Against the World: Anti-Globalism and “Freedom” in Interwar Europe

For decades before the First World War, the world seemed to shrink. Millions of migrants crossed the globe. The railway and steamship accelerated their journeys, reducing the cost and risk of travel. The world also arrived on the doorsteps of those who stayed at home, via the telegraph, radio, newspapers, cinema, exhibitions, and foreign goods. To many observers, the growing interconnection of people and states seemed unstoppable. They believed that it would produce progress, prosperity, and peace. These illusions were shattered in 1914, when the First World War ushered in a quarter century of anti-global retrenchment. Focusing specifically on Central Europe, this talk explores the popular political and social movements on both the right and the left that sought to pause, reverse, or regulate globalization after the First World War. In particular, I focus on how debates about globalization were linked to changing ideas of freedom in the aftermath of war. The “freedom” of movement - of people, goods, and capital, was increasingly pit against a different kind of freedom: freedom from dependence on imported foods and energy, freedom from the vacillations of the global economy, and freedom of the need to emigrate to make a decent living.


Tara Zahra is Homer J. Livingston Professor of History at the University of Chicago. She is most recently the author of The Great Departure: Mass Migration and the Making of the ‘Free World’ (Norton, 2016). Her previous books include The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families after World War II (Harvard University Press, 2011) and Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands (Cornell, 2008). Her current projects include a co-authored history of World War I in the Habsburg Empire (with Pieter Judson), and a history of anti-globalism in interwar Europe. She is the recipient of a Macarthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.