Real liberals fight fascism

by Eric on April 27, 2015

Now, or recently, at newsagents

In the TLS for 17 April, you can find my essay on Nicholas Wapshott’s The Sphinx, about the presidential election of 1940, the isolationists, and how Franklin Roosevelt engineered the US shift toward war. The essay starts like this:

Franklin Roosevelt recognized the threat Adolf Hitler posed from the moment of the German Chancellor’s appointment. In January of 1933, Roosevelt—not yet inaugurated, though already elected, President—told an aide that Hitler’s ascent was “a portent of evil”, not just for Europe but “for the United States”. He “would in the end challenge us because his black sorcery appealed to the worst in men; it supported their hates and ridiculed their tolerances; and it could not exist permanently in the same world with a system whose reliance on reason and justice was fundamental:. From then onward, Roosevelt’s policies raced Hitler’s: the New Deal was not merely a programme for recovery from depression, but one to rebuild economic strength while preserving democracy in the United States so the nation would be ready to fight Nazism when the time came.

The New Deal gave Americans not only the material capacity to fight fascism, but faith in American institutions. Which is why, of course, the prevalence of remarks like this one remains so appalling.1

1Despite John’s extensive work; e.g.



Cassander 04.27.15 at 11:49 pm

FDR and various senior new dealers spoke often and admiringly of Mussolini’s Italy. Real liberals, it seems, only fight fascism when they aren’t busy emulating it.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 04.27.15 at 11:51 pm

If I recall correctly, the proposition that “the New Deal gave Americans not only the material capacity to fight fascism, but faith in American institutions,” was at least one of the animating arguments (or at least implications) of David M. Kennedy’s well-written book, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (Oxford University Press, 1999) . Those of us who’ve kept tabs on the political career and ambitions of Cruz of are not at all surprised that he is utterly clueless (i.e., uneducated and ill-informed) when it come to both Liberalism and fascism (among many other things!). [the article you link to is behind a paywall for nonsubscribers to TLS]


Staircaseghost 04.28.15 at 12:09 am

I was so desperately hoping the final two sentences of this piece were a rebuke to the facile remarks on the Hebdo murders in yesterday’s post by Corey Robin.

Maybe the HTML in your link was mis-attributed?


Kurt Schuler 04.28.15 at 12:18 am

Ted Cruz’s reference to “liberal fascism,” which you link to, is likely a conscious echo of Jonah Goldberg’s bestselling 2008 book of the same name. Goldberg in turn took his title from a 1932 speech at Oxford University by H. G. Wells, who was himself a liberal as the phrase was understood then and now in the United States. If you were not already aware of this, the first few results of a Google search for the phrase would have revealed it.


Kurt Schuler 04.28.15 at 12:39 am

All right, I see the footnote, at which I did not at first notice the link (old eyes, small screen), refers to Goldberg’s book. So delete my previous comment if you wish.


Ebenezer Scrooge 04.28.15 at 1:09 am

Cassander is half-right. The First New Deal was inspired by corporatism, in large part, and there were many adherents of Mussolini associated with it. But much of the bloom was off that rose by 1935, when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. I’m sure that Cassander’s political heroes never make a mistake.


Eric 04.28.15 at 1:15 am

“I don’t care so much about the Italians. They are a lot of opera singers, but the Germans are different, they may be dangerous.”—FDR

In more serious vein: So the NRA was corporatist. So, of course, is the American Bar Association, as well as every other professional licensing body, or the state contractors’ association, the cosmetology board, etc.

James Whitman is pretty good on corporatism, fascism, and the New Deal.


Eric 04.28.15 at 1:44 am

Kurt, I’m not sure that quoting Goldberg is a mitigating factor.


LFC 04.28.15 at 2:09 am

Until Kurt Schuler’s comment, I hadn’t known that Jonah Goldberg was alluding to a 1932 speech by H.G. Wells. My impression, based on a few things I’ve read about his book, is that Jonah Goldberg doesn’t understand much of anything, and that would include, presumably, H.G. Wells’s politics and the context in which Wells’s speech was made.

As for Ted Cruz, I found almost indescribably repulsive his announcement-of-candidacy speech delivered at Liberty University (parts of which I heard rebroadcast on CSpan radio). Unlike, e.g., Reagan, who actually believed much of the nonsense he spouted from, say, his 1964 speech for Goldwater through his own pronouncements as President, it’s hard to believe that Ted Cruz actually believes the public words coming out of his own mouth.


Sandwichman 04.28.15 at 2:10 am

“The First New Deal was inspired by corporatism…”

According to several of its architects (Rexford Tugwell, Frances Perkins & Leon Keyserling) the New Deal was more “inspired” by the desire to “get rid” of the Black-Connery 30-hours bill but to put something in its place that would placate the American Federation of Labor.


LFC 04.28.15 at 2:19 am

That James Whitman article, btw, for those who haven’t followed the link, is replete with the very long footnotes characteristic of law journals, in this case decked out with a lot of citations to works in German and Italian (as well as English).


Harold 04.28.15 at 3:58 am

Corporatism was a German and Italian invention, so naturally books about it would have been written in German and Italian. I always thought that Corporatism took off as a movement after it was endorsed by the Catholic Church in the 1890s.


Dean C. Rowan 04.28.15 at 4:23 am

Coincidentally, I’ve just read Kenneth Burke’s “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle.'” It appeared in “Southern Review” in 1939, I think. Upon reading it, I want to reconsider my glib appreciation of Mike Godwin’s “law.” Seems to me it makes some sense to resort to Hitler talk even today, even when we’re just arguing in good faith against crazy extremists. It’s hard to distinguish Burke’s Hitler from certain asshole politicians of 2015.


geo 04.28.15 at 5:42 am

Eric @7: FDR’s strategic assessment was echoed by John Foster Dulles, who described the Italians as “an asset to their enemies in every war.”


LFC 04.28.15 at 10:53 am

Corporatism was a German and Italian invention, so naturally books about it would have been written in German and Italian.

My remark was intended as complimentary, actually, and I’m aware that it was “a German and Italian invention” (though in this context appears to be more Italian). I was not surprised that there are Italian and German refs in the piece, though I suppose one cd imagine a law prof, without the history PhD that I’m guessing Whitman also may have and perhaps in a different journal, writing something about the subject that did not display the same linguistic facility and the same range of research.


Peter T 04.28.15 at 11:30 am

I’m not so sure that Roosevelt “engineered” the US shift towards war. Opinion polls of the time show a solid base for “helping England” even if this entailed war, rising steadily (from 35% in May 40 to 70% in September 40). Earlier polls show a high level of popular animosity towards Nazi Germany from 33 on.

Roosevelt certainly encouraged the trend, but he did not make it.


CP Norris 04.28.15 at 12:22 pm

I just can’t get behind this kind of cheerleading. It’s not that FDR was wrong anywhere in that process. But it still doesn’t merit jingoistic playground taunts. Maybe real liberals fight fascism, but they do so reluctantly, fully aware of the costs.


Eric 04.28.15 at 1:23 pm

Peter T, what makes you think Roosevelt had nothing to do with that steady rise in public opinion? This is the guy who, e.g., stage-managed George VI’s American visit.


Eric 04.28.15 at 1:24 pm

CP Norris, where do you see cheerleading? Or playground taunts?


John Holbo 04.28.15 at 1:46 pm

Hey Eric, thanks for posting and recalling good times! Ah, Jonah Goldberg. Man, I’ve got to make a post about some related stuff I’ve been thinking about …


Main Street Muse 04.28.15 at 2:14 pm

Ted Cruz’s remarks in the link provided by Eric: “Today’s Democratic Party has decided there is no room for Christians in today’s Democratic Party,” Cruz said at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition summit, according to The Hill. “There is a liberal fascism that is going after Christian believers.”

The Republican party is filled with fascists who have been flaming the fans of racism since the Reagan era. They want to trash the 1st amendment rights and expand the 2nd amendment – and they use inflammatory rhetoric like that used by Cruz to justify both.

Democracy in America could/should be used to support tolerance and all religions. Apparently the GOP wants intolerance and Christianity to rule the nation. In my own state, the NCGOP floated the idea of a state religion, until they realized the challenges involved with such a thing (a bigger discussion needed than to determine the state flower…)


Map Maker 04.28.15 at 2:27 pm

Dog whistle? Really, the abortion, gay rights, and other debates have left the station. Cruz playing to the minority of his voters doesn’t concern me a wit.

As for the alternative, if you consider Iran to be a religious-fascist government, they apparently have bought and paid for the leading liberal opponent of Cruz. Not that Hillary is swayed by millions of dollars in foreign government donations… it is all for a good cause.


John Holbo 04.28.15 at 2:28 pm

On second thought, I might as well mention what I’ve been reading along the same lines: a book on Dr. Seuss’ political cartoons for PM Magazine, “Dr. Seuss Goes To War”. You can see a lot of the cartoons via google:

I don’t think the book is any great shakes on the history, but I happened to be reading this bit, about Lend Lease, which gives some sense of the rather screwy politics in the run up to war:

“For the years 1941 and 1942, Dr. Seuss drew editorial cartoons for PM. PM was on the left in American politics, but what defined the spectrum? What were the issues? Who were the players? Fifty-two percent of those Americans eligible to vote went to the polls in November 1940 to vote in the presidential election pitting President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Democrat elected first in 1932 and reelected in 1936, against Wendell Willkie, a Democrat-turned-Republican. The war in Europe and Asia was a major issue. Should the United States oppose the Germans and aid the British? How? To what extent? At what risk? Willkie supported Roosevelt’s foreign policy— aid for Britain— but attacked New Deal social programs. The result was Roosevelt’s third victory and an unprecedented third term, although Roosevelt’s margin of victory was much narrower than in either 1932 or 1936: Willkie won 22,000,000 votes to Roosevelt’s 27,000,000 and eighty-two votes in the electoral college (in 1936, the Republican candidate had won eight). What is more, Republicans held on to most of their striking gains of 1938 in the House. Roosevelt won the election in part by promising not to take the United States into the war.

However, in his State of the Union address (January 6, 1941) President Roosevelt called for “full support of all those resolute peoples everywhere, who are resisting aggression and are thereby keeping war away from our hemisphere,” and he spoke disparagingly of the noninterventionists: “We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal preach the ‘ism’ of appeasement. We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests.” Four days later he submitted to Congress a bill to allow shipments on credit to Britain and other nations fighting Germany. This was the Lend-Lease Act, which, somewhat amended, passed Congress late in March. The House vote was 260-165, with 135 of 159 Republicans voting no; and the Senate vote was sixty to thirty-one, with seventeen of twenty-seven Republicans voting no.

