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The Surprising History of What Europe's Dictators Thought of the New Deal

When the New Deal was created, few of its supporters in the United States were as effusive in their praise as German and Italian fascists.

Is the New Deal era of politics coming to an end? After decades of Republican assaults on the New Deal, and Democratic "compromises" to sustain it, we appear to be witnessing its demise. Barack Obama, leader of a political party that since World War II has been defined by its efforts to establish and defend the New Deal, has chipped away at it in his much-maligned debt compromise. The political fallout of cutting into Medicare is secondary to the utterly destructive effect it will on the Democratic Party's legitimacy as a vehicle for protecting working people.

It doesn't stop there; Medicare Social Security and the other existing New Deal programs as a whole are not merely a collection of social obligations. A moral framework has attended their creation at every step, establishing a specific notion of justice in the ordering of economic life in the United States for 75 years, with the executive branch of the federal government acting as its supreme arbiter. Industry, banking and finance as we know them owe their fundamental structure and behavior to the New Deal as much as the fact that most American retirees depend on Medicare to support their health costs.

Lamenting the demise of New Deal liberalism in the Obama era, The Nation's National Affairs Correspondent William Greider wrote this January that "this new reality brings us back to the future, posing fundamental questions about the relationship between capitalism and democracy that citizens and reformers asked 100 years ago." In this light, it is well worth revisiting the history of how The New Deal was perceived internationally in the period it was created. The excerpt below from Historian Thaddeus Russell's book, A Renegade History of the United States (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010), now released in paperback,  is well worth the read. -- AlterNet Senior Editor, Jan Frel 

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It is absurd to claim, as a few have done, that the New Deal, the basis of what we now know as "liberalism," was identical to either German Nazism or Italian Fascism. But it is equally absurd to ignore, as all our textbooks do, the fact that the New Deal and European fascism grew from the same ideological roots, produced strikingly similar policies, and fostered national cultures that, if not identical, bore the resemblance of siblings. Though we think of Hitler's and Mussolini's regimes as pathological, even psychotic, and entirely alien to our political tradition, in fact they were organically connected to the most influential American political movement of the twentieth century.

The policies initiated during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency redefined the relationship between the federal government and American society. The ideas behind those policies overthrew the laissez-faire ideology that had dominated the nation's political culture since its founding. Most fundamentally, the New Deal changed American conceptions of the rights and responsibilities of American citizens. It brought about an age of communal morality and made social order the primary value in American culture. The margin of freedom between the individual and society was at its narrowest in the Roosevelt era.

Though many see the New Deal era as a rebellious moment, when American culture embraced the interests of the lowest classes, in fact it was one of the great anti-renegade moments in the history of the United States.

In the spring of 1934, one year into his first term as president, Franklin D. Roosevelt was assailed by the left, the right, and even members of his own party. Leading Republicans took turns denouncing the "new dictatorship" in Washington. Typical was the claim made by G.O.P. congressman James M. Beck of Pennsylvania that Roosevelt's "New Deal" had transformed the government into a "socialistic state of virtually unrestricted power." Voices on the left were no less caustic. The Communist Party officially labeled the president a "fascist." Also critical of Roosevelt's "heavy-handed" approach and "radical" New Deal policies were several Democrats, including former presidential candidate Al Smith and former Democratic National Committee chairman John J. Raskob, who helped form the anti-Roosevelt American Liberty League.

Of course, Roosevelt also had many loyal supporters. One of his admirers sent word to the White House encouraging the president to stand his ground and be proud of his "heroic efforts in the interests of the American people." The President's "successful battle against economic distress," wrote the German chancellor, Adolph Hitler, "is being followed by the entire German people with interest and admiration."

The New Deal had many critics, but it would not have captured American political life were it not enormously popular. Roosevelt won four elections, all by landslides, and the Democratic Party, whose platform was re-built on New Deal ideas, controlled the federal government for most of the mid-20th century. Industrial workers and African Americans moved en masse into the Democratic Party as a result of New Deal policies. A generation of intellectuals celebrated the "Roosevelt Revolution," academic discourse is still dominated by its partisans, and Roosevelt continues to be widely considered one of the greatest presidents in American history. But when the New Deal was created, few of its supporters in the United States were as effusive in their praise as were German and Italian fascists.

