The careful propagandist
The referenced lecture exemplifies how Ross promoted his book Amerikas Schicksalsstunde (1935) by combining anti-American and implicitly anti-Semitic sentiments with the chill of suspense. It also demonstrates to what extent Ross adapted himself to the profile of the lecture venue (the popular Viennese education institute Urania) and simultaneously subverted it.
The referenced synopsis and other reviews of Ross’s talk1 sharply contradict Urania’s own announcement.2 The detailed list of the lecture’s chapters in its weekly promised a classic travelogue presentation with comments on recent economic developments and racial tensions in the US. Instead, Ross delivered a highly political lecture, adjusted to the possible expectations of the Austrian audience, that served German anti-American propaganda (see A “mentally sick person”).
The lecture’s prelude draws on one of Ross’s favorite devices of establishing suspense. He enumerates the warning signs of a global disaster that emerges from the developments in American public life and from Roosevelt’s misguided New Deal (“the Revolution’s third act” following the War of Independence and the Civil War). These signs are the social and economic inequality, brought on the country by a small financial elite, and the mental instability of the American people, to all of which Roosevelt reacted with his erroneous New Deal based on constitutional continuity. For Ross, the near future is a matter of “either - or”: either America succeeds in coping with its current problems or it will fall apart. Ross, in his geopolitically motivated yet incongruent manner supports his point with self-contradicting statements about the climatic and geographical character of the North American continent by attributing its population’s mental instability to the continental climate. Therefore, the “entire atmosphere of this huge country requires a certain sense of democracy to prevent the constant explosions of its spirit”. Ross proceeds by stating that the “natural north-south orientation” was counteracted by European colonization, which followed a direction from the east to the west. How these arguments relate to the diagnosis of America’s crisis are left explained.
What becomes obvious from the synopsis and the lecture’s reviews is that Ross mobilizes the concept of enemy more cautiously than official Nazi propaganda after 1933. In contrast to his book Amerikas Schicksalsstunde and related articles he only implicitly raises racist and anti-Semitic arguments (instead of explicitly using Hitler’s ”Weltjudentum”) and doesn’t address the cause of the Auslandsdeutsche (Germans abroad)—a central point in his lectures for Germany’s audiences that were meant to legitimize Germany’s expansionist intentions. Neither does he object to democratic governmental forms, even when he explicitly avows his loyalty to (Hitler’s) dictatorship. These ‘concessions’ should be seen in the light of Austrians’ skepticism towards Nazi Germany, which Ross apparently did not want to contradict before 1938.
Anonymous. Amerikas Schicksalsstunde. Wiener Neueste Nachrichten: 1935 Sept 24; 11 (3968); 4.
Case: Speaking engagements
1 Anonymous. Amerikas Schicksalsstunde. Neue Freie Presse: 1935 Sept 25; 25517: 6. See Library. A.K. Colin Roß über USA. Reichspost:1935 Sept 27; 42 (267): 8. See Library.
2 See [Announcement]. Urania. Mitteilungsblatt des Volksbildungshauses Wiener Urania: 1935 Sept 20; 2 (H. 25): 288. The announcement was probably designed by Ross, similarly to the overall practice of event organization at Urania (see the form in “Korrespondenz: Veranstaltungen”, B-VHO 1/1a/102-201, at the archive of Urania [Österreichisches Volkshochschularchiv]). Before the establishment of the Austrian Ständestaat (corporate form of governance) in 1934, Urania used to try to balance social democratic and middle-class ideals of popular education. In 1935, the leading positions of the institute were transferred to persons loyal to the right-wing government. See the authors of the anniversary publication Fünfundzwanzig Jahre Uraniagebäude: 1910–1935. Ed. Karl Witthalm. Wien: Volksbildungshaus Wiener Urania; 1935. On the restructuring of popular colleges see Stephan Ganglbauer; Christian Stifter; Robet Streibel. Kein Ort des Verdrängens. Die Auseinandersetzung mit Austrofaschismus und Nationalsozialismus an Wiener Volkshochschulen. Jahrbuch des Dokumentationsarchivs des österreichischen Widerstandes 2010; 143-185.