NEWSLETTER ON RISE OF US EXECUTIVE POWER AND TOTALITARIANISM
#5, July 20, 2020
Compiled by Dick Bennett for a Culture of Peace and Justice
(#1 Jan. 10, 2012; #2 April 17, 2014; #3 June 8, 2017; #4 March 6, 2019)
What’s at stake: NAZISM, FASCISM, DICTATORSHIP, POLICE STATE, TOTALITARIANISM, EXTREME FAR RIGHT? Many books and articles have been written to distinguish among these categories. My more limited subject is the rise of the power of the US presidency from its beginning to the present, which is denied by nobody. I don’t try to answer whether or not that historical fact makes the present federal government fit one or more of the preceding labels. But some of these books and articles do, and they sound an alarm for our democracy. And my second section (and see preceding newsletters) gives information about the rise of Hitler for context.
The Increasing Power of the Presidency in the US
Michael Roberto. The Coming of the American Behemoth.
Chris Hedges. Tyranny or Revolution?
Henry Giroux. Neolibeeral Fascism, The Terror of the Unforeseen.
Nancy MacLean. Democracy in Chains.
Federico Finchelstein. …History of Fascist Lies.
The Global Radical Right
The Rise of HITLER and Nazism
Benjamin Hett. The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic.
George Paulson on Mark Mazower, Hitler’s Empire.
Thomas Childers. The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany.
The Rise of Presidential Power in the US
The Coming of the American Behemoth: The Origins of Fascism in the United States, 1920–1940. Monthly Review P, 2019. 466pp.
Most people in the United States have been trained to recognize fascism in movements such as Germany’s Third Reich or Italy’s National Fascist Party, where charismatic demagogues manipulate incensed, vengeful masses. We rarely think of fascism as linked to the essence of monopoly-finance capitalism, operating under the guise of American free enterprise. But, as Michael Joseph Roberto argues, this is exactly where fascism’s embryonic forms began gestating in the United States, during the so-called prosperous 1920s and the Great Depression of the following decade. Drawing from a range of authors who wrote during the 1930s and early 1940s, Roberto examines how the driving force of American fascism comes, not from reactionary movements below, but from the top, namely, Big Business and the power of finance capital. More subtle than its earlier European counterparts, writes Roberto, fascist America’s racist, top-down quashing of individual liberties masqueraded as “real democracy,” “upholding the Constitution,” and the pressure to be “100 Percent American.”
is intended as a primer, to forge much-needed discourse on the nature of fascism, and its particular forms within the United States. The book focuses on the role of the capital-labor relationship during the period between the two World Wars, when the United States became the epicenter of the world-capitalist system. Concentrating on specific processes, which he characterizes as terrorist and non-terrorist alike, Roberto argues that the interwar period was a fertile time for the incubation of a protean, more salable form of tyranny—a fascist behemoth in the making, whose emergence has been ignored or dismissed by mainstream historians. This book is a necessity for anyone who fears America tipping ever closer, in this era of Trump, to full-blown fascism.
