…if he weren’t a fucking moron. One of the books that has gone missing in all of the criticisms of Jonah Goldberg’s ridiculous Democrat-bashing screed Liberal Fascism is Wolfgang’s Schivelbusch’s Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939.
Schivelbusch correctly notes (as does Goldberg) that were similarities among the U.S., Germany, and Italy between 1933-1939: the state did become more involved in the economy, there was state propaganda–which was informed by what people wanted (at least superficially), and each society was led by a charismatic figure. But Schuelbusch offers an explanation for why the New Deal did not result in fascism:
THE PROBLEM WITH the New Deal-Fascism comparison of the 1930s (and all the America-as-Fascist constructs in post-Vietnam political rhetoric) 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?
That the comparison is made at all is surely due to the desire to explain a society so profoundly shaped by consensus. But the notion of “soft Fascism” does not in the end provide much illumination. A consideration of the question raised by Werner Sombart in 1906–“Why is there no socialism in the United States?”–may be of greater help in understanding what to the European mind sometimes appears as the enigma of American democracy. By the 1930s, commentators were asking the same question, this time with reference to socialism’s archenemy: “Why is there no Fascism in the United States?” The answer in both cases was the same: neither socialism nor Fascism could take hold in the United States because Americans had no class consciousness. In Europe, class consciousness had been the driving force behind both movements. In the nineteenth century, socialism became the political creed of the working class; in the twentieth century, Fascism and National Socialism emerged as the rebellion of the middle class against socialism as well as capitalism. Their ingenious innovation was to declare themselves above and beyond class, a shift that explains their mass appeal and their ability to defame “old-style” socialism as serving the narrow interests of a single class.
As we have seen again and again, Fascism and National Socialism were “American” in their use of techniques of mass manipulation; we can now say that they were also American in their ideology of classlessness. The political, psychological, and charismatic leap needed to carry Fascism and National Socialism to power had been made in America under Andrew Jackson a century earlier, establishing classlessness as practically a civil religion. In their effort to create a classless folk-community, Fascism and National Socialism can be seen as attempts to modernize the Continent and raise it up to America’s level. But influence flowed in the other direction as well. In its adoption of a social welfare system, the New Deal, it could be said, was carrying out a transformation that had taken effect in Europe, and first of all in Germany, fifty years previously. It is tempting to conjecture that a great swap occurred: While Fascist Europe took over the American creed of classlessness, New Deal America imported major elements of European economic and social order.
To extend this image, we might say that before the 1930s Europe and America were each in possession of only half of what was needed to create a modern mass society. Europe had its social welfare state yet remained mired in class struggle; America had its middle-class peace of mind but no system of social support. The crisis of the Depression made clear that neither ideology sufficed to hold society together. In Europe, the persistence of class struggle and class consciousness produced enormous social friction, while in the United States the absence of the lubricant of welfare-statism did much the same. But the imposition of Fascism in Europe was only achieved through violence, while the acceptance of state control in America was accomplished peacefully. This distinction may also be explained by the issue of class. To establish their version of a classless Volksgemeinschaft and lo stato, Fascism and National Socialism had to destroy the mighty infrastructure of class-consciousness: political parties, politicized unions, churches, and a widely ideologized sphere of culture and public opinion. The absence in America of both class-consciousness and its social, political, and cultural institutions made it relatively easy to persuade each individual in the mass of unorganized citizens that the actions of the state–represented by an authoritative you-and-me president–were undertaken for his or her personal benefit.
What Goldberg does not understand is that fascism is not defined by its methods of or success in communication. What defines fascism is the breakdown of individual liberty and the rule of law, and the need for the use of coercive force to maintain power in the absence of liberty and the rule of law.
Schivelbusch’s book is a good read and quite interesting because, in the U.S., we typically don’t place the rise of the New Deal in the context of a mass society (explicitly anyway). If there is any justice in this Schivelbusch will sell more books than Goldberg.
Not counting on that, though….