Daniel Halliday
Nov 10, 2018 · Last update 6 mo. ago.

What led 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 led to this fanatical narrow-mindedness?
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An age of ideology
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Propaganda
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End of a ruling class era
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Colonialism fed intolerance on both sides
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The rose-tinted intolerance of the victors
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An advance in military technology in the First World War
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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 formed a sort of justification or evidence to support widely held prejudices of 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 seemed to stem from a problem of philosophy that science has since given us more precise tools to accurately understand, and hopefully educate out of society.

Starting in 1776 with Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s ‘On the Natural Varieties of Mankind’ five racial types of human being were described and used to justify ideas of biological inferiority and the division of “Caucasians” from the “savages” of enslaved Africans or indigenous Americans. Immanuel Kant went further and formalised a racial hierarchy in which we wrote “humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race”. Thinking such as this provided a foundation for intolerant ideologies of the time, and served as a justification for increasingly inhumane treatment of groups that were thought of as inferior. This is especially poignant considering the resurgence in the thinking of the enlightenment as justification for capitalism and liberal values in the current environment of global politics, something that is often sited but with this dark side seldom mentioned.

slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/06/taking-the-enlightenment-seriously-requires-talking-about-race.html

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Daniel Halliday
May 28
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DH edited this paragraph
Starting in 1776 with Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s ‘On the Natural Varieties of Mankind’ five racial types of human being were described and used to justify ideas of biological inferiority and the division of “Caucasians” from the “savages” of enslaved Africans or indigenous Americans. Immanuel Kant went further and formalised a racial hierarchy in which we wrote “humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race”. Thinking such as this provided a foundation for intolerant ideologies of the time, and served as a justification for increasingly inhumane treatment of groups that were thought of as inferior. This is especially poignant considering the resurgence in the thinking of the enlightenment as justification for capitalism and liberal values in the current environment of global politics, something that is often sited but with this dark side seldom mentioned.

Propaganda

Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, Hitler noticed the effective 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 anti-Semitism 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 also.

However use of propaganda wasn’t limited to Nazi Germany and proved to be the driving force through the war as all sides utilised it to both further their cause and damage the enemy's. Propaganda was used by Russians, the US, and Britain extensively during the war and went from merely morale boosting posters to elaborate campaigns against the enemy to cause confusion and doubt in their nation’s leadership. Propaganda evolved in nature and use during the war and became increasingly authoritarian even in Allied countries like the US and Britain, but propaganda widely utilised intolerances and fed into exaggerations and misappropriations in order to boost morale and nationalism.

encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/jewish-life-in-europe-before-the-holocaust web.stanford.edu/class/e297a/World%20War%20II%20and%20Propaganda.htm news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/12/world-war-2-propaganda-history-books

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Daniel Halliday
May 21
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DH edited this paragraph
Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, Hitler noticed the effective 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 anti-Semitism 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 also.

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, led to the beginning of dictatorships and a concurrent spike in intolerance.

As democracy doesn’t necessarily lead to straight answers it is susceptible to being derailed by dictators, strong characters that have easy clear answers to all of society’s overwhelming problems, regardless of there reality or their personal intentions. But as tensions grew in the run up to the war the role ideology played was increasingly important, as different nations attempted to fill the power void left from antiquated regimes with progress or a reaction to that. This conflict of ideologies that stemmed from changing structuring in society is what fed intolerances and led to the Second World War.

pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj67/bambery.htm

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Daniel Halliday
May 21
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http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj67/bambery.htm

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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Daniel Halliday
Jan 20
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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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Daniel Halliday
Jan 20
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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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Daniel Halliday
Dec 4
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