Praise for the book:
Lucid, hard-hitting, rich in historical detail, and passionately Marxist in its dynamic definition of fascism as an “inherent function of monopoly-capitalist production and relations whose telos was and remains the totalitarian rule of capitalist dictatorship,” Michael Roberto’s is a vital and necessary book. Fundamental to fascism, Roberto contends, is the growth of state power in the service of the capitalist ruling class, the reactionary politics of the middle class, and the manipulation of public consciousness by ad-men and PR experts who turn everything and everyone into commodities. All were fascist processes, Roberto shows, “because they aimed at the domination of capital over society.” This book could shift the discussion.—Paul Breines, co-author with Andrew Arato,
· Marx taught us that it is impossible to deal effectively with the problems of the present without understanding how they evolved out of the past. This would seem to hold in spades for what most people see as the surprising rise of fascism in the U.S. today. Yet, while early European versions of fascism never lacked for the attention of its critics, our homegrown variety, which flourished between the two World Wars, has been almost entirely forgotten. No more, thanks to this absolutely essential contribution by Michael Roberto. Highly Recommended. —Bertell Ollman, author, and hundreds of books, articles, manuals, and games dealing with Marxism
· In this carefully researched study of what contemporaneous US Marxists had to say about 1930s fascist processes, Michael Roberto argues that the essence of fascism—capitalist dictatorship—is entirely compatible with liberal democracy. His thesis not only illuminates Depression-era politics and economics but also carries profound implications for our time. Barbara Foley, author,
retired in 2016 from the faculty of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, the largest historically black educational institution in the United States, where he taught contemporary world history. A longtime political activist in Greensboro, NC, he has worked as a journalist and published essays in , , and other scholarly journals. Roberto is also a percussionist who has performed with leading jazz and R&B musicians.
Chris Hedges: America Faces A Historic Choice — "Ugly Corporate Tyranny" Or Revolution. Popular Resistance.org (7-17-20).
By Chauncey Devega, Salon. Time is broken in Donald Trump's America. Minutes feel like hours, hours feel like days. Weeks are months, and months are years. And there is an overwhelming sense of time warped by dread as the country careens towards a dangerous climax on Election Day — whatever the outcome. Disorientation is a feature of life in a failing democracy where fascism is ascendant. In a widely read conversation here at Salon during the first few weeks of the national pandemic lockdown and the implosion of America's economy, journalist and bestselling author Chris Hedges warned that, compared to what.. -more-
Henry A. Giroux and the culture of neoliberal fascism. mronline.org (8-25-19).
HENRY A. GIROUX’s book The Terror of the Unforeseen analyzes
the conditions that have enabled and led to Donald Trump’s rule and the
consequences of that rule, that have ushered in an authoritarian version of
capitalism. Giroux provides a realistic analysis that holds out the hope that,
through collective efforts, change is possible and democracy […] Source
Trump and the spectre of fascism. mronline.org. 7-30-19.
According to Giroux “a distinctive economic-political formation has been produced” one he calls “neoliberal fascism.” He continues: “Neoliberalism and fascism conjoin and advance in a comfortable and mutually compatible project and movement that connects the worst excesses of capitalism with fascist ideals;…” After years of neoliberalism, Giroux believes that “the mobilizing passions of fascism have […]
DEMOCRACY IN CHAINS
The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America By Nancy MacLean. Viking, 2017.
I excised several opening paragraphs. For the complete review: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/15/books/review/democracy-in-chains-nancy-maclean.html?mcubz=3 --Dick
American democracy was unprepared to defend itself against the agenda of Buchanan and conservative benefactors. Buchanan may not have been the only actor in this movement, and the role of conservative donors and economists has been documented elsewhere, but we are now living in a world he helped shepherd into reality. Public choice economists argue that those with the most to lose from change will pay the most attention, which has certainly been the case with Charles and David Koch. They and their friends have invested enormous sums in organizations that have changed the national debate about the proper role of government in the economy. Our politically polarized and increasingly paralyzed government institutions are the result.
With this book MacLean joins a growing chorus of scholars and journalists documenting the systematic, organized effort to undermine democracy and change the rules. In “Dark Money,” Jane Mayer tells the tale of the Koch brothers. In Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal, the historian Kim Phillips-Fein shows how a small group of businessmen initiated a decades-long effort to build popular support for free market economics. The political scientist Steven M. Teles writes about the chemicals magnate John M. Olin in The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement.
Power consolidation sometimes seems like a perpetual motion machine, continually widening the gap between those who have power and money and those who don’t. Still, “Democracy in Chains” leaves me with hope: Perhaps as books like MacLean’s continue to shine a light on important truths, Americans will begin to realize they need to pay more attention and not succumb to the cynical view that known liars make the best leaders.
