Case study 1: Geopolitics
Colin Ross was not only the first “geopolitical travel writer”, but also a geopolitical propagandist and apologist for Nazi imperial aims. This case study presents the central aspects of Ross’s geopolitical thought.
Throughout the interwar period, the global traveler Colin Ross was a household name, famous for journeying to the four corners of the earth and mediating his experiences back to German audiences hungry for information about the world outside their borders. The results of World War I had reduced Germany in size and stripped it of its overseas colonial holdings, an imperial dismantling that had led many Germans to lose their sense of global agency. Travel literature gained popularity in this context because it allowed readers to overcome the restrictions placed on their real and imagined global mobilities. While the genre had conventionally described ethnographies of the other and inner explorations of the self, Ross took it in a new direction, one seeking to uncover the underlying truths about how global power is organized behind the surface-level phenomena he witnesses. This is the aspect of his work that a particular segment of his audience found most compelling, and he was heralded for his ability to judge all that he saw on his world travels according to its importance for Germany, and for recognizing “the global economic and political interrelations as well as the larger networks that connect the whole of old Europe, but primarily us Germans, to the development of the continents now and in the future.”1 This focus of his writing makes Ross a “geopolitical travel writer” even prior to his formal engagement with the geopolitical establishment.2
The pseudo-scientific field of geopolitics arose after World War I, as the dramatic restructuring of the European political map brought new attention to the relationship between populations and geographical space. In Germany, geopolitics gained traction as an alternative mode of knowledge able to serve the political purpose of “proving” Germany’s need for increased space. While Ross was singularly focused on the question of Germany’s rightful place in the world, he was surprisingly indifferent to the location of the nation’s actual borders. Instead, he argued for the elimination of borders inside Europe altogether, because, in his mind, they only served to divide and conquer the power of the European continent as a whole. And it was the continent, not the individual nation-state, which for Ross was the operative category: “Thinking in continents” (“In Kontinenten Denken!”) was his primary geopolitical mandate. Ross described a world competing for the earth’s limited habitable space and natural resources in a social Darwinist struggle for the survival of the fittest, a struggle that could only be won by demographic units of a continental scale - anything smaller would be divided and conquered by other larger units.
For this reason, Ross supported Hitler’s plan to unite Europe under the Nazis. During the war, Ross celebrated the establishment of first “Greater Germany”, and then the “New Europe”, poised to expand its reach across the seas and into the East.
This case study provides insights into the complexities of Ross’s geopolitical thought.
1 Hans Schuhmacher, “Colin Roß, seine Arbeit und der Film,” Film-Kurier 68 (22.03.1937)
2 Ross began writing for their main organ, the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik, in 1925, and established a lifelong friendship with its main proponent, Karl Haushofer, in the 1930s.