Chapter 23 Revolution, Depression, and the Rise of Totalitarianism

Although the Armistice of 1918 had put an end to most of the fighting of World War I, the devastation of the war, in both human and material terms, left a lasting impact on peoples throughout the globe. In Europe, the last remnants of the old aristocratic regimes that had first begun to collapse during the French Revolution drowned once and for all in the mud and blood of the great battlefields of the Western and Eastern fronts. Outside of Europe, the promise of Western Civilization, with its industry and science and its growing recognition of the rights and worth of all people, seemed blighted by the brutality and wanton destruction of the conflict. In the four long years of carnage, the war had completely shattered the image of enlightenment and progress that had underpinned both the constitutional order in the West and the imperial order the West had maintained in the rest of the world. Then, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the long-term economic consequences of the war also became clear as a major depression first struck the Western economies and then spread around the globe.

The Great Depression destroyed the last vestiges of security for most people and caused many to turn to any leader or cause that promised to deliver a new sense of security - no matter what the price might be. Even the victorious democracies did not escape unscathed, as many disillusioned survivors of the war pointed out that not even democratic governments had been able to prevent the war - or to wage it any less brutally than their foes. In the 20 years that followed the end of World War I, it became increasingly clear that the end of hostilities and the settlements reached at Versailles had not in fact heralded a permanent peace, but, as the term Armistice itself suggested, only a temporary truce in the struggle between two visions of the world - one rooted in the Enlightenment conception of individual liberty and identity, and the other rooted in a conception of collectivism and group identity. The struggle between these two different visions of the world would shape the history of the rest of the 20th century.