Heather Boushey is the executive director and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
A version of this review appears in print on August 20, 2017, on Page BR19 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Minority Rule.
Also see review in The Nation (Sept. 25/Oct. 2, 2017), “Mont Pelerin in Virginia” by Kim Phillips-Fein.
HISTORY OF FASCIST LIES
Federico Finchelstein. A Brief History of Fascist Lies. U of California P, 2020.
In this short companion to his book From Fascism to Populism in History, world-renowned historian Federico Finchelstein explains why fascists regarded simple and often hateful lies as truth, and why so many of their followers believed the falsehoods. Throughout the history of the twentieth century, many supporters of fascist ideologies regarded political lies as truth incarnated in their leader. From Hitler to Mussolini, fascist leaders capitalized on lies as the base of their power and popular sovereignty.
This history continues in the present, when lies again seem to increasingly replace empirical truth. Now that actual news is presented as “fake news” and false news becomes government policy, A Brief History of Fascist Lies urges us to remember that the current talk of “post-truth” has a long political and intellectual lineage that we cannot ignore.
Federico Finchelstein is Professor of History at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York City. He is the author of several books, including From Fascism to Populism in History, Transatlantic Fascism, and The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War. His books have been translated into many languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, and Italian. He contributes to major American, European, and Latin American media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, CNN, Foreign Policy, Clarín, Corriere della Sera, Nexos, and Folha de S.Paulo.
"There is no better book on fascism's complex and vexed
relationship with truth."––Jason Stanley, author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them
"Federico Finchelstein delivers a vital compendium on a dark seam running through our modern politics. This is not just a deft intellectual history of fascism, but an urgent reminder of the deep well of hate that lies beneath our era of 'alternative facts' and 'fake news.'"––Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post
"At a time when politicians like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro claim that information they don’t like is 'fake news,' Finchelstein's history of fascist lying strikes a chord. From Mussolini onward, truth is what the leader needs it to be."––Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Professor of Italian and History, New York University
"Finchelstein brings clarity and precision to the debate about the populist far right at a time when pundits across the globe casually throw around the term 'fascist' with little regard for its history or meaning. Ranging from Europe to the United States to Latin America, Finchelstein shows that dismissing contemporary xenophobic populists as insane swindlers does little to weaken or defeat them and merely allows them to keep winning by waging war on the truth."––Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Deputy Editor, Foreign Policy, and author of Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy
The far right: a global phenomenon. Mronline.org (9-26-19)
In recent years, the reactionary, authoritarian and/or fascist extreme right wing has been in the ascendant all over the world: it already governs half of the world’s countries. Among the best-known examples are: Trump (United States), Modi (India), Orbán (Hungary), Erdoğan (Turkey), Daesh (Islamic State), Salvini (Italy), Duterte (Philippines), and now Bolsonaro (Brazil).
NAZI RISE TO POWER
The Rise of Totalitarianism in Nazi Germany
THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY
Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic by Benjamin Carter Hett. Henry Holt and Co., 2018. 304 pp.
A riveting account of how the Nazi Party came to power and how the failures of the Weimar Republic and the shortsightedness of German politicians allowed it to happen.
Why did democracy fall apart so quickly and completely in Germany in the 1930s? How did a democratic government allow Adolf Hitler to seize power? In The Death of Democracy, Benjamin Carter Hett answers these questions, and the story he tells has disturbing resonances for our own time.
To say that Hitler was elected is too simple. He would never have come to power if Germany’s leading politicians had not responded to a spate of populist insurgencies by trying to co-opt him, a strategy that backed them into a corner from which the only way out was to bring the Nazis in. Hett lays bare the misguided confidence of conservative politicians who believed that Hitler and his followers would willingly support them, not recognizing that their efforts to use the Nazis actually played into Hitler’s hands. They had willingly given him the tools to turn Germany into a vicious dictatorship.
