National populism involves hostility to external influences, blaming immigrants, the EU and multinational firms for the problems of the common person. The worldview appeals to citizens with low income and education, yet its potential to damage these groups is well-known. The Brexit vote was a classic case; even though a British exit from the EU was considered likely to harm low-income voters, such groups tended to support Leave. It is tempting to conclude that some engage in self-harm, yet this can be linked to the non-material interests of such citizens. These groups have less capacity to adjust to a globalized world, related to their low skill profile, meaning that they favour worldviews which stress collective identity and preservation of local conditions. National populism suffers from serious externalities. Because the worldview stigmatizes others, reflecting energy generated in defence of local conditions, it causes internal and external disorder. The former involves victimization of minorities and is disagreeable, yet the latter is particularly serious; scapegoating of other states heightens international tension, increasing the probability of conflict.
Conservatism advocates free markets and tradition. Support bases of conservative parties include capital owners and managers; a state which avoids economic intervention, leaving economic inequality intact, is in the interests of these citizens. This raises the question of whether conservative parties are solely agents of the rich. Though conscious self-interest explains the motivation of some conservative voters, such an interpretation is crude; many conservatives are motivated by moral concerns and consider conservatism to be in the general interest. Institutional influences, including the tendency of governments to pursue the common good, also impede such a goal. Conservatism thus demonstrates mediating influences upon self-interest with which we must be familiar. Conservatism is riven by a fault line. Because free market beliefs associated with conservative self-interest often cause social discontent, those impoverished by conservative cuts seldom being tranquil, there are threats to order which conflict with conservative belief in tradition. Conservatives propose several ways of resolving this difficulty, including charity and draconian law and order methods, which are at best ineffective and sometimes worsen such problems. This illustrates a problem affecting many worldviews, which is called externalization. Different citizens have varying interests, yet live in one world with finite resources; there is thus need for an equilibrium which satisfies separate interests. Externalization is a process in which the pursuit of self-interest by one group threatens prerogatives of others, jeopardizing the good of all.
Liberalism advocates individual rights to freedom and autonomy. Owing to its emphasis on issues such as freedom of movement and equal opportunities, liberalism is often presented in ethical terms. Links with self-interest are nonetheless apparent. Because liberalism underlines rights such as freedom of movement and non-discrimination, it attracts socio-cultural professionals who benefit disproportionately. Liberalism thus defines ethics in terms consistent with the interests of richer classes; rather than stigmatizing wealth inequalities, an attitude which prevails in some tribal societies, liberals advocate equality of opportunities. Liberalism is currently undergoing crisis. Following long-standing association between liberalism and supranational organizations like the EU, the rise of national populism has made certain liberals less committed to national democracy. This threatens the traditional balance between domestic and international liberal democracy, making reconciliation of diverse interests more difficult.
This chapter places Churchill’s description of the Munich Agreement as ‘a total and unmitigated defeat’ within the context of his evolving attitudes to diplomacy over the course of the 1930s. In particular, it investigates his understanding of what he referred to as ‘the European system’. As a young man, he had adhered to a brutally realist view of Great Power politics, but in the interwar years this was somewhat tempered by his promotion of ideas of collective security. Such rhetoric had an opportunistic aspect, as he sought to court progressive opinion in Britain; and it was well said of him that he only became enthusiastic about the League of Nations when he thought it might lead to a war. Nevertheless, his views did undergo a genuine evolution. Notably, his approach to the USSR changed, as can be demonstrated by reference to newspaper articles that he published that have up to now escaped notice by scholars. He was never less than strongly anti-communist, but he was perhaps above all anti-Trotskyist; thus, whereas at the start of the decade he highlighted the threat of Soviet rearmament, by the mid-1930s he had become convinced that Stalin’s policy of ‘socialism in one country’ meant that Russia could potentially be trusted to act as a Great Power within the system on traditional tsarist lines. Churchill’s belief that the Soviet Union would behave selfishly but rationally and predictably therefore constituted a key element of his approach to the Munich Crisis.
Hungary and Poland in the vortex of the Munich Crisis of 1938
Hungary, like Germany, was a vanquished power after the Great War, and propaganda denouncing the peace settlement was ubiquitous. Slogans condemning the peace permeated public life, politics, education, academia, literature, the press and broadcasting. The mentality engendered by this atmosphere infused the private discourses of families and individuals. The victimhood mentality helped to mould and sustain Admiral Horthy’s interwar regency. The ‘Szeged idea’ – drawn up in the southern town of Szeged in 1919 – remained the binding element of public and private discourse, predicated on anti-liberal and anti-Western principles that would rebuild and govern Hungary along Christian-national lines. In this atmosphere, Hungary’s small liberal elite, who had no sympathy with Hitler’s regime, struggled to denounce the injustice of Munich. An annex of Munich referred the territorial dispute between Hungary and Czechoslovakia to direct negotiations that eventually awarded Hungary southern Slovakia in November 1938 and Subcarpathian Ruthenia in March 1939. Thus Hungary, a country with a largely silent opposition, became a beneficiary of Munich. The politicians’ views are easily decoded, deriving from geopolitical circumstances. However, the absence of dissent by public intellectuals, the press and public opinion points to a deeper crisis in interwar Hungarian political culture. Using a range of non-political publications, journals, literary magazines, private diaries and other sources, this chapter elucidates the social and psychological dynamic behind Hungary’s quiescent and often complicit attitude during the Munich Crisis.
