An Ambivalent Embrace: Businessmen, Mass Consumption, and Visions of America in the Third Reich

  • S. Jonathan Wiesen
Part of the Worlds of Consumption book series (WC)


It is tempting to associate consumption exclusively with democracy. Many important works in the field of consumer studies focus on the United States and post-World War II Western Europe, and the former is often cast as the paradigmatic example of consumer society.1 We tend to assume that economic opportunity and wide access to goods and services depend on a basic level of political openness and plurality.2 Consumption, however, is not limited to democratic settings. It has also existed under fascist dictatorships, which have used shopping and leisure opportunities to bind their populations to their political visions and to inspire them toward hard work and sacrifice.3 Historians have found the relationship between National Socialism and consumption particularly intriguing, for in his quest to build a racially pure “people’s community” (Volksgemeinschaft.), Adolf Hitler appeared to be moving in the opposite direction from the United States.4 The Nazi leadership welcomed certain features of consumer society—like modern manufacturing, advertising, and retailing technologies—but rejected the social and political expressions that came to be associated with mass consumption: cultural hybridity, the commercialization of public life, and opportunities for activism among self-conscious consumers.5


Consumer Research Business Leader Department Store German Economy Mass Consumption 
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© The German Historical Institute 2012

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  • S. Jonathan Wiesen

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