Benjamin Carter Hett is a leading scholar of twentieth-century Germany and a gifted storyteller whose portraits of these feckless politicians show how fragile democracy can be when those in power do not respect it. He offers a powerful lesson for today, when democracy once again finds itself embattled and the siren song of strongmen sounds ever louder.
Praise for The Death of Democracy
Named "Book of the Week" by CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Daily Telegraph (UK) and The Times of London
“[An] extremely fine study of the end of constitutional rule in Germany. . . . With careful prose and fine scholarship, with fine thumbnail sketches of individuals and concise discussions of institutions and economics, . . . [Benjamin Carter Hett] sensitively describes a moral crisis that preceded a moral catastrophe.” -- Timothy Snyder, The New York Times Book Review (Editor's Choice)
"At a time of deep distress over the stability of democracy in America and elsewhere, Benjamin Carter Hett's chronicle of the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler could not be more timely. 'The Death of Democracy' makes for chilling reading." -- Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post
"If this is an oft-told and tragic tale, Hett's brisk and lucid study offers compelling new perspectives inspired by current threats to free societies around the world. . . . It is both eerie and enlightening how much of Hett's account rings true in our time." -- E. J. Dionne Jr., The Washington Post
“Particularly instructive. . . . a penetrating study of how Nazism overtook the Weimar Republic. Hett never mentions Trump; the societal parallels are, of course, far from exact. But his account carries a troubling ? and clearly intentional ? resonance.” -- Richard North Patterson, Huffington Post
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Benjamin Carter Hett is the author of Burning the Reichstag, Crossing Hitler, and Death in the Tiergarten. He is a professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and holds a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and a law degree from the University of Toronto. Born in Rochester, New York, he grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and now lives in New York City.
Big lies. Mronline.org (6-11-19)
Benjamin Carter Hett on what we can learn from Hitler’s rise to power.
5:33 PM (2 hours ago)
Your thoughts (or Chomsky’s , I can’t remember, sorry) on Weimar, and its relevance today really got me thinking. Chris Hedges, as you probably know, frequently references Weimar and the rise of fascism in his talks. I’ve started a new book that adds yet more fascinating context (namely, the very deep roots of German nationalism that the Nazis were able to tap into) to the story. Mark Mazower’s “Hitler’s Empire.” Mazower, if you don’t know him, is an excellent historian. His book on the German occupation of Greece during WWII won all kinds of awards. His book “Dark Continent” is the best short single volume work on modern Europe I think I’ve ever read.
Rule by Fear : A new one-volume book offers an updated history of the rise and fall of the Third Reich By ..
A review of by Thomas Childers
FEBRUARY 1, 2018
Only from about page 50 does the narrative broaden out, when we encounter the conditions in postwar Bavaria that allowed Hitler to emerge onto the political scene. Charged with investigating the myriad ultra-right-wing groups that proliferated in the aftermath of an abortive attempt to stage a communist revolution in Munich in early 1919, Hitler found his way into the tiny German Workers’ Party, which, as Childers remarks, “had no program, no plans, no advertising, no mimeograph machine, not even a rubber stamp (a vital necessity for any German organization).”
Attracting growing numbers of adherents with his spellbinding oratory, Hitler took over the party, reorganized it, and led it into a disastrous attempt to seize power in Munich on November 9, 1923, in the notorious beer-hall putsch, which he launched in imitation of Mussolini’s successful March on Rome the previous year.