In July 1933, just four months after Roosevelt had taken office, the newly-elected Hitler praised "Mr. Roosevelt," who "marches straight to his objectives over Congress, lobbies, and the bureaucracy." Hitler's compliments were not merely attempts to curry favor with the leader of the world's most powerful nation. Nazis continued to honor the New Deal as a project akin to their own. In January 1934 the Nazi Party's newspaper, the Vlkischer Beobachter, applauded Roosevelt's "dictatorial" measures. "We, too, as German National Socialists are looking toward America. . . . Roosevelt is carrying out experiments and they are bold. We, too, fear only the possibility that they might fail." Many of the most favorable reviews of Roosevelt's books, Looking Forward (1933) and On Our Way (1934), were written by German critics who saw the New Deal and National Socialism as parallel enterprises. In 1934 a biography by the German author Helmut Magers, Roosevelt: A Revolutionary with Common Sense, lauded the New Deal as "an authoritarian revolution" with "surprising similarities" to the Nazi seizure of power.

Through the first two years of the Roosevelt presidency the Vlkischer Beobachter continued to find many similarities between Hitler and the "absolute lord and master" of the United States. "If not always in the same words," the Nazi newspaper wrote, "[Roosevelt], too, demands that collective good be put before individual self-interest. Many passages in his book Looking Forward could have been written by a National Socialist. In any case, one can assume that he feels considerable affinity with the National Socialist philosophy." Roosevelt put forward "the fictional appearance of democracy," but in the United States "the development toward an authoritarian state is under way." The newspaper praised "Roosevelt's adoption of National Socialist strains of thought in his economic and social policies."

Hitler himself saw a kindred soul in the American president. He told the U.S. ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, that he was "in accord with the President in the view that the virtue of duty, readiness for sacrifice, and discipline should dominate the entire people. These moral demands which the President places before every individual citizen of the United States are also the quintessence of the German state philosophy; which finds its expression in the slogan 'The Public Weal Transcends the Interest of the Individual.'" Dodd's successor, Hugh R. Wilson, reported to Roosevelt in 1938 that he had told Hitler that "you were very much interested in certain phases of the sociological effort, notably for the youth and workmen, which is being made in Germany, and that one of my first tasks would be to report to you on how these were being carried out." Even as late as 1940, when it was apparent that Roosevelt was eager to intervene militarily against Germany, Joseph Goebbels's weekly newspaper Das Reich continued to insist on a kinship between Nazi and New Deal policies. An article entitled "Hitler and Roosevelt: A German Success -- An American Attempt" lamented that the American "parliamentary-democratic system" kept the New Deal from becoming fully realized. According to the historian John A. Garraty, "It is clear, however, that early New Deal depression policies seemed to Nazis essentially like their own and the role of Roosevelt not very different from the Fhrer's." Fascists in Italy were similarly impressed with the New Deal. In Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini found a comrade. "The appeal to the decisiveness and masculine sobriety of the nation's youth, with which Roosevelt here calls his readers to battle," Mussolini wrote in his review of Looking Forward, "is reminiscent of the ways and means by which Fascism awakened the Italian people."

When he heard that the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of 1933 gave the president unchecked power over much of the national economy, Mussolini exclaimed, "Behold a dictator!" Self-proclaimed fascists were not the only ones drawing such comparisons. Many of America's leading liberals and Democratic Party stalwarts were drawing them as well. George Soule, the editor of The New Republic, wrote "We are trying out the economics of Fascism without having suffered all its social and political ravages." Oswald Garrison Villard, the publisher of The Nation, came to regret his early endorsement of Roosevelt. "No one can deny that the entire Roosevelt legislation has enormously enhanced the authority of the President," Villard wrote in 1934, "given him some dictatorial powers, and established precedents that would make it easy for any successor to Mr. Roosevelt, or for that gentleman himself, to carry us far along the road to fascism or state socialism." Two of the founders of Consumer Reports, J.B. Matthews and Ruth Shallcross, wrote in Harper's Magazine in 1934 that "if developed to its logical conclusion" the principle behind early New Deal policies "arrives at the fascist stage of economic control."

