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Fascism is a totalitarian economic and political ideology that arose in early twentieth-century Europe and came to dominate the social and political systems of Italy under Benito Mussolini and Germany under Adolf Hitler. Fascism was primarily statist in nature, relying on big government solutions and "crony capitalism", and openly hostile towards conventional religion. Fascism was influential in Portugal as well, and had followers in most European countries and in Argentina. The last regime that had some fascist elements, that of Francisco Franco in Spain, came to an end in 1975.

The name "fascism" derives from an ancient Roman symbol, the fasces, a group of birch rods bundled together with an axe. It symbolizes strength in unity; the rods are weak by themselves but strong when bundled together. Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. has stated,

The Fascists were not conservative in any very meaningful sense. They did not wish to preserve the existing order, or even to turn back the clock to some more stable century. They purposefully planned to transform the existing order into a new and all-absorbing authoritarianism, based upon the energies and frustrations of modern industrialism. The Fascists, in a meaningful sense, were revolutionaries.[1]


Fascists believe that all actions should be done for the good of the state; they reject classical liberalism, which upholds the rights of the individual. Fascism ignores or rejects Christianity, though some fascist leaders such as Franco have exploited organized religion for political gain. This definition extends to economic policy as well, with government and business made to work together for this end. This is called "corporatism."

Characteristics of fascism include a belief that the state is more important than the individual; a leaning towards authoritarian government and violence; preference for centralized economic planning; an emphasis on nationalism and national traditions; militarism; information control and censorship; media propagation of the Great Leader which demonizes and trivializes his critics; and a rejection of both free enterprise and Socialism in favor of corporatist economic policies.

Fascist regimes have pushed their agendas by concentrating on a "scapegoat"--typically a group that is deemed to be foreign in origin or beliefs or both. Examples include the vehement Nazi attack on the Jews and Gypsies and the campaigns waged by several fascist regimes against Freemasonry. The characteristics of fascism also include rampant cronyism and corruption, as well as rigged elections and a general disdain for human rights.[2]


The prototypical fascist regime was that of Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943. Other regimes which included corporatist elements are those of Francisco Franco in Spain (1936-1975) and Antonio Salazar in Portugal (1932-1968). German Nazism referred to government mandated corporatist entities as industrial cartels and added an obsession with race. Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek observed in the final stages of World War II, "the rise of fascism and Marxism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period but a necessary outcome of those tendencies. Yet it is significant that many of the leaders of these movements, from Mussolini down (and including Laval and Quisling) began as socialists and ended as fascists or Nazis. [3]

Inspiration for the New Deal

Main article: New Deal

Italian Premier Benito Mussolini was convinced that the New Deal was copying Fascist economic policies.[4] Nazi Minister of Economics Hjalmar Schacht declared that President Franklin Roosevelt had the same economic idea as Hitler and Mussolini;[5] the official Nazi Party organ, Völkischer Beobachter, applauded “Roosevelt’s adoption of National Socialist strains of thought in his economic and social policies.”[6] Hitler expressed admiration for FDR’s approach, saying, “I have [7] sympathy with President Roosevelt because he marches straight toward his objective over Congress, over lobbies, over stubborn bureaucracies.” FDR's Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes conceded that “what we were doing in this country were some of the things that were being done in Russia and even some of the things that were being [8] in Germany. But we were doing them in an orderly way.”

The Italian Fascist Party program, first promulgated in 1919, demanded “Suppression of incorporated joint-stock companies, industrial or financial. Suppression of all speculation by banks and stock exchanges,” and “Control and taxation of private wealth. Confiscation of unproductive income.”[9] The Fascists called this economic system corporativismo (corporativism). As UCLA international relations and political science professor Herbert Steiner observed in 1938, “So substantial are the limitations under which private property and capital are exercised in Italy, that the conception of ‘capitalism’ is avowedly destroyed and replaced by corporativismo.”[10]

National Recovery Administration

Main article: National Recovery Administration

The centerpiece of the New Deal was the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933, which was “similar to experiments being carried out by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in Italy and by the Nazis in Adolf Hitler's Germany,” according to John A. Garraty, [11] of the Society of American Historians.[12] NIRA established the National Recovery Administration (NRA), “the New Deal’s attempt to bring to America the substance of Mussolini’s corporativism.”[13] As one NRA study concluded, “The Fascist principles are very similar to those which have been evolving in America and so are of particular interest at this time.”[14]

Just as Mussolini “organized each trade or industrial group or professional group into a state supervised trade association” that “operated under state supervision and could plan production, quality, prices, distribution, labor standards, etc.,”[15] the NRA “forced virtually all American industry, manufacturing, and retail business into cartels possessing the power to set prices and wages, and to [16] dictate the levels of production.”