The rhetoric was heated, in part because this was a significant step away from neutrality, in part because the bill as submitted gave the President great power. Senator Clark of Missouri, a Democrat like the President, stated: “It is simply a bill to authorize the President to declare war… and to establish a totalitarian government.” Senator LaFollette of Wisconsin, a Progressive, called the bill “a bill for Congress to abdicate.” Socialist leader Norman Thomas derided it as “dictatorship in the name of defending democracy.” Roosevelt’s long-time antagonist Republican Representative Hamilton Fish of New York said: “It looks as if we are bringing Nazism, fascism, and dictatorship to America and setting up a Führer here.” Roosevelt did have the support of Wendell Willkie, who as defeated Presidential nominee could claim to speak for the Republican Party. Where was the American public on the issue of war and peace? Public opinion polls show that from the start of the fighting in September 1939 the American public preferred a British to a German victory by an overwhelming margin, but by the same overwhelming margin the public opposed American entry into the war. Particularly after the fall of France in June 1940, a majority of the American public was willing to help the British cause by any means short of fighting. Germany’s military victories had increased public distaste for Hitler, but the public was not ready yet for war. Still, by 1941, when Dr. Seuss began drawing his editorial cartoons, the “isolationist” coalition had begun to fray badly.”

Minear, Richard H.; Seuss, Dr. (2013-09-10). Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel. The New Press. Kindle Edition.


Eric 04.28.15 at 2:39 pm

Hey, John.

Roosevelt won the election in part by promising not to take the United States into the war.

I don’t think that’s so. Roosevelt signed a draft law in the run-up to the election, he traded US destroyers to Britain for bases, in a deal that Willkie got awfully shrill about and made into an election issue.

Gallup did a poll asking who Americans would vote for if they believed no war was coming, and a majority said Willkie. Gallup said, if you think a war is coming, who would you vote for: and a majority said Roosevelt. Inasmuch as Roosevelt won the election, it seems quite likely that voters chose him because they wanted him as a war leader.

It’s true, Roosevelt equivocated, especially when talking to a Boston chock full of Irish voters. Throughout the campaign he said he wouldn’t send American boys to foreign wars except in case of attack. In Boston he omitted “in case of attack,” and when pressed on that, he said, if there were an attack, it wouldn’t be a foreign war. But that’s well short of a promise there wouldn’t be a war.


TM 04.28.15 at 2:41 pm

A large segment of the American right and of the GOP are fascist in their rhetoric and probably in their goals. What I wonder is, why is it thought impermissible to call them what they are, fascists? How is it possible that in today’s political landscape, a homophobic politician can get away with calling equal rights for gays “fascism”?

Regarding Cruz’s “religious liberty” meme:

Before reading this, I hadn’t known quite how much Italian fascism relied on the support of the religious.


JAFD 04.28.15 at 2:43 pm

From reading what the ‘defense intellectuals’ wrote in the winter of 1939-40 (Hanson Baldwin’s _The Caissons Roll_ is good for a world overview, George Fielding Elliot’s _The Ramparts We Watch_ on the nuts and bolts of US defenses), one may conclude that they thought:
the French Army can hold the line in Europe
the Royal Navy guards the Atlantic
the US Navy holds the Pacific, and
citizens of the USA can sleep soundly

The Fall of France was a shock to the US ‘elites’, and probably made them realize that US involvement in WWII was inevitable – see the “Two-Ocean Navy Act”, for example.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 04.28.15 at 2:58 pm

And that’s why we should fight the TPP.


John Holbo 04.28.15 at 3:03 pm

Hey Eric,
Hmmm. That’s interesting. I don’t think I have studied this particular issue since AP US History in high school. Lend Lease and all. I vaguely remembered I was taught it the way that passage went, roughly. Roosevelt promised to keep us out because he thought that’s what the voters wanted, while doing stuff to prepare and that was likely to lead to involvement.

I am more bothered to read this in the book:

“From 1927 to 1941 Dr. Seuss lived in New York City. He drew humor cartoons for an obscure humor magazine, Judge, which billed itself as “the world’s wittiest weekly,” and occasionally for more prestigious journals such as the Saturday Evening Post.”

Dammit, “Judge” was not an obscure humor magazine!


John Holbo 04.28.15 at 3:11 pm

Obviously I’m not seriously suggesting your correction is wrong because of something I half-remember from high school history. I trust that you are more likely to be right.

Also, it doesn’t really matter that “Judge” had a very healthy circulation and a good reputation. But Harold Ross started there, damnit! Does that count for nothing! Zim! Outcault! These are names to conjure with!


LFC 04.28.15 at 3:13 pm

Peter @16
I don’t know the polling data, but FDR would have liked to bring the U.S. formally into the war before Dec. 1941 and wasn’t able to. In the late summer of 1941, trying to prod public opinion, he lied (via radio) about an incident involving the destroyer USS Greer, which, along with a British plane that dropped depth charges, had been chasing a German submarine in the N. Atlantic. Roosevelt said the German submarine fired first on the Greer (implying the attack was unprovoked) without mentioning that the Greer had been chasing the sub. It was also not clear whether the crew of the German submarine knew the Greer was an American ship, though FDR said the destroyer’s identity was “unmistakable”. (Source: summary of the episode in J. Mearsheimer, Why Leaders Lie (2011), pp.46-7)


Shelley 04.28.15 at 3:14 pm

Wow: “supported their hates and ridiculed their tolerances”–that packs a punch.

Political language that actually has thought behind it can be so powerful. Why do we hear so little of it?


Eric 04.28.15 at 3:25 pm

Judge was good!


casmilus 04.28.15 at 3:43 pm

As it’s too late to add this to the discussion of the Goldberg book when it came out, you may be interested to know it got a negative review from one fairly intelligent conservative:


cassander 04.28.15 at 3:50 pm


>But much of the bloom was off that rose by 1935, when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia. I’m sure that Cassander’s political heroes never make a mistake

The bloom fell off because of his foreign policy, not because the new dealers fell out of love with corporatism. And spending years admiring fascists (to say nothing of how rhapsodic that same crowd was about Stalin’s Russia) is more than a mistake. It’s not some gaffe, it speaks to a fundamental worldview that worships power and yearns to exercise it. Such men are dangerous, and should be scorned, not celebrated.


bianca steele 04.28.15 at 4:10 pm

In the quotes above Cruz is drawing on a libertarian idea that’s being supported by big business non-libertarian corporatists on the right because it doesn’t challenge them and they can persuade even themselves that they’re really libertarians, and not corporatists, themselves. People who think like that are frequently small business owners and small scale bosses, not persecuted pious believers who just want to live quiet lives, following age old traditions or doing what they’re told by people who rightly have more power. (Any time someone tells them what to do, they shriek “LIBERAL!” and run, like Goldberg does.)

On the larger picture, it’s really too bad that a whole bunch of ideas in different areas, which a lot of different kinds of people found variously appealing to some extent in different ways, got mashed down into “fascism” and “Communism” and then (with the “end of ideology”) swept under the carpet altogether.


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 4:29 pm

cassander @ 33

What Roosevelt and the New Dealers did not scorn was responsibility, and in this they stood stark contrast to both the economic reactionaries in domestic policy and the isolationists in foreign policy.

Just as Hoover watched uncomprehendingly, between fishing trips, as the dubious virtue of maintaining the gold standard drove a three-year deflation that destroyed the economy, the isolationists stupidly and cravenly sought to evade the implications of first the impending and then the actual conflagration in Europe, as well as the menace in East Asia.

The NIRA, that established the NRA, came with a two-year expiration data anyway, and the New Dealers abandoned it when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1935. Fascist corporatism was intended to submerge labor activism, effectively disabling trade unions. Mussolini sought to impose top-down control, making all but Fascist Party labor organizations illegal. By contrast, the New Dealers salvaged the labor provisions of the NIRA in the Wagner Act, which sheltered a massive growth in industrial trade unions.

Of course, the freedom to engage in collective bargaining is not one cassander would recognize.


bob mcmanus 04.28.15 at 5:13 pm

Just as Hoover watched uncomprehendingly

I doubt it. Just finishing Adam Tooze’s The Deluge, and of course the scholars can correct me, but there was a strategy of indirect and cheap hegemony, and Hoover had been one of it’s architects from the beginning.

1) Europe would be a mess, and would be a distraction from Asia. Wait until the fools had destroyed themselves before stepping in to gain power and prestige over the ruins.

2) The two empires (US and Russia) were a undisputed fact by the mid-twenties. It was also a fact that aggressive imperialism, including European commie revolutions, would fail and was over. They would control the world not with settler colonialism or garrisons but with ideological hegemony, naval and eventually air supremacy, and economic, financial, and monetary power.

3) Everybody else, especially Germany, Italy and Japan but including Britain and France, were really trying to come to grips with what kind of subservient client states they would become. There were the delusional, who thought they might be regionally competitive, but at least the Japanese understood it was only a question of how much, however little, sovereignty and independence they could retain. Answer: none.

4) Like I said, this global strategy started with Wilson, if not before. Hoover was an important player, food relief, during and immediately after WWI. It was no secret, rather common knowledge and has lasted to this day.

5) I have no doubt FDR understood and played this Great game from the very beginning. Empire are us.


cassander 04.28.15 at 5:30 pm

Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 4:29 pm

>and the New Dealers abandoned it when the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1935.

No they didn’t. they re-passed half of it in the form of the wagner act, with the NLRB inheriting the legal precedents and much of the staff of the labor side of the NRA.

>Fascist corporatism was intended to submerge labor activism, effectively disabling trade unions. Mussolini sought to impose top-down control, making all but Fascist Party labor organizations illegal.

It was also intended to suppress capital. In fact, suppressing both was the central idea of the fascist state, having the state serve as the neutral arbiter between capital and labor, acting for the good of all, essentially the big unit economy idea so popular among the left in the post war era.

>the New Dealers salvaged the labor provisions of the NIRA in the Wagner Act, which sheltered a massive growth in industrial trade unions.

and now you try to have it both ways. did the new dealers abandon corporatism or didn’t they? I say they didn’t, before you were claiming they did.

>Of course, the freedom to engage in collective bargaining is not one cassander would recognize.

How pleasant of you to tell me what my ideas are! Tell me, what do I feel like having for dinner tonight?

Of course, this is nonsense. You have every right to bargain with whomever you like. What you don’t have the right to do is to use the law to force people who don’t want to be part of your group to join it, which is what the wagner act does.


>I doubt it. Just finishing Adam Tooze’s The Deluge, and of course the scholars can correct me, but there was a strategy of indirect and cheap hegemony, and Hoover had been one of it’s architects from the beginning.

