Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933-1939

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Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany, 1933-1939 Wolfgang Schivelbusch by Wolfgang Schivelbusch * 242 pages * $26.00

Reviewed by Richard M. Ebeling

During World War II the Unit- the United States took on the role of the "Arsenal of Democracy," supplying its allies the wherewithal to battle Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, as well as assuming global leadership in opposing those aggressive fascist regimes that threatened world peace. It is often forgotten, however, that in the 1930s many American and European commentators focused on the many similarities between Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and the planned economies in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

Historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch takes a fresh look at these similarities in Three New Deals. He is quick to point out that he is not saying that FDR's New Deal was the same as the Nazi regime. Hitler rapidly established an absolute dictatorship that suppressed all political opposition. In America civil liberties and freedom of the press were never abridged by the Roosevelt administration, however much political and economic power was increasingly concentrated in Washington during the 1930s.

But nonetheless the methods of controlling the economy and influencing public opinion were closely parallel, as Schivelbusch shows. World War I had ushered in a new politicization of society and captured the spirit of many intellectuals and policy advocates in the 1920s and 1930s. Government architecture in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and FDR's America were all bigger than life, creating an imagery of power and awe transcending the mundane efforts and achievements of private individuals.

What Schivelbusch brings out is the change in the role and conception of political leadership. Gone was the notion that those in political office were executors of constitutionally limited responsibilities. Now the "leader" spoke and led outside the ordinary restraints of the political process. Both Hitler and Roosevelt appealed to "the people" directly, with the claim that unusual circumstances required extraordinary authority. With his fireside chats FDR took advantage of a popular new technology, radio, to create the impression that he was addressing every American's hopes and fears; the President thus became a member of every family.

In Germany radios were far less widely used. So Hitler took advantage of that other means of mass communication - giant raUies and ceremonies at which thousands could directly see and hear their Fuehrer. But even in the United States rallies and parades were used to arouse support for the New Deal recovery programs, especially the National Recovery Administration, which tried to impose the same type of fascist planning on business that Mussolini and soon Hitler established in their countries.

Grand government projects were all part of the projection of state power and authority. In Italy Mussolini cleared the Pontine Marshes outside Rome and designed model communities for resettlement of the unemployed. …