Daniel Halliday
Nov 10 · Last update 2 mo. ago.
What lead to the collapse of tolerance leading up to the Second World War?
Growing intolerance played a significant role in the progression toward World War II, but what lead to this fanatical narrow-mindedness?
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Colonialism fed intolerance on both sides
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An age of ideology
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The rose-tinted intolerance of the victors
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End of a ruling class era
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An advance in military technology in the First World War
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Propaganda
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Colonialism fed intolerance on both sides

The partial decolonisation process at the end of World War One led to a struggle between colonial ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. This ultimately created a moral double standard which helped to breed resentment, sustained disparity and fed into a climate of intolerance across Europe. Tolerance took a great leap forward following the extensive post-Second World War decolonisation process, and it remains more deeply entrenched in the much later decolonised former Soviet states.

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An age of ideology

This period in history was the birth place of numerous conflicting ideologies that arguably formed a greater cause of confrontation than intolerance. However, following on from the ideas of Enlightenment thinkers such as Kant and Locke the advent of 'scientific racism' and subsequent ideologies like Eugenics form evidence of the widespread nature of prejudice at the time. Some of these ideologies justified intolerance and the acts carried out in their name. Though ideologies of racial or religious superiority still seems pervasive currently, this seems to be a problem of philosophy that science has since given us more precise tools to accurately understand, and hopefully educate out of society.

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The rose-tinted intolerance of the victors

A lack of tolerance was wide-spread both preceding this period and after it, however some expressed their intolerance more harshly and were more organised in their application of their prejudices. Historical bias has forgotten or underestimated some of the forgotten stories of this period. Large-scale massacres such as the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor, and the various humanitarian disasters caused by British colonialism are often overlooked or overshadowed due to victors justice or the comparison to worse atrocities of the time.

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End of a ruling class era

The First World War marked an actual end of a pre-modern period dominated by kings and emperors. As a result of a move towards self governance, and the engaging of the general populace in government, narrow-minded attitudes were more often expressed and accepted. As the seeds of democracy were being spread further afield one of the downsides of this system, the popularity of extreme views and easy enemies began to be utilised as a means to corrupt populations and lead them back to familiar systems of a corrupt ruling class. For many societies the end of this ruling class era, lead to the beginning of dictatorships and a concurrent spike in intolerance.

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An advance in military technology in the First World War

With improved weapons technology during the First World War came the end of the idea of a just war, or honour in warfare. The rampant killing the newly invented generation of light machine guns unleashed, and the consequent unimaginable scale of death and destruction, changed the very notion of acting honourably in wartime. The effect of this and new phenomenon such as shell shock had massive social impact on societies and effectively normalised levels of extreme violence and mass killing on previously unknown scales. It was during this climate that a generation of intolerant and contemptible acts were perpetrated independently by different regimes around the world.

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Propaganda

Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, Hitler noticed the affective nature of Allied propaganda during the war effort, dedicating three chapters to the study and practice of propaganda in his autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf. Propaganda played a large part in the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, and guided public opinion to reduce the complexities of Germany’s loss of the First World War and subsequent economic turmoil to a simple ‘us versus them’ narrative. Nazi’s utilised propaganda to spread a message of nationalism and German racial superiority, and played on widespread German antisemitism by declaring war on ‘Jewish Marxism’. The party sort to eradicate democracy, pacifism, and internationalism from German society, and as a similar concept tolerance saw a sharp decline with the rule of the Nazi Party.

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