The New Deal's resemblance to European fascism was most striking in the first two years of the Roosevelt administration. Both Roosevelt and Hitler came to power in the depths of the depression, and both argued that their extraordinary accumulation of power and the establishment of a martial society were necessary in a time that was as perilous, they claimed, as war. "Turbulent instincts must be replaced by a national discipline as the guiding principle of our national life," Hitler declared to the German people in 1933. "If you preserve the same discipline, the same obedience, the same comradeship and the same unbounded loyalty in the future ? then nothing will ever extinguish this movement in Germany." He called on all Germans to make themselves into a military force. "Today millions are pouring into our ranks," he said. "But the greater part of them must learn now what this brown army has practiced for years; they must all learn to face what tens of thousands of our comrades have faced, and have paid for with their blood, their lives." In that same year, in his inaugural address, Roosevelt said this:

If we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife. With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.

Roosevelt was probably not the only president to wish for such power, but he was the only one willing to demand it. Should the country fail to make itself into one great fighting force, "I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me," he said from the East Portico of the Capitol. "I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis ? 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." Roosevelt was the only president to achieve this power.

Two days after taking office, Roosevelt, invoking a "national emergency," took an unprecedented step toward autocratic power. For the first time in United States history a president closed the nation's banks. Then, on March 9, Congress transferred much of its power to the president and gave him sole authority over a large swath of the nation's economy. The Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 was amended to declare that during time of war "or during any other period of national emergency declared by the President, the President may, through any agency that he may designate, or otherwise, investigate, regulate, or prohibit, under such rules and regulations as he may prescribe, by means of licenses or otherwise, any transactions in foreign exchange, transfers of credit between or payments by banking institutions as defined by the President, and exporting, hoarding, melting, or earmarking of gold or silver coin or bullion or currency." Congress effectively gave the President unchecked control over banks and financial transactions in general, and everything concerning gold in particular. More ominously, the new law allowed the President to alone decide when to acquire and exercise that power.

The Roosevelt administration's next major step, the National Industrial Recovery Act, passed in June of 1933, became the defining legislation of the so-called "First New Deal." It created an economic system that was virtually identical to the national economies established in Italy and Germany, and further consolidated power in the hands of the president. In a stunning reversal of laissez-faire and a repudiation of the American devotion to free and competitive markets, the NIRA and the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which put the law into practice, suspended all federal anti-trust laws and created cartels of businesses in every major industry that ? instead of market forces ? decided how much products would cost, how much workers would make, and how much companies would produce. These cartels were called "code authorities." In Italy they were called "corporatives." In Germany they were known as "industrial cartels." But in all three nations they held the same powers, and in all three nations they could be overruled only by the head of state ? Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Germany, and Roosevelt in the United States.

How could such a radical policy come about in the United States? Many of the men who conceived of the NIRA were opposed to free markets, disdainful of democracy, and committed to a centrally controlled economy. The architects of the early New Deal had their roots in Progressivism and shared that movement's obsessions with social order, discipline, rationality, and the merging of the individual's identity with the nation. These obsessions were a transatlantic phenomenon in the first half of the twentieth century, but they were particularly powerful in the United States, Italy, and Germany.

According to City University of New York historian John P. Diggins, whose 1972 book, Mussolini and Fascism: The View from America, was the first academic acknowledgment of fascist sympathies among American elites, "Mussolini's Fascist dictatorship drew more admiration from democratic America than from any other Western nation." Many leading American intellectuals and political figures from the Progressive generation were drawn to fascism in the 1920s. The famous Progressive muckrakers Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell visited Italy and wrote glowing accounts of the Blackshirt regime. One of the most enthusiastic supporters of both the early New Deal and Italian fascism was Charles Beard, a Columbia University professor and the leading member of the school of "Progressive historians." In an article in The New Republic magazine, Beard argued that Americans should look past Mussolini's use of violence and suppression of civil liberties and recognize that fascism was the most effective modernizing force in the world: [It is] an amazing experiment. . . an experiment in reconciling individualism and socialism, politics and technology. It would be a mistake to allow feelings aroused by contemplating the harsh deeds and extravagant assertions that have accompanied the Fascist process to obscure the potentialities and the lessons of the adventure ? no, not adventure, but destiny riding without any saddle and bridle across the historic peninsula that bridges the world of antiquity and our modern world.