Learning the lesson of his failure—which also earned him a spell in prison—Hitler focused on winning votes for his party, part of a larger strategy of working within the political system in order to undermine it. Childers is absolutely clear that this tactic was combined at all times with intense and pervasive violence on the streets, particularly from the brown-shirted stormtroopers, the strong-arm wing of the movement. Childers’s view of the ill-fated liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic is correspondingly gloomy, stressing the continuity of political murders (376 from 1918 to 1922 alone), the economic disasters of hyperinflation and depression, and the radical dynamism and increasingly effective organization of the Nazis, who by the early 1930s were reaching saturation levels in their electoral campaigns, as well as engaging in extreme and brutal assaults on their opponents. . . .
convincingly depicts the rapid series of moves through which Hitler
outmaneuvered them, using a ruthless combination of legislative decrees and street
violence to create a one-party state by the summer of 1933. Over 100,000
socialists and communists were thrown into improvised concentration camps and
subjected to horrifying brutality before being released as a warning to anyone
else who dared to oppose the Hitler government. Childers is indeed particularly
good on the violent nature of the Nazi seizure of power between January and
July 1933. He comprehensively demolishes the once-fashionable view that Hitler
achieved supreme power by the general consent of the German people and with
only a minimal use of force, exercised mainly against despised minorities and
marginal groups. Hitler’s rise during this period was based on terror in its
rawest, most radical form. . . .
ike Shirer, Childers sees Nazi Germany as a totalitarian society, at least in the sense that the regime aimed to subordinate everyone totally to its will. Goebbels boasted that Hitler and his government had made “a total revolution” that “encompasses every aspect of public life from the bottom up” and erases “any realms in which the individual belongs to himself.” Yet it is on this subject that Childers arguably underestimates the degree to which people did manage to preserve some privacy and autonomy for themselves. More generally, he says far too little about German resistance and dissent, which has become the subject of a great deal of research over the past few decades, or about the limits of Hitler’s power.
Even so, Childers avoids falling into the same trap as Shirer: He doesn’t argue that the Nazi dictatorship and its policies were welcomed by the great mass of Germans. For example, the anti-Semitic violence in which the regime engaged from the start, in an attempt to drive Germany’s tiny Jewish population into emigration, was far from universally embraced. The economic recovery was much more popular, though Childers doesn’t really say how it was achieved, and he seriously underestimates the extent to which rearmament provided its motor—indeed, the economy in general gets rather short shrift in the book.
Childers also offers an excellent account of Hitler’s radicalization of the regime as he sacked his more moderate generals and ministers in 1937–38 and replaced them with men more willing to do his bidding. Here again, he makes it clear that war was the last thing the great mass of ordinary Germans wanted, despite all the regime’s efforts to prepare them for it. He also pays due attention, as Shirer did not, to the morale of ordinary Germans during the war. Hitler’s popularity reached its height after the defeat of France in 1940, before plummeting into the depths with the reversals on the Eastern front from Stalingrad onward, the devastating aerial bombings of German cities, and the Allied landings in Normandy in 1944. . . . more
Also see the Review: “How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won” By HEATHER BOUSHEY. NYT, AUG. 15, 2017.
Contents: US Totalitarianism Newsletter #4, March 6, 2019 https://jamesrichardbennett.blogspot.com/2019/03/us-totalitarianism-fascism-newsletter-4.html
(in rough chronological order)
Germany: from Weimar Republic to Hitler by Noam Chomsky
USA Up Through Bush II
F. H. Buckley. The Once and Future King. The Rise of Crown Government in America. And supportive review by Bradley Gitz.
Charlie Savage. Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy.
Andrew Rudalevige. The New Imperial Presidency: Renewing Presidential Power after Watergate.
Naomi Wolf. The End of America: A Citizen’s Call to Action.
“Expansive use of Executive Orders” by McManus.
Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright,
“American Fascism, in 1944 and Today” by
“Donald Trump: A Fascist by Any Other Name” by Bill Weinberg
Numerous Executive Orders by Aimee Crochet
Overview and Resistance
Chris Hedges, YouTube: “Stop Fascism,” Roman Empire and USA
4 Reviews of Hedges’ book American Fascists
Anti-Fascism and Democratic Restoration
Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray.
The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America by F. H. Buckley.
Contents of US Totalitarianism, Fascism Newsletter #3 (at end)
END OMNI NEWSLETTER ON TOTALITARIANISM, FASCISM #5