“Highway to Hitler”

Voigtlaender and Voth argue the role of Autobahn in the Nazi regime in their research – Highway to Hitler. The authors produce an interesting analysis on the relationship of road construction and the rise of Hitler:

By analyzing voting records between November 1933 and August 1934 alongside highway patterns, Voigtlaender and Voth found that any opposition to Hitler swung in his favor significantly faster in areas where the Autobahn was being built than elsewhere. With the country still recovering from the Great Depression, Germans might have seen the new roads as a sign the Hitler regime could jumpstart the economy. (cityLab)

According to Voigtlaender, the results shows “strong evidence for changes in voting behavior in one of the most salient examples of infrastructure spending”(cityLab).


(Image Credit: cityLab)

The analysis presents quite a picture of the relationship of consent building for authoritarianism via construction and infrastructure spending. However, the authors also conclude that the positive image of this spending is a constructed illusion.

Why did motorway building reduce opposition to the regime? … …the Autobahn demonstrated the new government’s determination and competence in a convincing fashion; even without direct economic benefits, Germans could plausibly have decided that Autobahn construction marked a welcome change from the perceived ineffectiveness of Weimar governments. This is the aspect that propaganda emphasized the most. Voters may have perceived motorway construction as a sign of “competence”, along the lines of Rogoff (1990), and seeing the work taking place in one’s district may have made it more salient. (Highway to Hitler)

For a contemporary example of for such relationship check Turkey case. Turkey has been going through a rise of an authoritarian regime and construction boom since the early 2000s. Building an extensive road network is one of the main points of the propaganda of AKP governments. Bayraktar’s statement, former Ministry of Urbanism,  below shows the emphasis on the roads and road network and its usage in propaganda.

Erdoğan: İnşaat sektörünün olmadığı ülke bitmiş demektir

(Image credit: BHT)

You can demolish a house, a cemetery for a road. The path of the roads is definite. This road will serve for 1,000 years. Two thousand years. (hurriyetdailynews)

The discourse is all over the speeches of many politicians of ruling party from top to bottom ranks such as this one below:

We would even demolish a mosque to build a road: Turkish PM

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has reaffirmed his government’s determination to go ahead with construction projects that have generated harsh criticism particularly from environmentalists, while accusing protesters blocking the construction of engaging in banditry. (hurriyetdailynews)

The determination of the government to build roads and empty houses of TOKI can be read in relation to the case of Hitler.

Our results suggest that infrastructure spending can indeed create electoral support for a nascent dictatorship – it can win the “hearts and minds” of the populace. (Highway to Hitler)


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