Beard, like many former Progressives who supported the New Deal, was especially enthusiastic about the corporatist economic model introduced by Mussolini.

Another group that was overwhelmingly supportive of Italian fascism was American big business, which praised Mussolini for bringing order and stability to the Italian economy. The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Julius Barnes, repeatedly declared in speeches and magazine articles that "Mussolini is without question a great man." James Emery of the National Association of Manufacturers praised Il Duce at a NAM convention for "leading through the streets of a reunited country a great body of citizens" who rescued Italy from "the blighting hand of radical socialism." Referring to the American economy, The Wall Street Journal titled an editorial, "Needed, A Mussolini." Thomas W. Lamont, head of the J.P. Morgan banking network, called himself a "missionary" for Fascism and devoted himself to "quiet preaching" on its behalf. According to Diggins, "With few exceptions, the dominant voices of business responded to Fascism with hearty enthusiasm." Many of these businessmen later directed their firms to donate money to the Nazi Party. One of those businessmen was Gerard Swope, the chairman of General Electric, who also wrote the first draft of the NIRA. In 1931, Swope published what he called "The Swope Plan," which argued that anti-trust laws had to be suspended so that companies in a given industry could free themselves from market forces and collectively determine prices, wages, and production levels. Running through Swope's argument, as in the arguments of many New Dealers, was a hostility toward democracy. "Shall we wait for society to act through its legislatures," he asked, "or shall industry recognize its obligation to its employees and to the public and undertake the task?" His answer was to replace the U.S. Congress with the corporate cartels:

"Organized industry should take the lead, recognizing its responsibility to its employees, to the public, and to its stockholders ? rather than that democratic society should act through its government." Herbert Hoover, the president at the time, called the Swope Plan a "prescription for fascism." That prescription was filled in the first month of Roosevelt's presidency, when, according to Leon Keyserling, one of the principal authors of the NIRA, "The original draft of the act grew out of the so-called Gerard Swope plan for recovery."

The men who made the New Deal were driven by dreams of a machine-like society, in which all members, from the leaders of government to the lowliest workers, would be parts designed, built, and employed entirely for their function within the whole apparatus. But to their dismay, these men found that most Americans rejected such dreams, except during times of crisis. The First World War was the first such crisis, and they embraced the opportunity to discipline America. But then came the peace and prosperity of the 1920s, a long time of waiting for another national emergency that could make their fantasies of social order come true.

In the 1920s, the offices in the buildings along the eastern edge of the Columbia University campus looked from the hills of Morningside Heights out over Harlem. Rexford Tugwell, a professor in the Economics Department, occupied one of those offices. From behind his desk in Hamilton Hall, Tugwell could not hear the music but he could see the nightclubs, dance halls, and speakeasies that defined the Jazz Age. And so he waited.

Tugwell had been shut off from the pleasures of the body as a child, when asthma and persistent illnesses kept him confined to bed in his rural and isolated hometown in far-western New York State. He grew into an extraordinarily handsome man, with dark looks and wavy hair not unlike those of many silent-screen stars. But his illnesses continued and by the time he reached maturity he had retreated into a world of books. He was a fan of utopian science fiction, such as H. G. Wells's In the Days of the Comet, in which mankind, fearing destruction from an onrushing comet, remakes world society into a cooperative commune. Tugwell spent much of his youth conjuring perfect worlds inhabited by perfect people. As an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1910s, he fell under the spell of the young economics professor Scott Nearing, who had recently published a book calling for the creation of just such a world. "The kind of social philosophy I was developing under the tutelage of Nearing, reinforced by other instruction," Tugwell later recalled in his autobiography, "is perhaps best defined in a little book called The Super Race, which Nearing published in 1912." Nearing argued that the United States should develop, through selective breeding, a race of supermen who would create the world's first utopia. These ideas, which were bastardized versions of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy, were then in vogue among German intellectuals who would become the intellectual founders of Nazism.

