ibid., 14.
- Ibid., 22.
- Ibid., 65.
- Ibid., 72.
- Ibid., 88.
- Ibid., 95.
- Ibid., 138.
- Ibid., 152
Hett, Benjamin. The Nazi Menace: Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and the Road to War. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2020.