In school textbooks, TV documentaries and political speeches, the Munich Agreement appears within a sweeping narrative of ‘the Road to War’ or the ‘Price of Appeasement’. This is a story in which the repeated failures of France, Britain and the League of Nations to ‘stand up’ to the dictators culminates in Germany’s Anschluss with Austria, annexation of the Sudetenland and attack on Poland. Into this interwar drama, featuring a bullying Germany, a hesitant France and a spineless Britain, a little-known country called ‘Czechoslovakia’ suddenly appears to take on the part of sacrificial lamb. In this familiar narrative, Czechoslovakia features imperfectly, not as a state that could influence other countries’ foreign policies, but simply as a victim. The Munich Agreement, which still haunts the Czech imagination, became part of an Allied wartime narrative that has proved remarkably resilient. Although Czechoslovak security was fatally weakened by the removal of the Sudetenland, and although Czechoslovakia was let down by its Allies and humiliated at Munich, this only tells part of the story. Czechoslovakia’s reputation as righteous victim has depended on its supposed record as an innately decent and tolerant state until the Munich catastrophe sapped its moral fibre. Examining more closely the interwar Czechoslovak state’s attitudes towards its non-Czech citizens, and the regional responses to Munich within the first and second republics, allows a more complicated picture to emerge. Taking a less sentimental and Whiggish view of the interwar Czechoslovak state leads to a cautionary tale with a rather different moral.
German popular opinion during the Czechoslovakian crisis, 1938
We already know much about Nazi propaganda in the build-up to the Sudeten crisis. But how did the average German actually experience the tense months from May to October 1938? To answer this question, this chapter examines a hitherto neglected source: the Sopade reports. These reports, published by the exiled Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) between 1933 and 1940, were accumulated by a network of informants who sought opinions from a diverse range of groups – from factory workers to the German middle classes. The reports show that Nazi propaganda worked especially well on young people and women, who believed that the Sudeten Germans were seriously suppressed and needed support. They also perceived the Western democracies as weak, since they had not intervened militarily in Spain, had responded passively to the Anschluss, and would likely give up Czechoslovakia easily. Even old SPD supporters agreed, commenting, ‘who will stop Hitler? The French have one government crisis after the other, England is pro-Hitler and Russia will only march if France does, which will never happen’. Still, the Munich Conference shocked Hitler’s opponents who could not believe the betrayal of ‘those English pigs!’ While most Germans seemed relieved about the outcome, there was no great elation. Instead the average German thought the impoverished Sudeten Germans were a further financial burden who would have to be fed as much as the ‘poor’ Austrians. Despite the propaganda efforts of the regime, Munich did not impress the average German as much as Hitler’s previous successes.
Popular agency, activity and the reframing of history
Defined by a political and diplomatic elite, the Munich Agreement of 1938 deliberately excluded the people. Daladier was greeted with enthusiasm, but more politicised expressions of popular emotion were circumscribed by a police refusal to authorise mass meetings. Little wonder that research and recrimination have focused on a guilty few while assuming the esprit munichois of the many. Nevertheless, the Munich Crisis transformed the activity and agency of ordinary French people: 700,000 reservists were mobilised, urban areas were prepared for attack, and individuals and families fled the capital. The crisis was feverishly discussed in the streets and in the press, around radio sets in cafes and at private political gatherings. Both individuals and groups sought to shape events ostensibly outside their control. Engaging with recent research that challenges the image of a passive or pacifist populace, this chapter explores popular activity, agency and memory at a time when the anticipation of attack shaped both daily and nocturnal life. It examines how different sections of the population reacted to the crisis, as well as its transient but wide-ranging effects on transport, communication and the urban environment. New light is thus thrown on the relationships between populations and technology in the control of movement, information and emotion, probing questions of individual agency at a time of crisis. The chapter reveals how the ‘Munich moment’ shaped both individual and collective narratives, whether in reimagining French and European peoples in 1938, or in preparing mental and material pathways for the experiences of 1939–40.
This introduction provides a brief overview of the existing scholarship on the appeasement era in general and the Sudeten crisis in particular. It demonstrates how the vast historiography of this topic has been uniform, employing a ‘top down’ approach that focuses overwhelmingly on the key protagonists (all men), on the ‘appeasing’ countries (especially Britain but also France), and the diplomatic and strategic impact of the crisis and its aftermath. The introduction contends that a more holistic and inclusive appraisal of the crisis is long overdue, an approach that attends to the broader social, cultural, emotional, material and international responses. It suggests further that there are substantial benefits to be derived from tapping into more recent and germane disciplinary trends, including the ‘cultural’ and ‘emotional’ turns. The introduction also teases out the links between the various contributions, accentuating the key themes and motifs that lend the collection its focus and coherence. It showcases the advantages of curating a timely selection of original and methodologically innovative approaches to a well-documented event, with a view to unpicking the hitherto under-explored links between the cultural and the diplomatic. In so doing, it positions the collection as an additional insight into the popular cultural and emotional responses to the imminent threat of modern warfare.
Social democracy seeks compromise between capitalism and socialism, advocating democratic collective action to achieve political and economic freedoms. Recent social democrats have made mistakes, presiding over deregulation and unordered immigration. This is related to globalization, a process estranging social-democratic elites from concerns of traditional supporters. Social-democratic acceptance of capitalism, a long-standing left-wing criticism, is associated with such failures. Despite mistakes of social-democratic politicians and the challenge of globalization, social democracy has redeeming features. Emphasis on economic security means that it averts the instability associated with conservatism, while respect for individual rights counters national-populist stigmatization. Social democracy also avoids difficulties associated with the new left; restrained patriotism appeals to lower classes, while preference for gradual change avoids potential instability. In a way which other worldviews are not, social democracy is based on compromise, making it an appropriate governing tactic. Because of divisions in its base, between authoritarian lower classes and liberal middle classes, social democracy may have entered terminal decline. If this is the case, the ability of social democracy to reconcile separate interests might be emulated by alternative positions.