Tugwell's other mentor in college was the prominent Progressive economist Simon Patten, who had been trained in German universities. "He taught me the importance of looking for uniformities, laws, explanations of the inner forces moving behind the faade of events," Tugwell remembered. "One of these was the conclusion that our pluralistic system ? laissez-faire in industry, checks and balances in government, and so on ? must be shaped into a unity if its inherent conflicts, beginning to be so serious, were not to destroy us." From where did Patten get this benign-sounding idea? "He thought that the Germans had the key to that unity in philosophy, in economics, and perhaps in politics. He saw the conflict, now so ominously coming up over the horizon, as one between the living wholeness of the German conception and the dying divisiveness of English pluralism." Even more ominous was the belief that Patten shared with his German colleagues ? who would supply the intellectual basis for Nazism ? that industrial capitalism and technological advances had softened and emasculated the people. "Every improvement which simplifies or lessens manual labor," explained Patten, "increases the amount of the deficiencies which the laboring classes may possess without their being thereby overcome in the struggle for subsistence that the survival of the ignorant brings upon society." Patten's solution to this problem was swift, simple, and breathtakingly ruthless. "Social progress is a higher law than equality, and a nation must choose it at any cost," and the only way to progress is the "eradication of the vicious and inefficient." But the prescriptions of Nearing and Patten were just academic wishes. Tugwell wished to make them real.

The world war was a godsend. When America entered the European conflict in 1917, Tugwell, like many Progressives, saw it as a chance to create "an industrial engineer's Utopia." The government agencies that seized control of major industries and directed the national economy from Washington, the campaigns against vice to maintain the country's discipline and racial vigor, and the creation of five million regimented, physically fit men through the draft, filled Tugwell with hope. "We were on the verge of having an international industrial machine," he later remembered. But peace dashed his dreams. "Only the Armistice prevented a great experiment in control of production, control of price, and control of consumption." Through the 1920s, Tugwell looked wistfully out the window of his Columbia office and wrote a series of articles calling for a return to a wartime society, when "social control" and the "scientific management of human life" would be the order of the day.

The stock market crash of 1929 provided his next opportunity. In the early years of the Great Depression, Tugwell wrote a book he thought America, now in its most desperate hour, could finally take seriously. Industrial Discipline and the Governmental Arts argued for making all of society into a great factory. The book called for removing "the dead hand of competitive enterprise" and replacing it with central planning. "When industry is government and government is industry the dual conflict deep in our modern institutions will have abated," he said. Naturally, he admired the Italian government for doing just this. Mussolini, he said, had done "many of the things which seem to me necessary. And at any rate [Italy] is being rebuilt physically in a systematic way."

On a frigid winter day in 1932, while walking down the street near his office huddled in his tweed jacket and overcoat, Tugwell encountered a colleague from the political science department named Raymond Moley. Moley asked if he would like to meet Franklin Roosevelt, then the governor of New York and a candidate for the presidency, to discuss joining Roosevelt's team of advisors. Tugwell, thrilled, accepted the offer and within a few weeks he was a member of the famous "Brains Trust," a small group of academics who built the New Deal. Tugwell would conceive and craft several major initiatives of the New Deal, including the NIRA, the public works programs, and many of Roosevelt's agricultural projects. But soon after he started his new job in Washington, Tugwell began to envy his hero in Rome. "Mussolini certainly has the same people opposed to him as F.D.R. has," Tugwell later said. "But he has the press controlled so they cannot scream lies at him daily. And he has a compact and disciplined nation although it lacks resources. On the surface, at least, he seems to have made enormous progress." Democracy was the problem, and Fascism was "the cleanest, neatest, most efficiently operating piece of social machinery I've ever seen. It makes me envious."

While Tugwell came to his love for regimentation through the life of the rationalistic mind, General Hugh Johnson came to his through another major source of New Deal culture, the military. With a round Irish face reddened by alcoholism, Johnson looked and drank like W.C. Fields, but he did not share the comedian's individualism and irreverence toward authority. As a teenager in the Wild West town of Alva, Oklahoma, Johnson voluntarily participated in twice-weekly drills with the local militia company. He was so enamored with thoughts of war that when he was fifteen he attempted to enlist with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders to fight in the war against Spain. Foiled from becoming a child soldier by his father, Johnson nonetheless enrolled at West Point when he was just seventeen. Later, as an officer in the army, he relished directing drills, roll calls, parades, reviews, and marches, and was known to scream at soldiers for the smallest violations of protocol. While serving in the army, Johnson began a side career as a writer of short stories for magazines in which boys in the military learn discipline, loyalty, and self-sacrifice and make themselves into men.

