By Jasper, William F.
The New American , Vol. 29, No. 2
From the very start of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration, there were unmistakable indications that his "New Dear would be moving in the statist direction. Frances Perkins, FDR's secretary of labor, recounted, decades later, a telling occurrence at the first FDR Cabinet meeting. She recalled:
At the first meeting of the Cabinet after the President took office in 1933, the financier and adviser to Roosevelt, Bernard Baruch, and Baruch's friend General Hugh Johnson, who was to become the head of the National Recovery Administration, came in with a copy of a book by Gentile. the Italian Fascist theoretician. for each member of the Cabinet, and we all read it with great care.
Perkins related the Cabinet story to George Rawick, 'a socialist historian and professor, who published the quote above in an essay he wrote in 1969 for Radical America, the journal of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
The "Brain Trust" that was guiding FDR's new experiment in governance was composed of collectivists of various ideologies--fascist, socialist, and communist--who were all afire with zeal to "transform" and "restructure" America. Collectivism was in the air; the intellectuals and political classes were enthralled with the supposed wonders of central planning that were being reported in Italy under the fascist system of Benito Mussolini (II Duce, "The Leader") and in Soviet Russia under the Communist Party leadership of Josef Stalin. "Scientific" control and management of all aspects of society by "highly qualified" administrators was all the rage.
Even Adolf Hitler, who had just been installed as Chancellor of Germany a month before Roosevelt's inauguration, was in vogue with many "liberals" and "progressives."
Harold Ickes, FDR's secretary of the interior, admitted years later 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 done in Germany. But we were doing them in an orderly way." Roosevelt himself extolled Mussolini as "that admirable Italian gentleman" and told U.S. Ambassador to Italy Breckenridge Long, "I am much interested and deeply impressed by what he has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy."
According to the New York Times, the general feeling among the ruling class in Washington, D.C., at the outset of the new FOR administration was that America needed a strong autocrat (some even called for a dictator) to deal with the economic crisis. The atmosphere in our nation's capital 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," the Times reported on May 7, 1933. "America today literally asks for orders," the article averred. And the new administration is responding, reported the Times, with a plan that "envisages a federation of industry, labor and government after the fashion of the corporative State as it exists in Italy."
"If this country ever needed a Mussolini, it needs one now," said Senator David Reed, a Pennsylvania Republican. Walter Lippmann, the "dean of American journalists," opined that "'dictatorial powers,' if that is the name for it--is essential."
Mussolini summed up his political philosophy in this motto: "All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state." Roosevelt magnanimously agreed to follow Il Duce's example--if necessary for the good of the country. In his Inaugural Address, he said he would work with Congress to tackle the crisis. But if that proved insufficient, he would seek "temporary departure," requesting "broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe. …