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Isolationism and the Foreign New Deal

Mises Daily: Thursday, October 11, 2007 by

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[This article is taken from chapter 5 of The Betrayal of the American Right.]

During World War I and the 1920s, "isolationism," that is, opposition to American wars and foreign intervention, was considered a Left phenomenon, and so even the laissez-faire isolationists and revisionists were considered to be "leftists." Opposition to the postwar Versailles system in Europe was considered liberal or radical; "conservatives," on the other hand, were the proponents of American war and expansion and of the Versailles Treaty.

In fact, Nesta Webster, the Englishwoman who served as the dean of 20th-century anti-Semitic historiography, melded opposition to the Allied war effort with socialism and communism as the prime evils of the age. Similarly, as late as the mid-1930s, to the rightist Mrs. Elizabeth Dilling pacifism was, per se, a "Red" evil. Not only were such lifelong pacifists as Kirby Page, Dorothy Detzer, and Norman Thomas considered to be "Reds"; but Mrs. Dilling similarly castigated General Smedley D. Butler, former head of the Marine Corps and considered a "fascist" by the Left, for daring to charge that Marine Corps interventions in Latin America had been a "Wall Street racket." Not only was the Nye Committee of the mid-1930s to investigate munitions makers and US foreign policy in World War I, but also old progressives such as Senators Burton K. Wheeler and especially laissez-fairist William E. Borah were condemned as crucial parts of the pervasive Communistic "Red Network."[1]

And yet, in a few short years, the ranking of isolationism on the ideological spectrum was to undergo a sudden and dramatic shift. In the late 1930s, the Roosevelt administration moved rapidly toward war in Europe and the Far East. As it did so, and especially after war broke out in September 1939, the great bulk of the liberals and the Left "flip-flopped" drastically on behalf of war and foreign intervention. Gone without a trace was the old Left's insight into the evils of the Versailles Treaty, the Allied dismemberment of Germany, and the need for revision of the treaty. Gone was the old opposition to American militarism, and to American and British imperialism.

Not only that; but to the liberals and Left the impending war against Germany and even Japan became a great moral crusade, a "people's war for democracy" and against "fascism" — outrivaling in the absurdity of their rhetoric the very Wilsonian apologia for World War I that these same liberals had repudiated for two decades. The President who was dragging the nation reluctantly into war was now lauded and almost deified by the Left, as were in retrospect all of the strong (i.e., dictatorial) presidents throughout American history. For liberals and the Left the Pantheon of America now became, in almost endless litany, Jackson-Lincoln-Wilson-FDR.

Still worse was the attitude of these new interventionists toward those erstwhile friends and allies who continued to persist in their old beliefs; these latter were now castigated and denounced day in and day out, with extreme bitterness and venom, as "reactionaries," "fascists," "anti-Semites, and "followers of the Göbbels line."[2] Joining with great enthusiasm in this smear campaign was the Communist Party and its allies, from the "collective security" campaign of the Soviet Union in the late 1930s and again after the Nazi attack on Russia on June 22, 1941. Before and during the war the Communists were delighted to leap to their newfound role as American superpatriots, proclaiming that "Communism is 20th-century Americanism," and that any campaign for social justice within America had to take a back seat to the sacred goal of victory in the war. The only exception for the Communists in this role was their "isolationist period" — which, again in subservience to the needs of the Soviet Union, lasted from the time of the Stalin-Hitler pact of August 1939 to the attack on Russia two years later.