U.S. Ambassador to Italy Breckinridge Long wrote to Roosevelt’s economic advisor Rexford Tugwell, “Your mind runs along these lines [corporativism]… It may have some bearing on the code work under N.R.A.”[17] Tugwell, the “most prominent of the Brain Trusters and the man often considered the chief ideologist[18] of the ‘first New Deal’ (roughly, 1933–34),” said, “I find Italy doing many of the things which seem to me necessary…. Mussolini certainly has the same people opposed to him as FDR has. But he has the press controlled so that they cannot scream lies at him daily.”[19]

As head of the NRA and thus “FDR’s leading bureaucrat,”[20] the President appointed[21] General Hugh Johnson, who was granted “almost unlimited powers over industry.” [22] According to economist Thayer Watkins (who teaches economic history[23] at California’s San José State University), Johnson was “an admirer of Mussolini’s National Corporatist system[24] in Italy and he drew upon the Italian experience in formulating the New Deal.” Walker F. Todd, research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, agrees that Johnson “did admire greatly what Mussolini appeared to have done,” and identifies the NRA as a “thoroughly corporativist” [25] idea.

Johnson was said to carry around with him a copy of Raffaello Viglione’s pro-Mussolini book,[26] The Corporate State[27], even presenting a copy to Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins.[28] In his 1934 retirement speech, he invoked what he called the “shining name” of Mussolini.[29] According to Jonah Goldberg, Johnson displayed a portrait of ‘’Il Duce’’ in his NRA office and actually “distributed a memo at the Democratic Convention proposing that FDR become a Mussolini-like dictator.”[30]

Agricultrual Adjustment Administration

Main article : Agricultural Adjustment Administration

Roosevelt appointed Johnson’s former business partner George Peek to head the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). Both men had “worked with the War Industries Board, the agency that regulated American production during World War I, and they believed their experience of managing an economy almost totally sealed off from the world market would suit the country now.”[31] They had long advocated a policy of expanding tariffs to keep foreign agricultural products out of the United States,[32] a policy that would have again rendered the U.S. economy “almost totally sealed off from the world market”[33]—a fair approximation of “ autarky,”[34] an economic policy particularly but not exclusively “associated with Nazi economic organization.” [35]

Admiration for Mussolini and Hitler

The New York Times reported that the mood in Washington in 1933 was “strangely reminiscent of Rome in the first weeks after the march of the Blackshirts, of Moscow at the beginning of the Five-Year Plan... America today literally asks for orders.” The Roosevelt administration, reported the Times, “envisages a federation of industry, labor and government after the fashion of the corporative State as it exists in Italy.”[36]

Roosevelt privately found Mussolini "admirable," writing to his personal friend John Lawrence, "I don't mind telling you in confidence, that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that admirable Italian gentleman." [37] FDR also wrote to U.S. Ambassador to Italy Breckinridge Long about Mussolini, "I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy and seeking to prevent general European trouble." [38]

Hitler likewise expressed "admiration" for Roosevelt's economic policies, and said he was in accord with" Roosevelt's "moral demand," which he identified as the "quintessence of German philosophy of the State," as he wrote in a letter[39] to U.S. Ambassador to Germany William Dodd.

Fascist means to liberal ends

George Soule, editor of the pro-Roosevelt New Republic magazine, wrote in his 1934 book The Coming American Revolution,[40] "We are trying out the economics of Fascism without having suffered all its social or political ravages." In the North American Review in 1934, the progressive writer Roger Shaw described the New Deal as “Fascist means to gain liberal ends.”[41]

World War II Era

Fascism as an ideological theory was comprehensively discredited in the eyes of most Westerners because of the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II.

Modern Times

"Fascist" is today frequently used as a term of abuse both on the left and on the right against one's political opponents. While few people are willing to describe themselves as fascists or endorse the fascist regimes of the past, fascist parties and parties descended from fascist parties (such as the Alleanza Nazionale in Italy) continue to be a minor force in European politics. Fascism seems not to flourish in countries with an Anglo-centric heritage: America, Australia and Canada have never had significant fascist movements. The British Union of Fascists was never an important force in British politics, although it was significant enough for the government to consider its leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, dangerous enough to intern during the war.

See Also

Further reading

  • Eatwell, Roger. Fascism: A History. (1996). 432 pp.
  • Laqueur, Walter. Fascism: Past, Present, Future. (1996). 245 pp.
  • Payne, Stanley G. A History of Fascism, 1914-1945. U. of Wisconsin Press, 1995. 613 pp. the standard history, by a leading conservative historian


