In case you already weren’t aware of the scandal at the venerable magazine First Things, one of their blogs written by Maureen Mullarkey; who is a painter in “real life” and writes on art, culture, and the Catholic Church, was taken down by editor Rusty Reno because he felt that the writing on the blog had crossed a line that Rusty was no longer going to tolerate – so he posted an editorial that said in part:
Maureen has a sharp pen and pungent style. Her postings about Pope Francis indicate she’s very angry about this papacy, which she seems to view as (alternately) fascism and socialism disguised as Catholicism. This morning she put up a post that opens with the accusation that the Vatican is conspiring with the Obama administration to destroy the foundations of freedom and hobble the developed world. I've had my staff take it down…
To point that out, as Francis does, in no way makes him a supporter of the Castro brothers or a disciple of Che Guevara, as Maureen implies.
Enough! We need to think about the church and the world as they actually are, not by way of caricatures.
Other writers have commented on the inappropriateness of firing Maureen in this very public fashion – that’s not what interests me here. Instead, I want to explore a more subtle argument that seems to animate Rusty’s criticism of Maureen – that her concern about the Pope’s sympathy for socialist ideas (or run-of-mill left-wing ideas if you prefer!) gives aid and comfort to fascist or totalitarian or tyrannical ideologies. Well, not to put too fine a point on it – they do! Haven’t we been through all of this before?
Well, yes we have, and the link above will take you to the book Liberal Fascism which is an analysis of this very phenomenon – the affinity of left-wing ideas with totalitarian ideas. Jonah’s book is quite excellent, but I just finished a book that performed an earlier analysis of this same phenomenon (Jonah used this book as a reference writing his) and I wanted to bring it to the attention to our readers. The name of the author is Wolfgang Schivelbusch and back in 2006 (Jonah’s book came out in early 2008) he wrote Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939. The book does just what the title suggests – it looks at the three governments in each country, with a particular focus on Roosevelt and his “New Deal” for America and the ways in which it echoed and/or borrowed socialistic/fascist ideas from the Nazis (who were, after all, national socialists) and the Italian Fascists.
Chapter titles include leadership, propaganda, back to the land, and public works; they all look at these elements as present in all three governments (the New Deal, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy) – the propaganda chapter is particularly good at looking at parallels in the use of symbols (“In the 1930s the symbol came to be considered the main unit of currency in political propaganda, an effective “short-cut to understanding and action,” in the words of early propaganda expert Edward Bernays.) – the Nazi and Fascist party symbols everyone knows are compared to Roosevelt’s Blue Eagle campaign for the NRA. The first chapter, however, is a broader look at the similarities between the three governments/political programs and I thought it would be fun to share some of Schivelbusch’s research with our readers.
He begins by demonstrating that both the Nazis and the Fascists were impressed by what Roosevelt was trying to accomplish in America, even if they ultimately scorned our democratic form of government (pages 18-19):
[from Volkischer Beobachter (the Nazi paper), January 17, 1934]
“We, too as German National Socialists are looking toward America….Roosevelt is carrying out experiments and they are bold. We, too, fear only the possibility that they may fail.”
[June 21, 1934]
“If not always in the same words,” the paper wrote, “[Roosevelt], too, demands that collective good be put before individual self-interest. Many passages in his book Looking Forward could have been written by a National Socialist. In any case, one can assume that he feels considerable affinity with the National Socialist philosophy.” The newspaper admitted that Roosevelt maintained what it called “the fictional appearance of democracy,” but it also proclaimed that in the United States “the development toward an authoritarian state is under way.” The author added, “The president’s fundamental political course still contains democratic tendencies but is thoroughly inflected by a strong national socialism.”
Schivelbusch goes on to explain that
Hitler himself told American ambassador William Dodd that he was “in accord with the President in the view that the virtue of duty, readiness for sacrifice, and discipline should dominate the entire people. These moral demands which the President places before every individual citizen of the United States are also the quintessence of the German state philosophy, which finds its expression in the slogan ‘The Public Weal Transcends the Interest of the Individual.’”