The pressure upon the liberals and progressives who continued to oppose the coming war was unbelievably bitter and intense. Many personal tragedies resulted. Charles A. Beard, distinguished historian and most eminent of revisionists, was castigated unmercifully by the liberals, many of them his former students and disciples. Dr. Harry Elmer Barnes, the liberal dean of World War I (and later World War II) revisionists, whose New York World Telegram column "The Liberal Viewpoint" had achieved the eminence of Walter Lippmann, was unceremoniously kicked out of his column in May 1940 by the pressure of prowar advertisers.[3]


Oswald Garrison Villard (1872–1949)

Typical of the treatment accorded to those who held fast to their principles was the purgation from the ranks of liberal journalism of John T. Flynn and Oswald Garrison Villard. In his regular column in the Nation, Villard had continued to oppose Roosevelt's "abominable militarism" and his drive to war. For his pains, Villard was forced out of the magazine that he had long served as a distinguished editor. In his "Valedictory" in the issue of June 22, 1940, Villard declared, "my retirement has been precipitated by the editors' abandonment of the Nation's steadfast opposition to all preparations for war, for this in my judgment has been the chief glory of its great and honorable past." In a letter to the editor, Freda Kirchwey, Villard wondered how it was that

Freda Kirchwey, a pacifist in the last war, keen to see through shams and hypocrisy, militant for the rights of minorities and the downtrodden had now struck hands with all the forces of reaction against which the Nation had battled so strongly.

Kirchwey's editorial reply was characteristic: such writings as Villard's were frightening, and "a danger more present than Fascism," for Villard's policy was "exactly the policy for America that the Nazi propaganda in this country supports."[4]

John T. Flynn, in his turn, was booted out of his column "Other People's Money" in November 1940; the column had appeared continuously in the New Republic since May 1933. Again, the now prowar editors could not tolerate Flynn's continuing attacks on war preparations and on the artificial boom induced by armament spending.

Neither did the old-time libertarian leaders fare much better. When the libertarian and isolationist Paul Palmer lost his editorship of the American Mercury in 1939, H.L. Mencken and Albert Jay Nock lost their monthly opportunity to lambaste the New Deal. His national outlet gone, Mencken retired from politics and into autobiography and his study of the American language.

Apart from a few essays in the Atlantic Monthly, Nock could find an outlet only in the isolationist Scribner's Commentator, which folded after Pearl Harbor and left Nock with no opportunity whatever to be heard. In the meanwhile, Nock's personal disciples, who constituted the libertarian wing of the Henry George movement, were dealt a heavy blow when his outstanding disciple, Frank Chodorov, was fired as director of the Henry George School of New York for maintaining his opposition to American entry into the war.

But Nock had managed to get in a few blows before the changing of the guard at the Mercury. Nock had warned that the emerging war in Europe was the old story of competing imperialisms, with the liberals available, once again, to provide ideological cover with such Wilsonian slogans as "make the world safe for democracy." Nock commented scornfully that "make the world safe for US investments, privileges, and markets" far better expressed the real intent of the coming intervention. Thus "after the sorry sight which American Liberals made of themselves twenty years ago," they were ready once again "to save us from the horrors of war and militarism [by] plunging us into war and militarism." Decrying the developing hysteria about the foreign enemy, Nock pinpointed the true danger to liberty at home:

No alien State policy will ever disturb us unless our Government puts us in the way of it. We are in no danger whatever from any government except our own, and the danger from that is very great; therefore our own Government is the one to be watched and kept on a short leash.[5]

The opponents of war were not only being shut out from liberal journals and organizations but from much of the mass media as well. As the Roosevelt administration moved inexorably toward war, much of the Establishment that had been repelled by the left-wing rhetoric of the New Deal eagerly made its peace with the government, and swiftly moved into positions of power. In Roosevelt's own famous phrase, "Dr. New Deal" had been replaced by "Dr. Win the War," and, as the armaments orders poured in, the conservative elements of Big Business were back in the fold: in particular, the Wall Street and Eastern Establishment, the bankers and industrialists, the Morgan interests, the Ivy League Entente, all happily returned to the good old days of World War I and the battle of the British Empire against Germany.

