Review of "Three New Deals" by Wolfgang Schivelbusch

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In my opinion, there is no better historian of the New Deal than John T. Flynn (see here and here).  This book owes a debt to Flynn – a debt which is gracefully acknowledged in the final chapter.

Schivelbusch’s thesis is that all countries were looking for a response to the Great Depression.  Socialism in Russia and Fascism in Italy and later Germany were such responses.  These systems turned away from free market capitalism in favor of state planning.  Schivelbusch is careful to restrict analysis to the economic systems, especially in their early stages.  It is possible to separate the Fascist economic system (especially in Italy) from the later abhorrent actions of Fascist governments.  He quotes a definition of Fascism which describes it as “a form of society that was not yet socialist but no longer capitalist.”  The system was “organized into a strong centralized state that controlled capital without appropriating it”.  Sound familiar?

Schivelbusch then compares these economic systems with Roosevelt’s economic system, which was also a turn from free market capitalism.  As he says, “all three were considered postliberal state-capitalist or state-socialist systems, more closely related to one another than to classic Anglo-French liberalism.”

These systems then collided in WWII.  Roosevelt’s system won – and as a consequence, its sympathizers wrote the history.  This fact has obscured our analysis.  American propaganda turned into to official history.  Schivelbusch seeks to look past all that and analyze simply the economic systems, free from bias – a difficult task.  As a reader, one should try to put oneself in the shoes of someone living in the US in the early 1930s.  As such, one would know nothing about Fascism as far as a system of government that starts wars and kills for nationalistic purposes.  One would know Fascism only as an economic response to the Great Depression – a response that seemed to be working.

Schivelbusch discusses similarities among Fascism, Sovietism and New Dealism with respect to nationalism, cults of leadership, propaganda, love of/return to land, and public works projects.  The similarities are obvious, as many of the political leaders of the time admit that they were copying each other.

As an aside, the propaganda chapter leads with a wonderful Max Lerner quote: “the most damning blow that the dictatorships have struck at democracy has been the compliment they have paid us in taking over (and perfecting) our most prized devices of persuasion and our underlying contempt for the credulity of the masses.”  I thought the chapter on propaganda was the best.  We get the sense that “education” and “propaganda” are, in many ways, interchangeable terms.  The difference is merely one of perspective.  As Schivelbusch quotes Harold Lasswell, “it is proper to speak of Communism as propaganda in Chicago and education in Moscow.”  Schivelbusch then goes on to discuss Roosevelt’s high level of control over radio.

If one takes only one thing from Schivelbusch it should be that the American response to the New Deal was also a statist, soft-totalitarianism, which were should not allow official history to pervert.  As he says:

The problem with the New Deal-Fascism comparison of the 1930s . . . has always been this concept of a “genteel” or “soft” American Fascism.  A soft—that is, democratic—Fascism seems to be a contradiction in terms.  But is it really?  Didn’t Tocqueville long ago warn against the leveling and conformist tendencies in American society?  And aren’t there entire passages in Democracy in America that read like precursors to Huxley’s Brave New World, that classic of genteel totalitarianism?

2 Responses to Review of "Three New Deals" by Wolfgang Schivelbusch

  1. […] not recognized is that the US did so as well. Our mastermind was FDR. He admired Mussolini (this book has assembled enough information to convince anyone), but Mussolini-style fascism wouldn’t […]

  2. […] Alt Right posts some thoughts on American Fascism. I also recommend this book. […]

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