The Italians were also impressed (pages 24-25):
A year later, Mussolini was sufficiently convinced of the strength of the president’s position to be rather less diplomatic in his choice of words. In his review of the Italian edition of New Frontiers, a book written by Roosevelt’s secretary of agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, Mussolini wrote:The book as a whole is just as “corporativistic” as the individual solutions put forth in it. It is both a declaration of faith and an indictment of economic liberalism…Wallace’s answer to the question of what America wants is as follows: anything but a return to the free-market, i.e. anarchistic economy. Where is America headed? This book leaves no doubt that it is on the road to corporatism, the economic system of the current century.
There was unanimous agreement that the New Deal was just as antiliberal in its economic and social orientation as Fascism. In Gerarchia (Leadership), the Fascist Party’s journal of political theory, Giovanni Selvi characterized the plans of the National Recovery Administration as “bearing a Fascist signature” and as “corporatism without the corporations.”
Schivelbusch also analyzes the domestic image of Roosevelt and it is surprising how closely his contemporaries saw the similarities between the New Deal and Nazism/Fascism (pages 26-31):
Perhaps not surprisingly, comparisons of the New Deal with totalitarian ideologies were part and parcel of the everyday rhetoric of Roosevelt’s domestic enemies.
Such sentiments could, of course, be put down to the usual partisan politics and intraparty rivalries, were it not for the fact that they were echoed by intellectual observers of economies and social policies who were otherwise Roosevelt allies. They, too, saw a Fascist element at the core of the New Deal. Writing in the Spectator, liberal journalist Mauritz Hallgren noted:We in America are bound to depend more upon the State as the sole means of saving the capitalist system. Unattended by black-shirt armies or smug economic dictators—at least for the moment—we are being forced rapidly and definitively into Fascism…
In the North American Review, Roger Shaw concurred:The New Dealers, strangely enough, have been employing Fascist means to gain liberal ends. The NRA with its code system, its regulatory economic clauses and some of its features of social amelioration, was plainly an American adaptation of the Italian corporate state in its mechanics. The New Deal philosophy resembles closely that of the British Labor Party, while its mechanism is borrowed from the BLP’s Italian antithesis.
From a somewhat more orthodox Marxist perspective, V.F. Calverton wrote in the Modern Monthly:The NRA, without assuming a Fascist guise, is doing part of the job that European Fascism has set out to accomplish: namely, the liquidation of the little man and dissolution of small business as an economic force. Thus Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected by the forgotten men of America, becomes the father of an economic tactic that purposes by its very nature to make those forgotten men totally forgotten by rendering them extinct as a class. In so doing, he is achieving one of the same economic objectives that European Fascism is accomplishing by more drastic and desperate methods.
By and large, then, American observers had the same picture as their European counterparts of the New Deal’s kinship with Fascism…
The New Dealers themselves always tried to avoid, in public at least, giving the impression that their policies had anything to do with the autocratic and totalitarian systems of Europe. This is hardly surprising, since the greatest fear of American politicians during the 1930s was being labeled “un-American.”
In private, Roosevelt was much more frank about his sympathy for Mussolini and his interest in the Italian leader’s economic and social order. In contrast to Hitler, with whom he always felt a world of social, ideological, and political difference, Roosevelt had nothing but “sympathy and confidence” in Mussolini up until the mid-1930s. “I don’t mind telling you in confidence,” FDR remarked to a White House correspondent, “that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that admirable Italian gentleman.” One of Roosevelt’s first acts after taking office in March 1933 was to appoint Breckinridge Long, ambassador to Rome. A longtime political ally, Long made no secret of his enthusiasm for Fascism’s social model. FDR had long report his impressions from Rome directly to him – not, as was customary, via the State Department. In response to Long’s first enthusiastic missive, Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “There seems to be no question that [Mussolini] is really interested in what we are doing and I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy.”
So, knowing what we know today about liberalism in all of its out-of-control glory, is it so crazy for Maureen to be concerned that the Pope seems to be particularly enamored of liberal political solutions to today’s problems? And was it really appropriate for Rusty to be dismissing her concerns in such a cavalier manner (“she seems to view [the Pope’s ideas] as (alternately) fascism and socialism”?) Maybe that word “alternately” wasn’t necessary Rusty and maybe Maureen has more of a point in her criticism of this Pope than you want to acknowledge?