Tooze’s book is brilliant, but it makes considerably less of an argument for agency than you are implying. In fact, one of the things I like about it is the lengths it goes to portray american actions as motivated by domestic political concerns, not grand strategy.

>2) The two empires (US and Russia) were a undisputed fact by the mid-twenties.

this is simply incorrect. in the USSR in the mid 20s was decidedly weaker than the russian empire had been, with far less territory and lower industrial output. Soviet empire would not be an undisputed fact until the lend lease equipped red army looted then decided not to leave eastern europe.


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 5:33 pm

LFC @ 30: FDR would have liked to bring the U.S. formally into the war before Dec. 1941

FDR, to his credit, combined his management of public opinion, with a remarkably clear grasp of the need to prepare the country for war in organizational and material terms. The great problem of public opinion from 1938 on was never which side to take — it was to raise sufficient alarm about the immediacy of the threat that measures of military preparation and — especially — industrial mobilization could go forward with sufficient scale and scope. FDR was always struggling both against the possibility of a political reaction forming among isolationists and the far right that would prevent preparation, and against the deep complacency and longing for a relief from crisis that seemed to sink much of the country into a quiet denial. The latter was as much or more of an obstacle as the mostly feeble efforts of the isolationists.

The deep strategic reality of industrial war was that it was not possible to win a war, until an industrial mobilization was largely complete, and that was a process that would require both time and a mass mobilization of the population. And, it proved very difficult to execute industrial mobilization on the scale necessary, without the mass mobilization of the population, and mass mobilization of the population required a degree of alarm, that Americans resisted. Isolationism was a possible valence for political expression of that resistance, and FDR worked hard to disable it, even while he attempted to open the space for both military and naval preparations and industrial mobilization in advance of the outset of war.

One initial problem was moving the U.S. naval defense perimeter forward in the Atlantic and warding off the possibility of a fascist ally of the European dictators emerging in South America to flank the U.S. As the war in Europe ignited, with the surprise that the Soviet Union had taken a neutral position, collapse of France and Britain became a real possibility, and France actually did collapse, and any frank assessment had to doubt the ability or will of Britain to persist.

In mid-1940, before the Presidential election, FDR brought in Stimson, Hoover’s Secretary of State as Secretary of War and Alf Landon’s Vice-Presidential candidate, Frank Knox, as Secretary of the Navy, and the two of them went around making alarming speeches calling for American entry into the War. The need to raise alarm had much to do with the difficulty of motivating the industrial mobilization then underway, but stymied by businessmen, who simply did not understand either the urgency or the scale of effort required.

The psychological or philosophical question of whether FDR “wanted” early entry into the war is almost eclipsed by the reality that the U.S. was not sufficiently prepared for war to back a nominal entry into the war with actual war-fighting. The possible collapse of Britain loomed over the American strategic position, and the possible collapse of the Soviet Union was simply added to the mix, when Hitler attacked Stalin.

FDR was threading a needle of strategic planning and preparation, behind the stage where he was managing his brilliant and far-sighted articulation of war aims.


mpowell 04.28.15 at 5:37 pm

Everybody else, especially Germany, Italy and Japan but including Britain and France, were really trying to come to grips with what kind of subservient client states they would become. There were the delusional, who thought they might be regionally competitive, but at least the Japanese understood it was only a question of how much, however little, sovereignty and independence they could retain. Answer: none.

Mcmanus does not disappoint on this thread.


bob mcmanus 04.28.15 at 5:49 pm

I question the tropes of isolationism and under-industrialisation, although there was certainly unused capacity.

One example I could use would be steel and scrap metal, industries in America gaining great profits 1937-1940 from shipping to Japan for use against China.

The problems these industrialists might have been facing would be retooling for European and US military sales, and getting paid in War Bonds (? ) and British/Russian debt instruments (with lessons remembered from just 20 years ago).

They weren’t necessarily “isolationist”, just making great money from the int’l trade to fools killing each other, and wondering why they had to take a side. Bad business.


MPAVictoria 04.28.15 at 5:52 pm

“Mcmanus does not disappoint on this thread.”


bob mcmanus 04.28.15 at 5:57 pm

39: You want quotes from the Tooze? Actually he provides quotes from the players, Lloyd George, Poincare, Stresemann.. I am taking notes.

The useful myth has been created that Germany and Japan were real threats to the US and the world. We might be speaking German in Texas if it weren’t for Audie Murphy. They never ever had the resources, or could ever control the resources, to be a threat.

It wasn’t trivial, but as far as existential war making goes, the US handled the upstarts fairly easily. 30-40% of the population, GDP halved for a generation…the losers had a difficult war.


TM 04.28.15 at 6:07 pm

McM 36: “The two empires (US and Russia) were a undisputed fact by the mid-twenties.”

This is grotesquely anachronistic. The young Soviet Union was fighting for its survival and at this time couldn’t even stand up to Poland. I’ll stop there. Let’s not allow the thread to be hijacked.


TM 04.28.15 at 6:09 pm

42: “the losers had a difficult war”, as opposed to the “undisputed empire” Russia, right?


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 6:11 pm

bob mcmanus

You’re so cute when you’re being ferocious, but when you give cassander opportunities to be right about anything, I judge you’ve gone too far.


bianca steele 04.28.15 at 6:13 pm

In McManus’s defense, with regard at least to Japan, I think I’ve read that Japan did anticipate being subjugated to the West (probably with support from statements by Americans) and that fascism and empire were a kind of last ditch effort to escape subjugation by doing the subjugation themselves. W/r/t Germany, I doubt that was the case. Earlier they had perceived themselves as a bulwark against Enlightenment and liberal values, but arguably the West had decided by the end of WWI to leave them alone, and perhaps that’s even why they felt a need to turn to internal enemies as persecutors. (Though this argument seems to run orthogonal to any argument that might take account of Communism.) Arguably it was France that assumed the inevitably of subjugation, I’d have thought.


bob mcmanus 04.28.15 at 6:18 pm

43: The point of Russia, or the young USSR, as Dmitry Orlov likes to say, is that it couldn’t be invaded and defeated, as Napoleon and Hitler, and in the early twenties, the Entente found out. The Entente + Japan certainly wanted to kill the USSR, but just couldn’t afford it without American leadership. They all knew it was just a matter of time, which was true.

Here’s a quote from Tooze:

But since the days of the Belgian relief operation, bringing succour to starving Europeans had become something of an American speciality. With world food markets in free fall, there were huge surpluses of grain to dispose of. Already in July 1921, Herbert Hoover, the master of emergencies, began to mobilize his well-proven Relief Administration. From Moscow’s point of view, precisely because Washington was so squeamish about official contacts, American aid had definite attractions.5 So long as Hoover was free to operate as he saw fit, there were minimal conditions attached. The scale of this American relief organization meant that Hoover could operate in Russia with no need for collaboration with the Soviet authorities. On 18 August 1921, only two days after Lloyd George had issued his appeal for a common front, the Soviets accepted Hoover’s offer of aid. For the next 12 months, 10 million Russians were fed by America.

But if there was one common denominator in all these frustrations it was the overshadowing of the European power states – a model originating in seventeenth-century Europe and imported to Asia by Japan – by the challenges of a new era and the rise in the form of the United States of a different focus of economic, political and military authority. As a memo compiled by the British Foreign Office put it in November 1928: ‘Great Britain is faced in the United States of America with a phenomenon for which there is no parallel in our modern history – a state twenty-five times as large, five times as wealthy, three times as populous, twice as ambitious, almost invulnerable, and at least our equal inprosperity, vital energy, technical equipment, and industrial science. This state has risen to its present state of development at a time when Great Britain is still staggering from the effects of the superhuman effort made during the war, is loaded with a great burden of debt, and is crippled by the evil of unemployment.’ However frustrating it might be to search for cooperation with the United States, the conclusion could not be avoided: ‘in almost every field, the advantages to be derived from mutual co-operation are greater for us than for them’. If this was true for Britain and its empire, it was all the more so for all the other, once great powers. The question it posed for all of the m was the same. If confrontation was not an option, what would be the terms of ‘mutual cooperation’ under this new dispensation?

Hoover was no fool, he just had a different idea of the timing.

(I was going to complain about Whitman leaving 20s-30s Japan out of the analysis of “corporatism,” but I haven’t got much myself on the contemporary native theorization of the relationship between the gov’t and zaibatsu. It’s complicated and sparse.)


William Timberman 04.28.15 at 6:29 pm

Things about this thread that bother me….

1) Bruce Wilder’s story of how history evolves is admirably complete and subtle enough for any sophisticate, but seems nevertheless to rely on a deus ex machina, namely that of competence in high places. The story as I hear it goes something like this: by the time the people actually knew what they wanted, the means of securing it would have been beyond their reach. Therefore, and most fortunately, FDR….. (So why FDR? Divine intervention, a fortuitous, but paradoxically inevitable extrusion of governing institutions in their prime, or what? Methinks the institutionalist needs to clarify.)

2) In retrospect, bob mcmanus can explain everything as forces and vectors — no need for great man theory, or the contingency of mortal decision-making, or the luck of the draw. In retrospect. So what about us poor schlubs who have to stumble through events like this in real time? Are we merely the deluded useful idiots of historical-forces-beyond-our-control? And who elected such a dyspeptic as the arbiter of retrospective historical elegance? (Put smiley-face here.)

Believe it or not, these are affectionate questions. No one in his right mind, or possessed of an IQ above room temperature, would ever ask cassander a question — at least not when anything significant was dependent on the answer.


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 6:29 pm

bob mcmanus @ 36

American political elites were deeply interested in an active policy in China and the Far East and policy had a long continuum. FDR’s family fortune was founded by his maternal grandfather in the China trade, Hong Kong and opium — he could scarcely have been ignorant of the ins and outs. When he brought Stimson in as Secretary of War, he was returning Stimson to an office the Republican had held under Taft. Stimson had also been Secretary of State under Hoover, responsible for the Stimson Doctrine of non-recognition of international territorial changes that were executed by force, with regard to Japanese aggressions against China. Hoover, you may recall, had once been chief engineer for the Chinese Bureau of Mines, as well as general manager for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation and was fluent in Mandarin Chinese.


LFC 04.28.15 at 6:43 pm

mcmanus @42

The useful myth has been created that Germany and Japan were real threats to the US and the world. … They never ever had the resources, or could ever control the resources, to be a threat.

Germany and Japan were (obviously) threats to Europe and Asia; whether they were existential threats to the U.S. is doubtful. However, there was a moral dimension to the argument for fighting vs. Nazi Germany (and imperial Japan), and the moral argument did not depend on geopolitical (or economic) considerations. (Note that the way the Allies conducted the war is not relevant to the question whether there was a moral case for the U.S. entering the war: those are two separate issues.)