Like Tugwell and many New Dealers, Johnson saw the Great War not as the worthless horror that most Americans considered it to be but as a long-awaited opportunity to militarize all of American society. Because only 73,000 men volunteered for service in response to President Wilson's call to create an army of millions, the federal government was forced to institute the first peacetime draft since the Civil War. Several military leaders recognized that few people were better suited to the job of creating a vast army of conscripts than Johnson, and he was brought to Washington to implement the new Selective Service System. The registration of ten million men for compulsory military service, which resulted in five million actually being shipped to training camps, 117,000 killed in action and more than 200,000 wounded, "was one of the most spectacular developments of the war," Johnson recalled. He also devised a plan to make useful the undrafted men, "who stood in saloons and pool rooms watching their contemporaries marching away to war." All deferred men who were either unemployed or engaged in "nonessential work" were warned that they would be inducted into the military if they did not find work that was essential for the war effort. Johnson boasted that the "work or fight" order forced 137,255 "bartenders, private chauffeurs, men hair dressers and the like that are pansies" to take jobs that the government considered essential.

During the 1920s Johnson retreated into the private sector, waiting for the world to turn in favor of the martial life. In 1932, at the bottom of the depression, Johnson saw his chance. He wrote a plan of action and circulated it privately among friends in the Democratic Party. With the heading, "By MUSCLEINNY, Dictator pro tem," Johnson's "Proclamation" called for him to "assum[e] the dictatorship of the Republic." The time was right to do away with democracy. "In this crisis, and especially in this political year, divided powers were wholly inadequate," he wrote. "The sole cure was singleness of control and immediate action." He demanded that the President, Vice President, "and all members of Congress" be removed from the country and that elections be suspended. One month after writing his proclamation, Johnson was invited into the inner circle of the Roosevelt campaign. He later recalled that "from the principle of taking active charge of events through several of the principal acts that were found to be necessary more than eight months later, Muscleinny pretty accurately diagnosed the situation and at least dimly anticipated much of the Recovery Program."

When it came time to draft the National Industrial Recovery Act, Johnson successfully argued for the president alone ? rather than Congress ? to have supervisory power over the trade associations. When the act was passed, Roosevelt ? perhaps out of gratitude ? made Johnson the first administrator of the NRA. By then, Johnson had discovered the writings of the Italian Fascists. He distributed books written by Mussolini's Education Minister to other members of the Roosevelt cabinet and in a speech called the Italian dictator the "shining example of the 20th century."

Johnson brought in Donald Richberg, a Progressive labor lawyer who helped craft the NIRA, to be the general counsel of the NRA. Richberg recalled that the drafting of the law grew out of a desire to end parliamentary democracy and establish autocratic rule in America. "America did not want to reform its bad habits," he said, and someone had to do it for the people. "America is not going to choose to do anything which a large number of Americans do not wish to do ? so long as democratic government can endure and politicians can evade a perilous issue," Richberg wrote. What he called "the inefficiencies and corruptions of popular government" were replaced by a single leader. "We called for a Man of Action, and we got one. . . . The American people might well go down upon their knees and thank God that . . . there came into power the man who alone could save them ? the Man of Action." As the legal historian James Q. Whitman puts it, "The two leaders of the NIRA were marked anti-parliamentarians, the true creatures of the crisis atmosphere of 1932-33."

