USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Conclusion to Three Responses to Modernity

In this chapter, we have looked at three reactions to the political and economy developments of the 1920s and 1930s. We have charted the development of Ho Chi Minh’s ideas in some detail. We have discussed the rise of King ibn Sa’ud and his creation of Saudi Arabia and the transformation of Brazil under the dictatorship of Getulio Vargas. The question one remains in light of this history: what happened to the spirit of democracy and liberalism that had animated much of the world before 1914 and especially in the immediate aftermath of WWI as the peacemakers convened in Paris? Perhaps the best answer to this question is to recognize the inherent weakness of democratic institutions when confronted with stiff challenges and the ease with which democratic norms are sacrificed to convenient political ideologies. It should also be said that the democratic and liberal world was not acting as a very inspiring standard-bearer in these years between the world wars, especially in he colonial world where European brutality reminded native peoples on a daily basis that words and ideas were empty promises. The Great Crash only added to the burden of democracy and liberalism and motivated peoples and nations to other systems: to ideals of communism, nationalism and authoritarianism. There was no sense depending on market forces, for example, when the entire market itself could collapse from one day to the next. Solutions were sought elsewhere – in new ideologies like communism, Islamism and an authoritarian nationalism that combined elements from the right and left under the aegis of brutal dictatorship and in the name of the national good.  The era from the great crash until WWII stands as a stark reminder that political formations are impermanent and that radical politics arise quickly in periods of great duress.

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