On the geopolitics, Perry Anderson’s discussion of Spykman and Art in ‘Imperium’, New Left Review, Sept/Oct 2013, pp.13ff., is interesting.


Trader Joe 04.28.15 at 6:59 pm

@48 WT

Isn’t part of the answer to your querries is that “in real time” we rarely realize we’re watching a great man at work. No doubt any number of conteporary accounts thought program X would fail or program Y was too this or too that. Idiocy can often be perceived in real time, greatness is often much more subtle.

Maybe said differently, had Wilkie somehow carried the election in ’40 would he have been deft enough to capitalize on the FDRs well laid plans or would he have squandered them in a way that would have materially changed the way in which we ultimately came to be involved in the war?

As a different counterfactual, there were any number of pundits ready to crown Reagan in 1988 for his foresight in “winning the cold war” its only the accumulation of a few years that allow us to assess the full costs and impacts of that victory.

Good questions.


bob mcmanus 04.28.15 at 7:15 pm

48: I looked really hard, but can’t find the radical feminist article I read, I thought at New Inquiry in Bady’s Sunday Reading, about coffeepots and rocks having agency. It has to do with taking agency as being a dynamic space-time social/material field rather than a individualized singularity. Or, in other words, historical materialism.

Anyway, before Eric bans me, I’m outahere. Gotta finish the Tooze, and I really do have a sad about the Japanese pre-war corporatism. Too much social history and not enough Mitsui.


LFC 04.28.15 at 8:08 pm

To expand slightly on my comment @51, cribbed from P. Anderson, ‘Imperium’: Spykman argued in America’s Strategy in World Politics, written shortly before Pearl Harbor, that the U.S. faced possible ‘economic strangulation’ if the Axis won in Europe. R. Art argued, originally in a 2005 Security Studies article (“The U.S., the Balance of Power, and WW2: Was Spykman Right?”) that Spykman’s assessment was wrong, but that entry into the war nonetheless made sense b.c it ensured the postwar “encirclement” of the USSR. None of this, however, is pertinent to the moral argument(s) for intervention.


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 8:16 pm

William Timberman @ 48

Incompetence in high places may be the more powerful explanator, but remains less pleasant to recount. Still, great men are made great in the sequence of history by the foregoing failures of fools. (Notice how I seamlessly introduce alliteration even when it serves no purpose.)

Charles I made Cromwell; James II made the Glorious Revolution; Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan (and Jefferson Davis) made Lincoln. Chamberlain made Churchill. Heinrich Brüning went a long way toward making he who will not be named.

Hoover’s stubborn adherence to the gold standard made possible FDR’s 100 days. Even more, Woodrow Wilson’s bollixed attempts to centrally manage the industrial war effort in WWI and his ill-fated attempts to teach Europe’s statesmen a new game, informed FDR’s management of industrial mobilization in WWII and his articulation of war aims that featured the United Nations.

No one really knows what they are doing in this life, and political leaders who are always acting in the push-pull of contested environments may be as uncertain of intentions as of consequences. It is Whiggish of me, I suppose, but I admire those, who see the emergent systems imperfectly coordinating human activity failing and look to redesign or repair them instead of just playing harder at a game with manifest bad consequences, because they are willing to acknowledge human responsibility for the consequences of how those systems are working. The alternatives are 1.) reactionary persistence without guilt or reflection, perhaps combined with greedy disregard of consequences for others, 2.) a laissez faire nullity that trusts god (however you may conceive Her) to choose, combined with some notion of an appeasing virtue or sacrifice, (and hypocrisy about a greedy selfishness) 3.) . . . [probably there are a bunch of others, who has time for a catalog anyway?]

I was serious in my reply to cassander to the effect that a sense of responsibility matters.

FDR’s genius was not in knowing what to do in most cases, but in knowing that something must be tried, something must be prepared, combined with a willingness to move forward with a combination of high principle and improvisation. FDR is often accused of lying to the American People about his intentions with regard to the war, but I think mostly what he did was obfuscate with creative ambiguity with regard to how the high principles with which he led in his rhetoric would eventually connect with policy and cases concretely down the road.

He didn’t allow pure speculation about contexts and cases that had not come to pass become a basis for political attack, nor did he commit himself unnecessarily to specific programs. Even after programs were put into place, he regarded them as experimental and tentative and subject to termination or further evolution, which they were. Politically, this approach, combined with attention to dividing responsibility among subordinates in a way that brought critical decisions back to him, allowed him to retain flexibility.

In the great sweep of history, the First World World marked the collapse of the ancien regime across a great swath of Europe, but also marked the slightly less abject failure of a liberalism too much tied up with a corrupt and ignorant spirit of laissez faire to do an adequate job of building a new world and domestic order. Considering what the 1920s vomited out in response, FDR does seem a miraculous exception. Slender threads . . .


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 8:24 pm

P.S. It did help FDR’s performance tremendously that WWII was a do-over.


cassander 04.28.15 at 8:25 pm


>I was serious in my reply to cassander to the effect that a sense of responsibility matters.

“first do no harm” as a principle is not an abdication of responsibility, but the opposite. the NRA, in particular, did enormous damage and undid the good effects of other new deal programs, like going off the gold standard, the WPA, and the FDIC. “they had good intentions” is not an excuse for bad results.

>but I think mostly what he did was obfuscate with creative ambiguity with regard to how the high principles with which he led in his rhetoric would eventually connect with policy and cases concretely down the road.

this is true, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t incredibly dishonest. Obfuscation was FDR’s standard method of operating, and he was a master at keeping balls in the air so that all the power would remain in his hands. that he kept up the act for 12 years is certainly impressive, but hardly admirable, and it had severe consequences after his death.

>, but also marked the slightly less abject failure of a liberalism too much tied up with a corrupt and ignorant spirit of laissez faire to do an adequate job of building a new world and domestic order

Liberalism did not fail, it was found politically unpopular and not tried.


cassander 04.28.15 at 8:40 pm


>P.S. It did help FDR’s performance tremendously that WWII was a do-over.

what helped more was the US having almost as much industrial capacity as all the other combatants put together, a rather stark contrast from the first world war when much american equipment was supplied from british and french factories.


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 8:42 pm

cassander: “first do no harm” as a principle is not an abdication of responsibility

“Do that which is harmful and deny responsibility for the consequences” was the principle I was referring to as an abdication of responsibility.

As in your desire to eviscerate collective bargaining with “right to work” laws and call the resulting oppression of working people, “freedom”.

cassander: Liberalism did not fail, it was found politically unpopular and not tried.

Something was tried. Frequently with a vengeance, as in the grim determination to brave deflations to return to and maintain a gold(-exchange) standard. And, . . . surprise! . . . massive unemployment was unpopular.

And, why? Because “first do harm”? Hardly. The spirit was more along the lines of pretend no one is responsible for managing the currency, banking, finance or the payments system, so that a few enormously wealthy, greedy and irresponsible folks can fleece and defraud everyone else. And, if the whole world economy crashes — well, “oops!” and double-down. hoocoodenode, anyway?


bob mcmanus 04.28.15 at 8:44 pm

Oh, two final quotes from Tooze:


Furthermore, the Geneva Protocols had produced a startlingly hostile reaction from Washington. Rather than welcoming the European initiative, Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes responded that given the stiffness of the proposed sanctions mechanism, the United States would have to regard the League as potentially hostile. The US would not tolerate a maritime blockade unilaterally imposed by the British and French navies, even if this had the backing of the League of Nations. For the British the jeopardy in which they had found themselves during 1916, facing a potentially hostile United States in a transatlantic stand-off, had come to seem a nightmare that they must avoid at all costs. The only solution agreeable to Hughes was for Washington to be given a veto over the implementation of any League sanctions. But as Chamberlain pointed out, that would be to place Washington on a par with the collective authority of the League and would thus confer on the United States the status of a ‘super-State . . . a court of appeal from all proceedings of the League’. When Britain’s ambassador in America, Sir Esme Howard, replied that ‘we all have to face facts sometime’, Chamberlain shot back that ‘there is a difference between recognition of a fact and public proclamation of its consequences’

At the first modern National Congress of the Guomindang Party in January 1924, 10 per cent of the delegates and 25 per cent of the central executive committee members were Communist. Sun Yat-sen opened the conference with a proclamation of anti-imperialism. As a sign of respect the Congress adjourned for three days to mourn Lenin’s death that month. The Soviets reciprocated amply. To make good on Lenin’s vision of a United Front, they dispatched over 1,000 advisors and $40 million in funds to back their new allies, a far larger commitment of revolutionary resources than Moscow had ever attempted in Europe. On the Soviet model, the Guomindang set about constructing a politicized military. The Soviet civil-war hero Vasily Blyukher acted as chief military advisor. Sun Yat-sen dispatched his up-and-coming new military leader Chiang Kai-shek for training to Moscow. To indoctrinate the rank and file, party cells were organized within each military unit. A newly founded military academy on Whampoa Island was to shape a young generation of Nationalist military leaders. The school’s political commissar was Zhou Enlai, who had joined the Communist Party and become a loyal agent of the Comintern whilst on a work-study scholarship to Paris and Berlin in 1919.

The Soviets in China 20s/30s was really complicated, and partly why Trotsky got the hatchet. But the Comintern turned eastward very early, and they were pretty damn good at what they did. Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-Shek had a lot of warlord competition in 1925.

The point being that the post-WWII dispensation is not a matter of hindsight (nor was WWII itself, which in some form was expected almost immediately after Versailles), but pretty well foreseeable by 1925. Both the US and USSR were setting about dissolving all the old empires, making sure no new empires could arise. WWII was a finalization of the spheres of influence.

Japan was far from worried only about American hegemony. To a very large extent, Imperial Japan saw itself fighting Global Communism in China, and was pretty resentful and suspicious about the lack of Western support.

Add usual disclaimers about evil, although I try to avoid moralism with the affairs of nations. What was FDR’s plan? My suspicion is that he was much more Wilsonian and hegemonic than his admirers admit.


cassander 04.28.15 at 8:57 pm

>“Do that which is harmful and deny responsibility for the consequences” was the principle I was referring to as an abdication of responsibility.

Which is precisely what FDR and company did, the NRA is immensely harmful, terrible policy, and they denied responsibility and blamed others.

>As in your desire to eviscerate collective bargaining with “right to work” laws and call the resulting oppression of working people, “freedom”.

You consider forcing people into unions is now freedom? Is war now peace? Have we always been at war with eastasia?