  1. Not Right, Not Left, But a Vital Center, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., New York Times Magazine, April 4, 1948.
  2. Dr. Lawrence Britt "Fascism Anyone?," Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, page 20
  3. Friedrich A. Hayek, Road to Serfdom, Reader's Digest Condensed Version, April 1945, pg. 31 - 32.
  4. Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism, 1914-1945’’ (University of Wisconsin Press, 1996) ISBN 0299148742, p. 230
  5. William E. Leuchtenburg, ‘’Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal’’ (Harper & Row, 1963), p. 203
  6. Wolfgang Schivelbusch, ‘’Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933-1939’’ (Macmillan, 2006) ISBN 080507452X, p. 19
  7. [1],
  8. done under Hitler
  9. Count Carlo Sforza,’’Contemporary Italy - Its Intellectual and Moral Origins (Read Books, 2007) ISBN 1406760307), pp. 295-296
  10. H. Arthur Steiner, ‘’Government in Fascist Italy’’ (McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1938), p. 92
  11. past president
  12. John Arthur Garraty, ‘’The American Nation’’, 4th ed., vol. 2 (Harper & Row, 1979) ISBN 0060422696, p. 656
  13. Leonard Peikoff, ‘’The Ominous Parallels’’ (Stein and Day, 1982) ISBN 081282850X, p. 293
  14. Janet C. Wright, "Capital and Labor Under Fascism," National Archives, Record Group 9, Records of the National Recovery Administration,Special Research and Planning Reports and Memoranda, 1933-35, Entry 31, Box 3
  15. John T. Flynn, ‘’The Roosevelt Myth’’ (The Devin-Adair Company, 1948) pp. 42-43
  16. [2]
  17. Long to Tugwell, May 16, 1934, Breckinridge Long Papers, Box 111, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress)
  18. FDR — The Man, the Leader, the Legacy, Part 11 by Ralph Raico, Future of Freedom Foundation, February 2001.
  19. Jonah Goldberg, ‘’Liberal Fascism: the Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (Random House, Inc., 2008) ISBN 0385511841, p.156
  20. Hugh Samuel Johnson, Arlington National Cemetery Website.
  21. General Hugh Johnson, Vanity Fair.
  22. NEW LAW IS ANTICIPATED; President Telephones Associate of Baruch of His Selection. ANSWER AWAITS PASSAGE As Administrator, He Would Have Under Roosevelt Vast Powers Over Business. LEADER IN DRAFTING BILL Plans Made to Put Measure in Operation Within Week After It Is Enacted. JOHNSON CHOSEN INDUSTRY CHIEF, The Associated Press, May 19, 1933.
  23. Thayer Watkins, Ph.D, San Jose State University.
  24. The Economic System of Corporatism, Thayer Watkins, San José State University.
  25. The Federal Reserve Board and the Rise of the Corporate State, 1931-1934, Walter F. Todd, Economic Education Bulletin, Great Barrington, Massachusetts (ISSN 0424–2769) (USPS 167–360),
  26. http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Fascism.html
  27. ‘’http://books.google.com/books?id=vIJQHAAACAAJ
  28. Frances Perkins, ‘’The Roosevelt I Knew’’ (The Viking press, 1946) p. 206. Socialist (Kent Worcester, ‘’C.L.R. James: A Political Biography’’ [SUNY Press, 1995] ISBN 079142751X, p. 175) George Rawich wrote that Perkins told him Johnson gave each member of the Cabinet a book by Fascist theoretician Giovanni Gentile, “and we all read it with great care.” Schivelbusch suggests the book was actually Mussolini advisor Fausto Pitigliani’s ‘’The Italian Corporativist State.’’ (‘’Three New Deals’’, p. 203, n. 28)
  29. Arthur Meier Schlesinger, ‘’The coming of the New Deal, 1933-1935’’ (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003) ISBN 0618340866, p. 153
  30. http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=Mjc0ZmFlMDFiNDJkODdjYjE3NDY5OGVlY2JiZWRmNjM=
  31. Eric Rauchway, ‘’The Great Depression & the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction’’ (Oxford University Press, 2008) ISBN 0195326342, p. 76
  32. William J. Barber , ‘’From New Era to New Deal: Herbert Hoover, the Economists, and American Economic Policy, 1921-1933’’ (Cambridge University Press, 1989) ISBN 0521367379, p. 50
  33. Neil Vousden, ‘’The Economics of Trade Protection’’ (Cambridge University Press, 1990) ISBN 052134669X, p. 91
  34. http://www.economist.com/research/economics/alphabetic.cfm?letter=A#autarky
  35. http://www.history-ontheweb.co.uk/concepts/autarky.htm
  36. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F60A1FFF3E5C16738DDDAE0894DD405B838FF1D3
  37. David F. Schmitz, The United States and fascist Italy, 1922-1940 [University of North Carolina Press, 1988 ISBN 080781766X, p. 139)
  38. F.D.R., His Personal Letters, Vol. 3 [Ed. Elliott Roosevelt] [Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1947], p. 352.
  39. http://www.cdojerusalem.org/icons-multimedia/ClientsArea/HoH/LIBARC/ARCHIVE/Chapters/Forging/Foreign/Message.html
  40. George Soule, The Coming American Revolution, p. 294.
  41. http://www.reason.com/news/show/122026.html