Two other creatures of that crisis, Roosevelt and Hitler, shared a devotion to the soil and a belief that their nations could be redeemed by merging with it. First, they both established control over agriculture. In the United States, through the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, and in Germany, through the Estate for Agriculture, the national government decided how much farmers would produce and how much they would charge for it. Roosevelt and Hitler both saw the family farm as the root of national virtue. For the president, the country was the only place "to establish a real home in the traditional American sense." For the Fhrer, peasants were "the foundation and life source" of Germany and "the source of national fertility." As governor of New York, Roosevelt established a program to pay for city families to move to farms so that "they may secure through the good earth the permanent jobs they have lost in over-crowded cities and towns." As president, he launched a program designed by Tugwell called Subsistence Homesteads, which provided families with "a modern but inexpensive house and outbuildings, located on a plot of land upon which a family may produce a considerable portion of the food required for home consumption." Likewise, the Nazis subsidized the construction of homes in rural areas in order to encourage self-sufficiency and to alleviate overcrowding in the cities. In Italy, one of Mussolini's most ambitious projects was the draining of a three-hundred-square-mile marshland near Rome and the establishment of independent family farms on the reclaimed land. As the German cultural historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch has written, "Fascism, National Socialism, and the New Deal all made the garden-settlement into a cornerstone of their plans for a new form of civilization, feeding popular enthusiasm with appealing words, images, and projects."

Roosevelt's favorite New Deal initiative was the Civilian Conservation Corps, also created in 1933, which placed young men in military-style camps and put them to work in the nation's hinterland. The Nazis, too, improved much of the German countryside through the labor of youth housed in work camps. "There was, furthermore, little difference in appearance or intent," according to Garraty, "between the Nazi work camps and those set up in America under the Civilian Conservation Corps." Roosevelt praised the CCC for getting young men "off the city street corners." Hitler said the Nazi work camps saved German youth from "rotting helplessly in the streets." Both the New Dealers and Nazis designed the programs to shape young men into citizen-soldiers. The U.S. Army was put in control of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who enlisted in the CCC. "Corpsmen" were required to stand at attention, to address their superiors as "Sir," and to attend morning and evening flag-raising ceremonies. One Corpsman remarked in a letter home, "The engineers and technicians teach us to be soil soldiers, a name they call us here, because we are the army who are training to repel the enemies of the land." Toward the end of the 1930s, as America moved closer to war, this militarization of youth became the undisguised purpose of the CCC. In 1940 Congress mandated non-combat military training for all CCC enrollees. The director of the program, James J. McEntee, explained that the military emphasis was necessary for "converting unemployed young men without work experience into strong, vigorous young men who could drive trucks, tractors, which are the first cousins to tanks, build roads, bridges, telephone lines . . . which would aid in the advancement of industrial defense and in the strengthening of the military forces."

The New Dealers, Mussolini, and Hitler were united in the belief that the conditions of the working class had to be greatly improved. The Fascist and Nazi regimes outlawed trade unions, but they worked hard to make factories safer, cleaner, and more pleasant workplaces, and also provided subsidized housing, low-cost vacations, and sports programs to millions of German workers. In the U.S., more money was spent on public works projects than on any other part of the New Deal. The Works Progress Administration, established in 1935, was the largest such program. It made up half the federal budget and employed an average of 2.1 million workers per year between 1935 and 1941. WPA workers built highways, roads, sidewalks, libraries, schools, stadiums, parks, airports, sewage treatment plants, bridges, and swimming pools. Of the three regimes, the Third Reich was the most effective in delivering a new life to the workers. The Nazis instituted a full employment program that within three years of Hitler's rise to power had virtually eliminated unemployment in Germany. A massive public works project, the Reichsarbeitsdienst, rivaled the WPA in size and scope. Functioning as a military-like unit, the RAD built the Autobahn, countless surface roads, and bridges. It reclaimed marshland for cultivation, constructed dykes, improved drainage systems, and completed vast tree removal operations. During the war, the RAD constructed bunkers, underground facilities, and entrenchments all over Europe.

In both the U.S. and Germany, government-sponsored employment programs were in large part directed toward military purposes. The Nazis put hundreds of thousands of Germans to work building weapons, planes, and tanks. In the U.S., workers employed by the Public Works Administration built two aircraft carriers, four cruisers, several smaller warships, more than one hundred fighter planes and bombers, close to fifty military airports, and the Air Force headquarters. The German and American public works programs served another important function too ? they regimented large portions of the American and German workforces and inculcated national cultures of discipline, order, sacrifice, and loyalty to the state.