>Something was tried. Frequently with a vengeance, as in the grim determination to brave deflations to return to and maintain a gold(-exchange) standard. And, . . . surprise! . . . massive unemployment was unpopular.

>The spirit was more along the lines of pretend no one is responsible for managing the currency, banking, finance or the payments system, so that a few enormously wealthy, greedy and irresponsible folks can fleece and defraud everyone else.

every major country in europe and the US had a central bank at that point. no one was pretending that they weren’t controlling and centrally managing finance. going back to the gold standard at pre-war rates was not “first do no harm” it was “worry about the harm later, but first let’s have some great power dick waving.” It was about prestige, not liberalism, at least in every country besides the US. And in the US, the policy wasn’t harmful domestically. First do no harm would have been resuming the gold standard at rates that bore some semblance of reality and admitting that the war had been paid for with a giant inflation tax.


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 9:03 pm

cassander @ 57: the NRA, in particular, did enormous damage and undid the good effects of other new deal programs

Rubbish. NRA did not last long enough to do any such thing. It served purpose enough in creating a sense of social and political solidarity in the depths of the crisis. At a time, when less than one-third of the labor force had anything like stable and reliable full-time employment, those blue signs served to allay the fear and social hostility that might well consume a society on the verge of breakdown. The cartelization, which was never carried through anyway, was completely reversed later on in the New Deal under Thurman Arnold’s aggressive antitrust enforcement, adoption of Robinson-Patman, and so on.


cassander 04.28.15 at 9:13 pm

>Rubbish. NRA did not last long enough to do any such thing.

the NRA torpedoed the nascent economic boost that going off the gold standard. two years was plenty of time, as scott sumner has rather thoroughly demonstrated.

>those blue signs served to allay the fear and social hostility that might well consume a society on the verge of breakdown

If the signs had been all there were, the program might have been a great success. unfortunately. the empirical evidence runs to the contrary. the massive rule making process stopped the industrial recovery that had occurred flat in its tracks, and when the wagner act re-imposed in the labor portions of the NRA in 37 (wagner was passed in 35, but largely ignored before the supreme court upheld it in 37) there was a similar drop off.


cassander 04.28.15 at 9:14 pm

Bah, that should read “the NRA torpedoed the nascent economic boost that was caused by going off the gold standard”


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 9:18 pm

cassander: And in the US, the [gold standard] wasn’t harmful domestically.



cassander 04.28.15 at 9:25 pm

>Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 9:18 pm
cassander: And in the US, the [gold standard] wasn’t harmful domestically.

It became harmful in 30s, it wasn’t harmful in the immediate post war era.


Bruce Wilder 04.28.15 at 9:34 pm

cassander @ 63

scott sumner is a certifiable idiot and your other assertions are crossing a line

This is where I stop and get off your thread hijack. You’ll get no more from me.


Cassander 04.28.15 at 9:56 pm

Yes, insults are always the best answer to evidence. Way to take the high road!


William Timberman 04.28.15 at 10:01 pm

BW @ 55, bob mcm @ 53, 60

So…. We don’t, as individuals, know what we’re doing, but in the doing of it — and we should always be aware that not-doing is itself a form of doing — history unfolds. Before we realize it, it’s all over us like a cheap suit. This I get, as it accords far too well with my own limited experience. It’s also comfortingly Shakespearian, as in:

I’ll have grounds
More relative than this—the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.

or, when things are turning out really rotten, maybe this:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

In the orderly processes of historical materialism, according to bob, even coffee pots and rocks have Buddha nature. It’s just that, according to BW, as very modern major generals political scientists measure such things, FDR had rather more of it, and GWB rather less. In which case, I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be… is as good an excuse as any for the latter, but it hardly serves, I think, as a convincing explanation for the former.

I guess what I’m looking for here is some sort of mash-up of your two views of the interchange between collective interaction and individual will. If so, I should probably stop whining and come up with my own — you guys have already done your jobs, at least well enough to bedevil my own sense of hey-wait-a-minute.


Manju 04.28.15 at 10:33 pm

Dog whistle? Really, the abortion, gay rights, and other debates have left the station. Cruz playing to the minority of his voters doesn’t concern me a wit.

SSM has left the station. The pro side is at 54% and rising. Following the pattern set by interracial marriage, there is a generational divide. Homophobes are simply dying off.

But abortion has flatlined since 1998…47% to 46% (pro, anti, respectively).


Main Street Muse 04.28.15 at 10:44 pm

Abortion has left the station? Where? Not in the US, where state by state, abortion rights are whittled to nothing. Cruz is playing to a hysterical group of voters who are buying what GOP’s serving up – hook, line and sinker.


Manju 04.28.15 at 11:01 pm

The New Deal gave Americans not only the material capacity to fight fascism

Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that WWII gave Americans the material capacity to fight…well…WWII (fascism).

After all, FDR cut spending / raised taxes in his 2nd term….thus offsetting public spending from the New Deal. Unemployment soared.

Ultimately it was WWII itself that provided a stimulus large enough to get us out of the Great Depression.


gocart mozart 04.28.15 at 11:16 pm

To debunk the notion of “Liberal Fascism” or the idea that fascism is or was a creature of the left, one need only Google the phrase “premature antifascist” or “Night of the Long Knives.”


MPAVictoria 04.28.15 at 11:47 pm

I love it when right wingers quote Orwell un-ironically . :-)


Manju 04.29.15 at 12:24 am

After making my comment (about the New Deal / WWII / Recovery) I recalled coming across some professor on some blog who may have argued otherwise (that the New Deal was more important to the recovery than what I would say) .

Apparently some guy named Eric Rauchway wrote a book called “The Great Depression and the New Deal”. Does anyone know who this fellow is?


Peter T 04.29.15 at 1:30 am

Re Eric @ 18 – I didn’t say he had nothing to do with it. Just noted he was prodding a willing horse.

Tooze is fascinating and, I think, mostly correct. I think what he misses, though, is how closely the two great questions of 1870-1945 were intertwined. One was the rise of the new powers (US, Russia, US) in an imperial world; the other was how to incorporate industrial labour and the corporation into the existing political fabric. At bottom, one could not mobilise national power without industry and a large industrial workforce (no battleships without Clydeside), but could not have an effective industrial workforce without sharing power. Germany’s rush into war in 1914 was in large part a desperate attempt to use war to strengthen the right against “socialism” (by which the junkers and industrialists meant an SDP majority in the Reichstag, an end to weighted voting in Prussia, parliamentary control over the defence budget and similar horrors).

Fascism and Nazism were also tries at evading this conundrum (and contra cassander, neither tried to be “neutral” – their versions of corporatism represented old elites far more effectively than workers). They were also, as Tooze notes, responses to the overwhelming power of the US and to the US agenda of economic domination through finance.

Politics is always corporatist – what else is the US Chamber of Commerce? The question is, who gets representation, and with what weight? The NRA and the Wagner Act brought the unions into the circle, which greatly helped industrial mobilisation. World War II in turn allowed the US government to restructure the US economy through directed investment and training – something that would not have been possible without the active cooperation of the industrial workforce (the counter examples are Germany in both wars, Italy, Russia pre-1917, France 1925-35).


LFC 04.29.15 at 2:44 am


although I try to avoid moralism with the affairs of nations

Moralism is a pejorative that stacks the decks of the issue before the discussion begins. It’s not “moralism” that’s in question, it’s moral considerations. If you rule them out at the front door, they’ll just come in through the back.

I had originally written another paragraph here about 20th-century ‘realism’ but, well, fu*k it.


LFC 04.29.15 at 3:03 am

B. Wilder @55

Woodrow Wilson’s … ill-fated attempts to teach Europe’s statesmen a new game, informed FDR’s … articulation of war aims that featured the United Nations.

Oh please. First, The “United Nations” during the war basically just meant the Allies. The UN as a formal organization wasn’t created until 1946.

Second and more to the point, it would be impolite and somewhat exaggerated, but not wildly off the mark, to say that FDR’s “articulation of war aims” was often an incoherent mess. The Atlantic Charter was mostly just a bunch of platitudes about self-determination that meant one thing to FDR and quite another to Churchill. And when FDR had to choose between the US’s notional commitment to post-war decolonization and staying close to its British ally, the latter always took precedence. That was sensible from the standpoint of prosecuting and winning the war, but it hardly amounts to a coherent “articulation of war aims.” (I think ‘unconditional surrender’ is the only concrete ‘war aim’ that non-historians remember, probably for good reason.)

The birth of the UN itself arguably simply carried forward the contradictions inherent in the differences between FDR’s and Churchill’s views of the postwar order. As Mazower pointed out in No Enchanted Palace, the preamble to the UN Charter was drafted by the racist and imperialist Jan Smuts. The UN was originally intended by certain of its architects to be a means for the preservation of empire and specifically of (parts of) the British Empire.


cassander 04.29.15 at 5:11 am

@peter T

>Fascism and Nazism were also tries at evading this conundrum (and contra cassander, neither tried to be “neutral” –

you can argue all you want about the effect of his policies, but let us not pretend that Mussolini was some stooge of capital. gw was a lifetime socialist advocate, a hero of the left, who was convinced by WW1 that socialism had to be had on a national basis, not international, not to abandon labor.

>Politics is always corporatist – what else is the US Chamber of Commerce?

My how far we’ve come, from “liberals fight fascism” to “all politics is fascist.” But I disagree. people grouping is not fascism or corporatism. what is fascist is forcing people into those groups.

>The NRA and the Wagner Act brought the unions into the circle, which greatly helped industrial mobilisation.

they prolonged the depression, which resulted in an overall lower level of industrial capacity with which to fight said war.


Peter T 04.29.15 at 5:24 am


I refuse to play.


casmilus 04.29.15 at 10:41 am

With regard to how the declining “great powers” saw their future in the inter-war period, an interesting source is “War Thoughts In Peace Time” (1931) by the Cambridge Philosopher C.D.Broad.

“Now England is likely, for the next century at least, to be a declining power, whose legal claims and traditional status are much higher than its real position in the fellowship of nations warrants. It is therefore peculiarly liable to be placed in situations in which it will be threatened with what will seem to be gross acts of aggression and insolence. One of the hardest and most unpleasant duties of Englishmen in the immediate future will be to pocket their pride, to try to realize the growing disparity between the legal or traditional and the equitable position of their country in the world, and to adjust their actions to the latter rather than to the former. In this we need not expect to be helped by any excessive display of good manners or delicate consideration on the part of foreign nations; we must be prepared in the future for a continuance of that mixture of cant, truculence, and sharp practice, which is the traditional note of the United States in its diplomatic relations with the world in general and England in particular. Happily it has so far been the great political virtue of the English to know when they are beaten, though not to acknowledge it; and we have been masters at the art of erecting dignified fictions to cover our retreat from untenable positions. We are likely to need all our skill in this art if we are to avoid disaster during the difficult period of international readjustment which lies ahead of us. In future, when we are lectured by Mrs. Hominy, denounced by Mr Jefferson Brick, bullied by Colonel Chollop, and used as stepping stones in the political career of the Honourable Elijah Pogrom, it may be wholesome for us to recollect how we used to admonish continental nations for their own good in those Palmerstonian days when we were rich and they were poor. Forsan et haes olim meminisse juvabit.”


