Sorry for the delay in posting new topics. Been busy with life, work and other projects.
But this has been a question that I've been thinking a lot about lately, especially in regards to what is going on around the world right now: How do our beliefs and ideals change over time? And how much can a small group of people change an entire nation's ideology?
I'm not much of a social historian. I like my wars and battles and big momentous events, and I do believe, somewhat, in the "Great Man" theory of history, though not for every single event. However, I do recognize that underlaying social currents support the above, but I don't believe that changes in society and culture always directly lead to historical developments as some social historians like to claim.
In fact, I think major social changes can happen very quickly, and often with just a minor push in a certain direction, and often more willing to fall back to traditional forms, if modified, than to embrace new, foreign concepts.
The example I keep thinking about is Nazi Germany. The Germany of 1933 was in chaos, despite having one of the most democratic constitutions in the world. For decades, the belief was that more democracy is better, right? That's what the framers of the Weimar Republic must have been thinking when they wrote their constitution. With enough time to retrain the Monarchists, the Militarists, the Communists and the Nationalists to the benefits of a peaceful, inclusive government, then Germany would become a beacon of democracy. The problem, of course, was that it was running against hundreds of years of German history. But with time, of course...
But then Hitler and the Nazi's came, pushing very early on for a government lead by a strong leader (Hitler, of course, was sure it was going to be him) and to do away with the silly democracy. And enough Germans, using that silly democratic system, believed the Nazi's to vote them into power in 1933. Soon after, Hitler rendered the constitution moot, ruling as an absolute dictator, using a secret police, military expansion, propaganda and racism to strengthen his rule.
And millions of Germans went along with it, even though just a few years before they were willing to let the democratic experiment run it's course.
So what happened? To a degree, it was a retrenchment of old German and Prussian ideals: a strong military to defend the nation and bring glory, a strong, paternalistic leader to guide the people, suspicion of ideas of "liberty" and "democracy", and a belief that fate was with them. But it also had the more sinister anti-Semitism, violence, fear and blatant propaganda to go with it, and turned National Socialism into the sinister ideology that we hate today, the one that has devolved to the point where you would call someone you fundamentally hate and disagree with a "Nazi," wether they support that ideology or not.
But the thing is: had the Nazi's won World War Two, had Hitler conquered the world, he would have been right. Not because we are totally and completely wrong to the "true" nature of humanity, but because we would believe and accept it. It would have drilled into our heads in school, blared from our TV, radio, movies, and repeated, time and again, that Fascism, National Socialism, is the best thing in the world, the true ideology of humanity, and that Communism and Democracy were failed experiments at best, or worse: detrimental, vile and destructive ideologies out to destroy the world.
This is something to remember when looking at alternate history, and a pratfall that many (myself included) have fallen in: the winners write the history. They also can shift the social ideals through education and propaganda, they can make defeats into victories, or they can make victories in defeats. We today believe that democracy and capitalism is the best because it "won." We think it's natural because it's what the majority of the world believes. But at one point half the world thought that totalitarian dictatorships was the way to go, and centuries ago kings and emperors ruled the world. While racism is something that we still struggle with today, we recognize it as something we have to get rid of. In an alternate history, or even in the not-so-distant past, we actively encouraged it.
So when reading or writing an alternate history, remember that just because democracy, capitalism, free speech, free religion and others "won," that's not always the case. And in a few short years, it could be the other way entirely.