In both the U.S. and Germany, censorship of the press increased dramatically during the era of the New Deal and Nazism, but more often the press censored itself to support the state, avoid punishment, or simply to abide by the norms of cultures that were increasingly hostile to free expression. In Germany, hundreds of journalists enthusiastically joined the Ministry of Propaganda. For others, "Mere knowledge of the consequences of noncompliance with the often unwritten rules sufficed to encourage most of them to toe the line, and enforce the most effective and invisible form of control ? self-censorship." In the U.S., there was some heavy-handed censorship but far more willing submission by the press itself. Roosevelt appointed loyalists to the Federal Communications Commission who made it clear that licenses would be revoked for broadcasters who aired programs critical of the government. In 1934, the Yankee Radio Network of New England promised to give the President "a lot of support" after it received warnings from an FCC commissioner. An executive for another network said that the fear of government intervention would "blue pencil a dozen programs for every one that an official censor might object to." In the first weeks of the Roosevelt administration, NBC instituted a policy barring the president's critics from its broadcasts. Henry Bellows of CBS told Roosevelt's press secretary immediately after the inauguration that "the close contact between you and the broadcasters has tremendous possibilities of value to the administration, and as a life-long Democrat, I want to pledge my best efforts in making this cooperation successful." In 1935, CBS celebrated the second anniversary of the New Deal with "Of the People, By the People, For the People," a program in which professional actors recreated great moments in the administration's first two years. The U.S. Office of Education mandated that civics classes in public schools play the two-hour program for students. Boake Carter of CBS was the most popular political commentator until 1938, when he was fired for his increasingly critical remarks about the President. Both CBS and NBC continued to ban critics of the New Deal through the 1930s and into the war.

Washington, D.C. and many German cities were re-made during the period of the New Deal and Nazism. Hitler's architects designed several buildings that became characteristic of a distinctive "Nazi architecture," including the Olympic Stadium, the new Reich Chancellery, the Tempelhof Airport, the Ministry of Aviation, the Japanese embassy in Berlin, and the House of German Art. Hitler also worked with his favorite architect, Albert Speer, on a complete redesign of Berlin that included an immense domed "Great Hall" connected by a three-mile-long avenue to the chancellery. While planning these buildings, Nazi architects implemented the theory of "ruin value," which was enthusiastically supported by Hitler. According to this theory, all new buildings were designed to leave imposing ruins thousands of years in the future that would stand as testaments to the greatness of the Third Reich. This theory was realized in monumental stone constructions that imitated ancient Greek and Roman styles.

The monumentalist, neoclassical style was also favored by architects hired by the Roosevelt administration to design the buildings that came to define modern Washington, including the Federal Triangle, the National Gallery, the National Archives, the Supreme Court Building, the Pentagon, the Department of Justice Building, and the Jefferson Memorial. The architectural historian Thomas S. Hines has noticed that this was a transatlantic phenomenon. Roosevelt's "architectural tastes were grandly conservative, not far removed from those of his contemporaries, the dictators of Italy and Germany," Hines wrote. Particularly striking were the similarities between the designs of Albert Speer and Roosevelt's favorite architect, James Russell Pope. Hines suggested that historians begin to make "overt comparisons, formally and culturally, of the architecture of Pope and the frequently similar work of the German architect Albert Speer." Another architectural historian, John W. Reps, has noted the "supreme irony" that an architectural style "originally conceived to magnify the glories of despotic kings and emperors came to be applied as a national symbol of a country whose philosophical basis was so firmly rooted in democratic equality."

The Second World War appeared to many contemporary observers, and still appears to many historians, as proof of a fundamental antagonism between fascism and the American way of life. Many have seen the war as evidence that, in particular, the New Deal-liberal way of life was hostile to fascism. After all, while many Republicans and other enemies of the New Deal were opposed to fighting fascism abroad, Roosevelt led the nation to war against Germany, Italy, and Japan. More than 400,000 Americans died in the fight, and the Roosevelt administration made sure to not just defeat the fascist regimes but to obliterate them. But the evidence of their similarities suggests that the New Deal and fascism went to war not over ideas or values or a way of life. Rather, it seems, the war was a struggle between brothers for control of the world family. 

Thaddeus Russell is the author of A Renegade History of the United States (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010).