Layman 04.29.15 at 1:44 pm

“And when FDR had to choose between the US’s notional commitment to post-war decolonization and staying close to its British ally, the latter always took precedence.”

I don’t think ‘always’ is fair here. My own reading suggests a firm determination on the part of FDR not to cooperate with Chuchill’s various suggestions about operations, when it was clear they were motivated not by the strategic situation but rather by Churchill’s post-war imperial aims.


LFC 04.29.15 at 2:24 pm

@Layman 82
I’ll agree that “always” was an overstatement on my part.


TM 04.29.15 at 2:56 pm

Mussolini was a socialist and hero of the left, which is why he banned the socialist party and imprisoned its leaders, and why the Vatican supported him fervently. And the Nazis were neutral arbiters between labor and capital, which is why the union leaders were among the first to go to the camps. And also, not to be outdone, gay equality is fascism sensu Ted Cruz, and no MSM journalist will ever confront him by reminding him how many gays were murdered by fascists.

What is really depressing is how extremely common this brand of historical illiteracy (willful among the elites but genuine ignorance among the masses) is in US political discourse. It is hard not to despair.


bob mcmanus 04.29.15 at 5:37 pm

Wikipedia now has a separate entry for Fascism as an Insult somewhat divorced from its technical and historical meaning.


Ronan(rf) 04.29.15 at 6:10 pm

bob – off topic, but I came across this and thouught it might be of interest


Manju 04.29.15 at 6:29 pm

TM Why can’t this verdict be appealed? Or did I get this wrong?

Double Jeopardy


Manju 04.29.15 at 6:34 pm



Bruce Wilder 04.29.15 at 6:53 pm

There’s a “technical” meaning? I suppose there are political scientists and historians, who have ventured a typology, but a technical meaning would require identifying some technical core, a core design principle or defining function if you will, and I think fascism conspicuously and typically lacks such.

The thing that ought to impress about historical fascism is what a chimera it was, a surreal hybrid mishmash, assembled from the collective unconscious, both embracing modernity with passionate idealism and rejecting modernity with fierce irrational resentments, and varying wildly from country to country, in its style, central concerns and constitutional projects.

None of this weirdness seems to filter down into common understanding of fascism as a term of insult, where it apparently denotes conservative authoritarianism, but it is interesting to me that it should be applied to figures like Ted Cruz, who are nothing if not surreal.


Harold 04.29.15 at 7:09 pm

John-Paul Himka on why Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) of 1920s and 30s fell under rubric of typical fascism [as opposed to conservative authoritarian]:

The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN)was indeed a typical fascist organization as shown by many of its features:

its leader principle (Führerprinzip),
its aspiration to ban all other political parties and movements,
its fascist-style slogan (Slava Ukraini! Heroiam slava!),
its red and black flag, its raised-arm salute,
its xenophobia and anti-Semitism,
its cult of violence, and its admiration of Hitler, Mussolini, and other leaders of fascist Europe.


bianca steele 04.29.15 at 7:11 pm

Technical meaning of fascism, at a first attempt: state support for conservative morality usually bypassing religion, non-rejection of capitalism, embrace of industrialism and modernism/technology, rejection of tradition and emphatic forward-thinkingness, rejection of humanistic scholarship except possibly if it supports state propaganda, simultaneous cult of the ordinary person as HE is imagined to have been in preindustrial times, need to recast modernism and urbanism in premodern terms, cult of the unitary cultural nation which is centered on the countryside and the embrace by urban elites of peasant culture, cult of the leader, broad franchise though limited choices on the ballot, embrace of modern propaganda methods.

Little of this applies to the actual policies of any Republican politician I can think of, though I suspect some of them of sneaking admiration for it as an ideal.


bianca steele 04.29.15 at 7:15 pm

Secondary possible meaning of fascism again not applicable either to actual US politicians or Goldberg’s fantasy: socialization of the means of production on the basis not of class or relationship to the means of production but of race and an imagined purity of racial identity, with nation and race conflated but with nationality granted or denied on a primarily racialist basis.


Harold 04.29.15 at 7:23 pm

I have several books by the old fashioned political scientist Ernest Barker about difference between corporatism and its opposite: associationism (favored by liberals). Barker translated and wrote a long introduction to Otto Gierke’s Natural Law and the theory of society 1500 to 1800.

To simplify horribly, corporatists (like Gierke) saw groups of people as forming organic wholes (like the church), they referred to liberal theories of individual rights as “atomism”and saw it as mistaken. I don’t have time to go into this and I’m sure all the political scientists and historians on this board know all about this and are much more up on it than I am. But for those who don’t …

In any case until 1945 the norm or touchstone that people looked to in politics was not today’s new experiment of democratic republicanism, but monarchism. Even after ww2 the US and Britain tried to install monarchies, or less desirably, authoritarian regimes wherever they could, considering them more stable. So if in 1932 when economies were breaking down it did not seem as weird as now to look to non-democratic regimes for some kind of answers. I remember reading an excerpt from an article from the 1930s NYT which articulated the then mainstream view that Germany “was not ready for parliamentary government” (only superior, anglophone nations like the USA and Britain were evolved enough for that apparently).


TM 04.29.15 at 8:59 pm

BW is right that historical fascism has always been full of contradictions. Especially the tension between traditionalist and anti-traditionalist elements within fascism makes it difficult to come up with a clear-cut, mathematical definition of fascism. But all fascist movements share a number of identifiable characteristics and many of them clearly do apply to modern-day US right-wingism:

1- Fierce anti-labor and anti-union ideology
2- Racism
3- Exclusion of outsiders (e.g. the conviction of all right-wingers that “liberals” are “unamerican”)
4- Hate of modernity as cosmopolitan and humanistic, while embracing a technocratic vision of modernism
5- Animosity toward the city as degenerate, immoral, (racially) impure, often mixed with pastoral romanticism
6- Anti-intellectualism and rejection of critical scholarship (witness the propaganda of colleges as breeding grounds of “liberalism” or worse, and the lists of “dangerous” intellectuals)
7- A world view impermeable to empirical facts, and reliance on authoritarian propaganda (come on, the Stuermer had nothing on Fox News)
8- Fascists also liked to dismiss bourgeois democracy as ineffective and removed from “the people”, just as the mere mention of “Washington” and “government” invites ridicule from the US right-winger.

These are just the first that come to my mind and some of them could surely be phrased more clearly (you’ll notice I’m struggling for the right words). To say the “technical definition” of fascism doesn’t apply reveals a fatal naivety. Hard to believe but American liberals still don’t realize that they are threatened by a genuinely dangerous movement.


LFC 04.29.15 at 10:10 pm

R.O. Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism (2004, pb 2005), which I’d read but hadn’t remembered well, is worth looking at (or, as the case may be, looking at again, as I was doing briefly just now).


SamChevre 04.29.15 at 10:30 pm

There are two useful ways of looking at Fascism; roughly, the ends and the means.

TM at 95 and bianca steele at 91 give reasonably typical discussions of the ends.

The other thing–the one I, and other liberals, tend to look at-is the means; that is after all what gave Fascism its name.

The means is that all the “associations” in society (often translated “corporations”, but that’s misleading in English) need to serve the goals of society: the opposite is freedom of association, and government non-discrimination. So typical of fascism:
1) Businesses need to serve social goals-as defined by the elite-or be nationalized, or run out of business
2) Non-profit associations need to serve social goals – as defined by the elite – or be banned, or denied the basic government services they need to function (like occupancy permits)
3) Churches are fine, so long as they serve the social goals -as defined by the elite; dissenting churches are harassed or banned
4) What the social goals are is defined for the whole nation, by some decision-making body that is not accountable to the populace.

Fascism is defined, in this view, by its suppression of associations that aren’t supportive of “social values.”


Tyrone Slothrop 04.30.15 at 12:15 am

Paxton’s pithy definition of fascism, presented after thoroughly assaying its historical unfolding:

Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal constraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.


bob mcmanus 04.30.15 at 12:18 am

95: I use Roger Griffin but it is he and Paxton who I though were considered authoritative, and what I call the “technical.”

Shorter:”Fascism is a political ideology whose mythic core in its various permutations is a palingenetic form of populist ultra-nationalism.”

If the differentiation between instances of authoritarianism and examples of actual fascism is important to anything, and I rarely believe so. But it isn’t my job.

It can be interesting to compare historical systems: Hirohito was nowhere near the active sacred ruler, as in Gentile:”crowned by the figure of the ‘leader,’ invested with a sacred charisma, who commands, directs, and coordinates the activities of the party and the regime” but he did carry the charisma that allowed Konoe and Tojo to rule. And the palingeneticism, the recreation of the past was actually pretty weak in Japan, except among useless nobles and crazed military. Partly because the old traditions, say Heian and Tokugawa, were contradictory and hard to frame into the right kind of message.


bianca steele 04.30.15 at 12:30 am

By nontechnical the Wiki seems to mean primarily the left identification of fascism with victorious late capitalism; in other circles is meant the right-religious identification of fascism with right-wing attempts to do without traditional religion (conceived as the only true support for conservatism and right wing attitudes).


Peter T 04.30.15 at 2:26 am


That’s a great quote. The “mixture of cant, truculence, and sharp practice” is not, of course, peculiar to the US.


stevenjohnson 04.30.15 at 3:12 am

If people insist on talking about fascism, then they should also talk about fascism as a strategy for seizing empire or recovering lost empire, which in extremis means domestic empire, that is, counterrevolution. The various permutations of fascism focus on recovering national strength through a classless unity, defined against an other, mobilized by a leadership that eschews the debilitation of self-interested democratic struggle. Fascist aesthetic is salesmanship for war.


Harold 04.30.15 at 4:09 am

In the political theory that I have read society is not the same as a corporation, at least as the corporatists (chiefly German Romantics) defined it. A society is an organization of individuals, whereas a corporation in seen as having a life of its own that transcends the individuals composing it.

