When you mention fascism, many people immediately think of Nazi Germany. Very few… dare I say, “Americans”… are aware of the fact that fascism was somewhat popular in the United States around the same time as the rise of the National-Socialist Party in Germany. This is an important issue to understand, because the general consensus in the United States is that such a thing could never happen here… yet we see more and more aggressively oppressive authoritarian behavior from the state everyday as we face civil unrest from both sides of the political spectrum.
In the 1930s, the world was in an economic crisis… the US stock market had crashed and the entire world was feeling the effects of the great depression. In Germany, much of the nation was blaming their economic situation on unfair legislation against them following World War I. Feeling like diplomacy and compromise had left them with the short end of the stick, it wasn’t difficult to stir a nationalist movement with the political and social atmosphere that Germany was facing. Hitler found great support from the poor and disenfranchised workers and labor groups that they were forming. In reality, nationalism and socialism are opposing ideals, but that didn’t seem to matter as people were desperate for solutions. Seemingly hopeless, they gave their power up to an authoritarian asshole who eventually began executing his political opponents by the millions.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, we were scrambling for solutions to the Great Depression, ourselves. Many Americans were afraid of big business and the banks, and a number of grass-roots activist groups began popping up and demanding special consideration and protection. Our solution was the “New Deal”, a social welfare program that would be guided by a brain trust of experts who would help regulate and stimulate economic growth by protecting businesses from failure and preventing what they saw as risk of monopoly consolidation of the market. This is what gave us the failed Social Security program we have and the over-inflated Medicare/Medicaid system of healthcare we’re all trying to reform to one extreme or the other and the business subsidization and financial bailouts we’ve been fighting over. This also paved the way for what we now call the military/industrial complex and countless other government spending projects.
In the years just before World War II, Germany was promoting huge innovations in scientific research and development and many of the American big business barons were investing lots of money in the German economy, which had far more political backing for business growth (they were begging for growth) and far less restrictions on how these businesses operated. While it may be important to know how much these businessmen supported Hitler’s atrocities against humanity, it’s equally important to note their overt support of his political objective… a population whose development was tightly controlled by an authority figure who was backed by strong military force. This is where we need to get into the meaning of the word “fascism”.
The word comes from the Roman “fasces”, which is an axe wrapped in a bundle of sticks. While it started as the symbol of the power of the state over life and death, over time, it merely became a symbol of the Republic. While the meaning was mildly lost over time, it was revived by Benito Mussolini and the nationalist/syndicalist movement in Italy as the symbol for their mixture of left-wing and right-wing political ideals, resulting in authoritarian rule over the state. This led to the current meaning of the term “fascism”. From 1916 to 1936, the fasces was featured on the US dime as a symbol of the power of the Republic, much like it had been used in the later years of the Roman Republic. After “the rise of fascism”, we changed the bladed fasces for one donning a flame and swapped the Roman goddess Liberty out with FDR’s face…
This is ironic, of course, because when you consider the development of American politics and the collusion of business, the media, and the military, then the New Deal is a uniquely pivotal point in the history of this nation and our fascistic behavior. This is common criticism of the New Deal policies of directing the market, but a dispute often begins to arise when people call this “fascism”. This battle of semantics has lost the true functional purpose of the state as the lord over life and death. Statism is fascism…
In fact, many wealthy and influential people in America in the 1930s quietly supported the fascist ideals that were coming out of Italy and Germany. American ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, noted several prominent Americans who were sympathetic to the fascist movements in Germany and Italy. News tycoon William R. Hurst published several articles in his papers in favor of fascism and the Nazis – direct parallels can even be drawn between FDR’s National Recovery Act and Mussolini’s establishment of cartels to manage industry development.
This staunch denial of authoritarianism with the United States in the face of such obvious statist-fascism prompted a book by Henry Sinclair Lewis titled “It Can’t Happen Here” which follows the rise of a fictional US Senator running for President who’s platform of social reform and patriotic values is merely a trick to gain support for his authoritarian agenda. This satirical look at American voters in comparison to the Germans in the 1930s still rings true today. It can happen here… It can happen anywhere.