One of the great questions of modern American politics is why FDR’s administration and the New Deal were never properly connected with the political theory of fascism in general and Mussolini in particular. While doing some research, I found this article from Chronicles Magazine which does a fairly good job of laying out the historical facts:
Until Abyssinia, Mussolini was hailed as a genius and a superman on both sides of the Atlantic, primarily because of his economic and social policies. When FDR was inaugurated in March 1933, the world was praising Mussolini’s success in avoiding the Great Depression. Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust,” the architects of the New Deal, were fascinated by Italy’s fascism—a term which was not perjorative at the time. In America, it was seen as a form of economic nationalism built around consensus planning by the established elites in government, business, and labor.
American leaders were not very concerned with the undemocratic character of Mussolini’s regime. Fascism had “effectively stifled hostile elements in restricting the right of free assembly, in abolishing freedom of the press and in having at its command a large military organization,” the U.S. Embassy in Rome reported in 1925. But Mussolini remained a “moderate,” confronting the Bolsheviks while fending off extremists on the right. Ambassador Henry Fletcher saw only a choice between Mussolini and socialism, and the Italian people preferred fascist “peace and prosperity” to the “free speech and loose administration” that risked bringing Bolshevism to power. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg joined Fletcher in labeling all opposition groups as “communists, socialists, and anarchists.” The chief of the State Department’s Western European Division, William Castle, declared in 1926 that “the methods of the Duce are not by any means American methods,” but “methods which would certainly not appeal to this country might easily appeal to a people so differently constituted as are the Italians.”
As the political and social effects of the Great Depression hit Europe, Italy received mounting praise as a bastion of order and stability. “The wops are unwopping themselves,” Fortune magazine noted with awe in 1934. State Department roving Ambassador Norman Davis praised the successes of Italy in remarks before the Council on Foreign Relations in 1933, speaking after the Italian ambassador had drawn applause from his distinguished audience for his description of how Italy had put its “own house in order . . . A class war was put down.” Roosevelt’s ambassador to Italy, Breckenridge Long, was also full of enthusiasm for the “new experiment in government” which “works most successfully.” Henry Stimson (secretary of state under Hoover, secretary of war under Roosevelt) recalled that he and Hoover had found Mussolini to be “a sound and useful leader.” Roosevelt shared many of these positive views of “that admirable Italian gentleman,” as he termed Mussolini in 1933.
The most radical aspect of the New Deal was the National Industrial Recovery Act, passed in June 1933, which set up the National Recovery Administration. Most industries were forced into cartels. Codes that regulated prices and terms of sale transformed much of the American economy. The industrial and agricultural life of the country was to be organized by government into vast farm and industrial cartels. This was corporatism, the essence of fascism.
It may be argued that Roosevelt simply did what seemed politically expedient. But contemporaries knew what was in the making. Some liked it: Charles Beard freely admitted that “FDR accepts the inexorable collectivism of the American economy . . . national planning in industry, business, agriculture and government.” But detractors existed even within his own party. Democratic Sen. Carter Glass of Virginia denounced the NRA as “the utterly dangerous effort of the federal government at Washington to transplant Hitlerism to every corner of this nation.”
FDR’s New Deal united communists and fascists. Union leader Sidney Hillman praised Lenin as “one of the few great men that the human race has produced, one of the greatest statesmen of our age and perhaps of all ages.” Big-business partisan Gen. Hugh Johnson wanted America to imitate the “dynamic pragmatism” of Mussolini. Together, Hillman and Johnson developed the National Labor Relations Board. They shared a collectivist and authoritarian aversion for historical American principles of liberty.
Like fascist and communist dictators, Roosevelt relied on his own charisma, carefully and deceitfully developed, and the executive power of his office to stroke the electorate into compliance and to bludgeon his critics. His welfare projects went far beyond aid to the poor and wound up bribing whole sectors of American society—farmers, businessmen, banks, intellectuals—into dependence on him and the state he created. Through subsidies, wrote Richard Hofstadter, “a generation of artists and intellectuals became wedded to the New Deal and devoted to Rooseveltian liberalism.” Their corrupted descendants still thrive through federal endowments for the arts and humanities and in politically correct, federally funded academia. The only practical difference between FDR and fascist dictators was that he was far less successful in resolving the economic crisis. He made the Depression worse and even prolonged it. When he was elected, there were 11.6 million unemployed; seven years later, there were still 11.3 million out of work. In 1932, there were 16.6 million on relief; in 1939, there were 19.6 million. Only the war eventually ended the depression.
FDR was of course held as a sort of hero by many who lived though that generation. I know my grandparents were quite fond of him. It is no surprise that they refused to accept that the New Deal was based on the fascism developed by Mussolini. However now that their generation is passing from the scene, I think there is a lot that can be gained by drawing the connection which has been long delayed.
First of course, it would be a well deserved blow to the self-serving official American political narrative. Not only would it destroy the left’s bogyman of “fascism” always lurking just around the corner (“sorry, been there, done that already”), it would put on display their own fascination and support for it. It would also be a blow for the establishment right though: having long purported that American is a nation based on an Idea, it takes the cover off of the darker truth that America is more a country in search of an Idea. For the multiculturalists, it is worth remembering FDR was well known for taking the initiative to bring Blacks, Jews and others into his political alliance; there is nothing about multi-ethnicity which precludes fascism and statism. It also helps explain the weakness of the establishment to lobbying (and blackmail) that led to the 1965 immigration bill and other “inclusive” agenda.
In the end, the State is not our friend. MR’ers know that of course, but hopefully the sad tale of FDR’s effect on America can remind more average Americans of this as well. Statism and hard nationalism are no substitutes for our ethnic genetic interest. How to pursue it without the parasites of bureaucratism, corporatism, and other “discrete” groups piling on to feed is perhaps a harder question to answer.