Both reactionary corporatism and progressive human rights theories arose out of reaction to the perceived injustices and human suffering and immiseration caused by rapid industrialization and the cash economy. I don’t see nostalgia for a simpler, rural life as an entirely negative thing. In rural England people ate better and lived longer than when they moved to the city and began working in factory or on huge farms producing cash crops that left them no time to grow their own food.


Bruce Wilder 04.30.15 at 9:03 am

Paxton makes the point that historical fascism owed a great deal to political possibilities opened, and closed, by the experience of the First World War.

Traditional conservatism had lost many of its props and critical constituencies with the collapse of empires. Liberalism had lost its ability to appeal to an optimistic faith in progress, because optimism had been discredited.

The experience of having struggled in patriotic solidarity for the nation was widely shared, given the common experience of having served in mass conscription armies or otherwise in the war effort. I can well imagine that many would miss the sense of meaning, shared purpose and great achievements, once the horror and deprivation had faded a bit. A seeking after a feeling, as in the Packer OP, unmoored to specific ideas or programs, and supplied by uniforms, occasional violence in the streets, strutting on the world stage, and so on.


Harold 04.30.15 at 9:59 am

Fritz Stern’s The Politics of Cultural despair is a study of the German precursors of Fascism.


Paul de Lagarde (1827-1891), Julius Langbehn (1851-1907), and Arthur Moeller van den Bruck (1876-1925) were intellectual and cultural precursors for the ideology of National Socialism. They were harsh, vitriolic critics of modern German social life; they were anti-Semites; and they were wedded to a discourse of passion and hatred as devices for influencing their readers.

The central focus of this cultural criticism was the fact of modernity — liberalism, secularism, Manchesterism, consumptionism, and individualism. These were conservative critics; they favored an earlier time that was more traditional, moral, hierarchical, and religious. They preferred villages and towns to cities; they preferred cultivated thinkers to merchants and professionals, and they feared the rise of the proletariat.

By liberalism they meant to encompass several ideas: individualism, self-interest, parliamentary government, and glorification of commerce and the market. And their criticisms were unswerving: they hoped to turn back all of the liberal democratic and industrial transformations that modern Europe was undergoing.


Harold 04.30.15 at 10:00 am

whole passage should have been blockquoted — oops!


Peter T 04.30.15 at 11:47 am

I found Ze’ev Sternhell illuminating on fascism. He traces one set of roots to Georges Sorel, the syndicalists and those who rejected Marxist approaches to the class/labour struggle in favour of “direct action” and a cult of violence. In this view, Nazism, with its stress on biological race, is distinct from fascism (although there are overlaps). The First World War, as BW notes, gave a strong impetus to this current. It didn’t reject modernity (think of all those Italian posters featuring fast cars, motorbikes and sleek planes), but sought to recast industrialism to eliminate the independent power of the workforce.

But it’s a bit hard to pin down as, although fascism in different variants was quite widespread, it produced few theoreticians and mostly existed as one strand in coalition with traditional elites.


bianca steele 04.30.15 at 12:25 pm


Yes, though taken too far Stern’s kind of argument is misleading, I think, same with some of TM’s points, like pastoralism, which may have been taken up in extreme form by fascists but were also embraced by non fascists and for a long time before fascism appeared. Some pessimism, I think, was driven by a wish for a world that was more like fascism, but not all. Taken too far, it’s easy to start condemning Nietzsche and Wagner for making Hitler possible.


bianca steele 04.30.15 at 12:40 pm

In fact, I wonder if the taking too far isn’t necessary for fascism–something like John’s post on orthodoxy–and so the means are important too. Enforcement by young, otherwise disaffected men from the ethnic majority might be a crucial factor, quite possibly intellectuals sitting in rooms and writing novels and essays about the brilliance of fascist ideas wouldn’t bring it about.


SamChevre 04.30.15 at 12:52 pm

Seconding bianca steele at 107; it seems like Fascism draws on several roots that aren’t part of Fascism; a definition of Fascism that includes Morris and Ruskin is (IMO) overbroad.

(Similarly one that includes Nazi-ism; in my strongly held opinion, Hitler’s Germany was more like Stalin’s USSR than like Mussolini’s Italy or Franco’s Spain.)


bianca steele 04.30.15 at 1:00 pm

Here is a 1940 essay by Jacques Barzun arguing that Romanticism should be acquitted of responsibility for fascism: (Elsewhere IIRC Barzun describes Romanticism as a kind of return of the repressed in reaction to an overreaching Enlightenment, with Modernism a not entirely adequate synthesis.)


TM 04.30.15 at 1:37 pm

BS 107: Of course anti-urban pastoralism isn’t characteristic *only* of fascism. Also, that there is a huge difference between nostalgia for the countryside and virulent hatred for the city as an alleged breeding-ground of vice and degeneration. The latter clearly is an essential ingredient of fascist thinking – although, as always, you will find exceptions to the rule – fascists that liked urban life, as well as non-fascist thinkers who hated the city.

In any case, it is impossible to come up with any definition of fascism that actually applies to the historical phenomenon in all its complexity while not also partially applying to any non-fascist or proto-fascist precursors or to ideologically close but not “technically” fascist movements. These areas of overlap between “real fascism” and “not quite fascism” are very relevant to the present debate and to demand that they be excluded from our understanding of fascism would be grotesque.


David 04.30.15 at 2:19 pm

Paxton said most of it some time ago, but in terms of its origins (since its ideology and stated objectives were always pretty incoherent) it’s useful to bear in mind that fascism was:
– populist, i.e. it was a radical bottom-up response, as opposed to an elite response, to the problems of the 1920s and 1930s, and was quite different to the reactionary (often Catholic) parties in Europe, even if it shared some of their social attitudes.
– collectivist (not corporatist in the sense that the word is usually employed) in that it was a reaction against what many saw as the soulless individualism of modern life, and it offered a return to a “national community” based on biological and cultural affinities, without worrying too much about accepted national borders. Thus, socialists and communists were the principal enemy, since their ideology was internationalist and based on class and not blood.
– modernist in its fascination with science and technology and modernization of state structures (e.g. Himmler’s modernization of the German Police) and introduction of economic planning.
– survivalist in that it borrowed (it did not invent) the popular idea of international politics as a struggle to the death between biologically-different races, with the weaker being exterminated. Victory would thus go to a “people” which was organised, disciplined and racially pure.


TM 04.30.15 at 2:50 pm

This is too vague and fails to really clarify what distinguishes fascism from non-fascism. The Nazi party started as a non-elite splinter party but only became relevant when they attracted significant elite support. Mussolini started out anti-catholic but was kept in power only through a pact with the Vatican, who fervently supported him after initial hesitation (see the reference at 25). Fascism does have both populist and elite elements, there’s no way around it.

Collectivism seems the wrong word with its association of farm or industry collectivization (which the fascists never tried). The better word would be the untranslatable voelkisch. The Nazis spoke not just of Volksgemeinschaft but Volkskoerper and identified those who didn’t belong as parasites to be eliminated.

Modernism again is ambivalent. There was embrace of technocratic modernity together with rejection of cultural modernity. Yes some currents of the artistic avantgarde had an affinity with fascism early on but traditionalism prevailed.


bianca steele 04.30.15 at 3:07 pm

The focus on elites as drivers of policy seems like a useful corrective to the image of fascism as a product of the introduction of mass politics. And something like Action Francaise, at least as it might have appealed to someone like a young Simone de Beauvoir and her family, seems like an elite attempt to pretend to be populist. But there is still something to be said for defining populism, as in the classical account of American Populism in the Gilded Age, as less democratic than authoritarian.


David 04.30.15 at 3:30 pm

I’d argue that the Nazi party only became relevant when it attracted significant popular support. It was that support that made it essential for the German elites (who disliked the Nazis) to find a way of dealing with them, it was not that the elites themselves became converted to Nazi ideas. They chose to invite them into government where they could be neutralized and controlled. We all make mistakes. I think the confusion about elitism is related to the fact that the Nazis thought in terms of elite races and elite individuals, but these were elites resulting from biological struggles, not traditional social-political elites. Obviously Nazi policy was in no sense made by ordinary people. On collectivism it was indeed the untranslatable word “volkish” that I was trying to translate. Any offers? And I did talk about scientific and technical modernity – one of fascisms strengths was its ability to project an image of modernity which was reassuring to traditionalists. (if that sounds like a contradiction in terms it is, as so often with fascism).
Fascism seems to me not so much a reaction to the introduction of mass politics (since the electoral system was only one tool among many) as a consequence of an age where what was then called “the masses” became a factor in politics, not necessarily through the democratic process. The Action Française, on the other hand, was avowedly elitist, and uninterested in having a mass membership. It worked from within, to capture the French military and political establishment for its Catholic/Monarchist ideas, and had had considerable success by 1940. But interestingly, some who started with the AF wound up in the Resistance or with De Gaulle.


engels 04.30.15 at 4:26 pm

The focus on elites as drivers of policy seems like a useful corrective to the image of fascism as a product of the introduction of mass politics

Elites were the ‘drivers of policy’ under fascism AND it was ‘a product of the introduction of mass politcs’. In that respect it’s similar to US conservatism.


UserGoogol 04.30.15 at 4:41 pm

TM @ 94: I would say that what you’re describing is just reactionaryism, which as our pal Corey Robin has reminded us, has kind of been an ongoing theme on the right since the French Revolution.


UserGoogol 04.30.15 at 4:46 pm

(probably should have said this in one post)

What made fascism unique, I think, is taking general themes within reactionaryism and then deciding that the best way to take that into practice would be through totalitarian corporatism.


bianca steele 04.30.15 at 4:51 pm

Engels @ 116

I think I’d say US conservatism has (still) a Whiggish view of itself as mostly elitist, especially the centrist or moderate branch. So at one time this allowed it to use this as a distinguishing factor between itself and fascism.

I don’t like Ted Cruz but I don’t feel the worst thing about him is his populism or non-urbanism.


Bruce Wilder 04.30.15 at 4:59 pm

bianca steele: there is still something to be said for defining populism, as in the classical account of American Populism in the Gilded Age, as less democratic than authoritarian.

What classical account defines American Populism as less democratic than authoritarian?


bianca steele 04.30.15 at 5:12 pm


I had in mind Hofstsadter’s, in particular the W.J. Bryan campaign, though if I’ve misremembered I’d be happy to go back and reread.

Actually my memory of the book is that Hofstadter did lean on the idea that the Progressives and Populists were equally driven by nativism and were equally undemocratic and, well, not sufficiently Whiggish. Not that either were Nazis, of course.


