What FDR had in common with the other charismatic collectivists of the 30s. Excerpts:
On May 7, 1933, just two months after the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New York Times reporter Anne O'Hare McCormick wrote that the atmosphere in Washington was "strangely reminiscent of Rome in the first weeks after the march of the Blackshirts, of Moscow at the beginning of the Five-Year Plan..America today literally asks for orders." The Roosevelt administration, she added, "envisages a federation of industry, labor and government after the fashion of the corporative State as it exists in Italy." That article isn't quoted in Three New Deals, a fascinating study by the German cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch. But it underscores his central argument: that there are surprising similarities between the programs of Roosevelt, Mussolini, and Hitler.
With our knowledge of the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II, we find it almost impossible to consider such claims dispassionately. But in the 1930s, when everyone agreed that capitalism had failed, it wasn't hard to find common themes and mutual admiration in Washington, Berlin, and Rome, not to mention Moscow. (Three New Deals does not focus as much on the latter.) Nor is that a mere historical curiosity, of no great importance in the era following democracy's triumph over fascism, National Socialism, and communism. Schivelbusch concludes his essay with the liberal journalist John T. Flynn's warning, in 1944, that state power feeds on crises and enemies. Since then we have been warned about many crises and many enemies, and we have come to accept a more powerful and more intrusive state than existed before the '30s.....
In the North American Review in 1934, the progressive writer Roger Shaw described the New Deal as "Fascist means to gain liberal ends." He wasn't hallucinating. FDR's adviser Rexford Tugwell wrote in his diary that Mussolini had done "many of the things which seem to me necessary." Lorena Hickok, a close confidante of Eleanor Roosevelt who lived in the White House for a spell, wrote approvingly of a local official who had said, "If [President] Roosevelt were actually a dictator, we might get somewhere." She added that if she were younger, she'd like to lead "the Fascist Movement in the United States." At the National Recovery Administration (NRA), the cartel-creating agency at the heart of the early New Deal, one report declared forthrightly, "The Fascist Principles are very similar to those we have been evolving here in America."
Roosevelt himself called Mussolini "admirable" and professed that he was "deeply impressed by what he has accomplished." The admiration was mutual. In a laudatory review of Roosevelt's 1933 book Looking Forward, Mussolini wrote, "Reminiscent of Fascism is the principle that the state no longer leaves the economy to its own devices..Without question, the mood accompanying this sea change resembles that of Fascism." The chief Nazi newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter, repeatedly praised "Roosevelt's adoption of National Socialist strains of thought in his economic and social policies" and "the development toward an authoritarian state" based on the "demand that collective good be put before individual self-interest."
In 1973 one of the most distinguished American historians, John A. Garraty of Columbia University, created a stir with his article "The New Deal, National Socialism, and the Great Depression." Garraty was an admirer of Roosevelt but couldn't help noticing, for instance, the parallels between the Civilian Conservation Corps and similar programs in Germany. Both, he wrote, "were essentially designed to keep young men out of the labor market. Roosevelt described work camps as a means for getting youth `off the city street corners,' Hitler as a way of keeping them from `rotting helplessly in the streets.' In both countries much was made of the beneficial social results of mixing thousands of young people from different walks of life in the camps. Furthermore, both were organized on semimilitary lines with the subsidiary purposes of improving the physical fitness of potential soldiers and stimulating public commitment to national service in an emergency."
And in 1976, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan incurred the ire of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), pro-Roosevelt historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and The New York Times when he told reporters that "fascism was really the basis of the New Deal."
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