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Author: Boris Barth

This article deals with several varieties of the civilizing mission in the interwar years of the 20th century. As a result of World War I, in all European countries technocratic elites reached powerful positions in the respective bureaucracies and started programs to – as they defined it – improve their populations. Planning and social engineering, often combined with social Darwinist concepts, became part of utopian designs for the improvement of societies. All these ideas had in common that they gave up the individualist and liberal ideas of the 19th century. Many programs were independent of regime type, even if the realization of technocratic utopias was easier in the Soviet Union or in fascist dictatorships than in democracies. Typical was also an ongoing global exchange of ideas across ideological boundaries despite highly nationalist rhetoric. The article deals with attempts to improve the organization of labor and workforces both in the “West” and in the Soviet Union. It goes on to describe newly developed forms of population control and population exchange, which climaxed in the infamous Treaty of Lausanne. The final section analyzes the international eugenics movement, comprising intellectual and political elites who claimed to represent the spearhead of progress. The main problem with these programs was the lack of democratic or parliamentary control. However, it is impossible to write the history of the welfare state without taking these technocratic visions into account.

In: Civilizing Missions in the Twentieth Century
Author: Boris Barth

This article deals with several varieties of the civilizing mission in the interwar years of the 20th century. As a result of World War I, in all European countries technocratic elites reached powerful positions in the respective bureaucracies and started programs to – as they defined it – improve their populations. Planning and social engineering, often combined with social Darwinist concepts, became part of utopian designs for the improvement of societies. All these ideas had in common that they gave up the individualist and liberal ideas of the 19th century. Many programs were independent of regime type, even if the realization of technocratic utopias was easier in the Soviet Union or in fascist dictatorships than in democracies. Typical was also an ongoing global exchange of ideas across ideological boundaries despite highly nationalist rhetoric. The article deals with attempts to improve the organization of labor and workforces both in the “West” and in the Soviet Union. It goes on to describe newly developed forms of population control and population exchange, which climaxed in the infamous Treaty of Lausanne. The final section analyzes the international eugenics movement, comprising intellectual and political elites who claimed to represent the spearhead of progress. The main problem with these programs was the lack of democratic or parliamentary control. However, it is impossible to write the history of the welfare state without taking these technocratic visions into account.

In: Civilizing Missions in the Twentieth Century
Volume Editors: Boris Barth and Rolf Hobson
The civilizing mission associated with nineteenth-century colonialism became harder to justify after the First World War. In an increasingly anti-imperialist culture, elites reformulated schemes for the “improvement” of “inferior” societies. Nation building, social engineering, humanitarianism, modernization or the spread of democracy were used to justify outside interventions and the top-down transformation of non-western, international or even domestic societies.

The contributions in Civilizing Missions in the Twentieth Century discuss how these justifications influenced Polish nation building, Scandinavian disarmament proposals and technocratic social policies in the interwar years. Treatment of the second half of the century covers the changing cultural context of European humanitarianism, as well as the influence of American social science on US foreign policy, more particularly democracy promotion.

Contributors are: Boris Barth, Rolf Hobson, Jürgen Osterhammel, Frank Ninkovich, Bianka Pietrow-Ennker, Karen Gram-Skjoldager, Esther Moeller, and Jost Dülffer.