TM 04.30.15 at 6:08 pm

David 115: part of the problem is that there is no one elite interest. German capital was divided between those who preferred economic autarky (esp. heavy industry) and the more modern factions ready to compete in the world market (e.g. chemical and electrical industry). Thyssen supported Hitler long before he had genuine mass support. It’s simply misleading to refer to “the elites” as monolithic. It is probably true that Marxist scholars have exaggerated the role of capitalists supporting the Nazis and have underplayed the mass appeal but it is also true that the NSDAP won just 2.6% of the 1928 vote. We just have to accept that reality is complicated.

117: What is the point of this debate really? Of course fascism has many characteristics in common with other reactionary ideologies. Should we then conclude that reactionaries are only fascists when they wear brown shirts and raise their arm in a certain manner, or should we rather conclude that understanding fascism requires us to take the overlap between fascism and supposedly respectable reactionaryism seriously? Would it maybe make sense to examine how and under what circumstances good ol’ reactionaryism turns into virulent fascism? I observe a resurgence of political extremism that is rhetorically and ideologically closely related to fascism. The objection I am getting is “yeah the fascists used that rhetoric but others also did, to some extent”. I don’t think that is terribly helpful, either analytically or politically. Why are American liberals reluctant to say what is: this is right-wing extremism that has much in common with fascism – ? What is the point of equivocating?


engels 04.30.15 at 6:21 pm

Bianca, all I meant was that they’re both answers to the problem of how to advance elite interests in an age of mass politics (and of course there are lots of more specific similarities).


Bruce Wilder 04.30.15 at 6:34 pm

Hofstadter belonged to a species of untrustworthy narrator, a supremely articulate critic who seduces with tales suffused with his sophisticated taste and prejudices and makes you fear his condescension as a penalty for questioning the motivations of his supposed reporting. As with a delightfully acerbic theatre criticism, you almost feel like the basic unfairness is a feature, not a bug.

He became a kind of liberal version of a neocon, migrating from late adolescent radicalism in the 1930s to the detached complacency of establishment liberal consensus in the 1960s. He did provide a model and rationale for contemptuous rejection of the left’s Populist and Progressive heritage. In retrospect, unfortunate for us.


Harold 04.30.15 at 6:38 pm

We all know as far as its theory fascism is eclectic and intellectually incoherent. Fritz Stern observed that the three figures he identified as precursors of German Fascism were in the lower tiers of academia and wrote and spoke in the emotional register of prophecy rather than rational thought.

F. L. Carsten in his Rise of Fascism maintains that Fascism arose only after WW 1 , partly in reaction the the prevailing postwar mood pacifism and revulsion against war. For him one of its defining factors of Fascism was its enlistment of mass followers.

As far as elites, when you look closely what you see is a bunch of interest groups.

As far as defining concepts or anything else in language, what you can identify are multiple factors which make up the concept (I guess I am an atomist) and you have to decide on just which and how many factors you have to have before you can describe something as “fascism” or “reaction”, etc. Seven out of ten? Four out of five, etc. out of f (naturally, there is going to be some overlap).


bianca steele 04.30.15 at 7:09 pm

I think part of what the question is, is that fascism is identified as an eternal enemy by some Marxists and by some conservatives, and I don’t see any reason to follow them there. But on the other hand, fascism seems like an attempt to address problems that lots of thinking people were trying to address. I don’t like the idea of saying only a fascist would worry about that, or only a fascist would come up with that answer. At the same time I think some of their answers are really wrong.

I’m kind of willing–for reasons I’m not sure I’ve examined–to exclude fascism from the realm of respectable opinion. But I’m more reluctant to call out people who think Sorel had something to say. And I feel like only a fascist would want to exclude Romanticism.

That’s kind of an answer to TM and engels.

Bruce, sounds like RH was an academic. :). Anyway, I know John Emerson would stand up for the Populist Left (RH was relatively fair to La Follette, I think), and Michael Kazin has written about ties between Populism and the white labor movement, and I agree that RH is probably the kind of (noneconomic) neoliberal who stops just a little bit short of neoconservatism (in which he’s surely not alone) and comes across as less in favor of reform than you’d expect a left-liberal of that era to be (in which he was definitely not alone, in those pre-New Left days), and I know almost nothing about the leftism of that part of the country at that time, . . . but to claim agrarian populism as The Heritage of the Left is surely more than an exaggeration.


David 04.30.15 at 7:49 pm

It’s clear that “elites” is a difficult and in some ways unhelpful concept, but “ruling class” or some other similar formulation is worse. It’s a term I always employ in the plural, to stress that we’re talking about overlapping groups, rather than a single entity.
That said, it’s clear that there is a real phenomenon here, even if we argue about what to call it. In Germany in the early 30s, as in some other countries, there was an Establishment (to use the British term) which included large parts of the Church, the Army, the Civil Service and the Banking and Industrial sectors, as well as many politicians, who knew each other, had much the same social origins and often intermarried or were even directly related. They were an elite group, or groups, but they also spoke for a sizable part of the population which was tired of the political chaos, street violence and economic disasters of the Weimar years, and looked back with nostalgia to the ordered, hierarchical society of pre-1914. This group despised the Nazis as individuals, but shared their objectives of restoring order, putting the economy back on its feet, undoing the humiliation of Versailles and most of all defeating the Communists. They thought they could use the Nazis to overthrow Weimar, and then dispose of them and lead the country back to something like its pre-1914 state. But they failed to realise that the Nazis were a mass organisation with their own army, the SA, and it was the SA, not the third of the vote they won in 1933, that enabled them to take over the country.
I don’t see that this mass appeal is falsified by the tiny percentage of the vote that the Nazis won before 1933. It doesn’t mean they were elitists, it just means they weren’t a serious political force, just another volkisch political party whose members liked dressing up. What changed the situation, of course, and has hardly been mentioned here, is the terrible consequences of the economic depression that began in 1929, and the total incapacity of the established political parties to deal with it. As often, it was the weakness of there system, not the strengths of the interlopers, that was critical.
The attraction of the Nazis in 1933 was precisely that they were not reactionary in the classic sense. There were plenty of such parties already. the Nazis were radicals in the etymological sense – back to the roots, sweeping away the corrupt and non-functioning Republic, and building a modern state that would, paradoxically, restore Germany’s status in the world as well as bringing back social order.


TM 04.30.15 at 7:52 pm

126: ” fascism is identified as an eternal enemy”

My interest is, broadly speaking, whether we can learn from history. I don’t see any reason to believe that the phenomenon fascism is merely a thing of the past. The next fascism won’t be a clone of the old historical one (which wasn’t a singular, well-defined entity either) but there are currently relevant political actors that borrow an awful lot from fascist ideology and rhetoric and for progressives/liberals not to take the threat seriously because “only 7 out of ten fascist characteristics” match, that’s suicidal.


Harold 04.30.15 at 8:21 pm

TM, I don’t think I made myself clear. Anything over five out of five should be taken seriously, obviously. Seven out of ten is hardly “only”. The opposite is the case. But defining a concept for the purposes of discussion is not at all the same as identifying a danger.


Ronan(rf) 04.30.15 at 8:30 pm

Dylan Riley’s argument in ‘The Civic Foundations of Fascism’ (he compares Spain Italy and Romania, not Nazi Germany) on the elite/masses argument is that the development of civil society outpaced the development of elite ‘hegemonic’ parties to control their demands for political engagement, which led to ‘authoritarian democracy.’ I’ll quote it (a littleat lenght) to clarify:

“For the purposes of understanding fascism, the possibility that civil society might develop in the absence of a hegemonic politics is very important. Gramsci calls these situations “Organic Crises,” which he defines as decisive turning points in which the democratic demands produced by civil society cannot adequately be expressed through existing political institutions. This leads to a crisis of representationtation in which “the traditional parties, in that particular organizational form, with the particular men who constitute, represent, and lead them, are no longer recognized nized by their class (or fractions of a class) as its expression” .
Fascist regimes were the consequences of just such a crisis in which the “traditional parties” and the forces of opposition were outstripped by a rapidly developing civil society. In this context the democratic demands of civil society tend to develop against the regime of political parties and are often expressed as skepticism about all forms of political representation. Fascism, then, develops out of this general crisis of politics. Fascist movements are well adapted to such situations tions because they claim to transcend the political. These movements are therefore perfectly positioned to exploit the crisis of political representation caused by a situation ation of civil society overdevelopment in relationship to hegemony.
Fascism, a political project aiming to establish a new relationship between the nation and the state, can be expected to emerge where social elites fail to develop hegemonic political litical organizations in the context of rapid civil society development. The fascist political project arises as an attempt to redress this problem of hegemonic weakness by creating an authoritarian democracy: a regime that claims to represent the people or nation but rejects parliamentary institutional forms. Rather than being connected to a specific stage of economic development, or a specific state form, fascism must be understood as the result of a political crisis rooted in the combined and uneven development of civil society and hegemony. “


David 05.01.15 at 11:56 am

@Ronan. I haven’t read Riley’s book, and I don’t want to be unfair to it, but the argument in the extract seems to me a rather complicated way of making a simple point: that when orthodox political parties fail to respond to peoples’ needs, other forces step in. I and others have made similar points in this discussion already.
But if this were generally true, then one would expect to see fascist parties appearing quite frequently, whenever this process of uneven development was taking place. This is clearly not so, and in the three countries mentioned fascist parties appeared at very particular moments of political and economic crisis, when it’s not clear that civil society was developing any more rapidly than it had before. They then went away again. Indeed, many experts would not accept that Spain (if by that is meant Franco’s regime) was a fascist state. They would argue that it was an authoritarian conservative state installed after a civil war. And in Italy, the Socialists had polled over 30% in the last elections before Mussolini took power, with new newly-formed Communists picking up about 5%. It’s hard to see that the desire for democracy by civil society was being ignored; But you’ve read the book and I haven’t…..


Ronan(rf) 05.01.15 at 12:28 pm

He’s looking specifically at the role civil society played in the development of Fascism, in comparison to what he terms the Tocquevillian view (that a rich associational life leads to democracy) and so tends to sideline a lot of other factors (such as ideology, the european crisis etc) His argument is that Fascism wasnt possible without mass political mobilisation, and so (1) he’s looking to show how that mass engagement makes fascism distinct from other regime types that we misdiagnose as fascist and (2) he’s trying to tease out the relationship between mainstream conservatives and fascists, the reasons conservative elites aligned with fascists in one contexts and not another.

The argument is more subtle than I’ve probably made out, and the book was well received by those who should know. ( I dont know much about the specifics of each mentioned country – I read it more for the analysis of the development of civil society at the time – and it has been a few years since Ive read it, so I wouldn’t necessarily write it off on my description. Having said that, for someone who know the subject I’m not sure how much it would add that was new. Though my impression is that it was a relatively novel perspective)

Comments on this entry are closed.