The new reconciliation was typified by the return to a high government post of the prominent Wall Street lawyer Dean Acheson, now in the State Department, who had departed his post of Undersecretary of the Treasury in the early 1930s in high dudgeon at Roosevelt's unsound monetary and fiscal schemes. Still more significant was FDR's appointment as Secretary of War in June 1940 of a man who virtually embodied the wealthy eastern Establishment — Acheson's mentor, Henry Lewis Stimson: a conservative, prowar, and imperialist Republican Wall Street lawyer close to the Morgan interests who had been a devoted follower of Teddy Roosevelt, Secretary of War under Taft, and Secretary of State under Hoover. The fruit of the new policy was the famous "Willkie blitz" at the Republican national convention, in which the 1940 Republican nomination was virtually stolen from the antiwar favorites for the presidency, Senator Robert A. Taft and Thomas E. Dewey. A tremendous Wall Street pressure campaign, using all the devices of the eastern-controlled media and blackmail of delegates by Wall Street bankers, swung the nomination to the unknown but safely pro-intervention big businessman, Wendell Willkie.

If the eastern Big Business conservatives were solidly back in the Roosevelt camp on the agreed program of entering the war, why were interventionist forces successful in pinning the "extreme right-wing" label on the anti-interventionist or "isolationist" position? For two reasons. First, because the Old Left and the official organs of liberalism had been captured by the prowar forces, who had successfully purged the liberal media of all those who continued to cling to their original principles of antiwar liberalism and leftism. The prowar liberals were thereby able to serve as the intellectual apologists for the Roosevelt administration and the eastern Establishment, spearheading the latter in vilifying the isolationists as "reactionaries," "Neanderthals," and tools of the Nazis. And second, not all of business had swung into line behind the war. Much of midwestern capital, not tied to investments in Europe and Asia, was able to reflect the isolationist sentiments of the people of their region. Midwestern and small-town business were therefore the stronghold of isolationist sentiment, and the prewar years saw a powerful struggle between the mighty Eastern and Wall Street interests tied to foreign investments and foreign markets, and midwestern capital who had few such ties.

It was no accident, for example, that the America First Committee, the leading antiwar organization, was founded by R. Douglas Stuart, then a student at Yale but a scion of the Chicago Quaker Oats fortune, or that leading supporters of the organization were General Robert E. Wood, head of Sears Roebuck of Chicago, and Colonel Robert R. McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Or that the isolationist leader in the Senate, Robert A. Taft, came from the leading family of Cincinnati. But the Eastern propagandists were cunningly able to use this split to spread the image of their opposition as narrow, provincial, small-minded, reactionary midwesterners, not attuned as they themselves were to the great, cosmopolitan affairs of Europe and Asia.

Taft (who had been denounced as a dangerous "progressive" by Mrs. Dilling only a few years before) was particularly exercised at being dismissed by the Establishment-liberal-Left alliance as an ultraconservative. The occasion of Senator Taft's critical analysis arose from an essay published just before Pearl Harbor, by a young Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (Nation, December 6, 1941). Ever ready to pin the "business" label on opposition to liberalism, Schlesinger attacked the Republican Party as reflecting a business community dragging its heels on entry into the war. Senator Taft, in a rebuttal that appeared the week after Pearl Harbor (Nation, December 13, 1941) sharply and keenly corrected Schlesinger's view of the true locus of "conservatism" within the Republican Party:

Nor is Mr. Schlesinger correct in attributing the position of the majority of Republicans to their conservatism. The most conservative members of the party — the Wall Street bankers, the society group, nine-tenths of the plutocratic newspapers, and most of the party's financial contributors — are the ones who favor intervention in Europe. Mr. Schlesinger's statement that the business community in general had tended to favor appeasing Hitler is simply untrue….

I should say without question that it is the average man and woman — the farmer, the workman, except for a few pro-British labor leaders, and the small business man — who are opposed to the war. The war party is made up of the business community of the cities, the newspaper and magazine writers, the radio and movie commentators, the Communists, and the university intelligentsia.[6]

In short, in many ways the struggle was a populist one, between the mass of the populace opposed to the war and the elite groups in control of the national levers of power and of the molding of public opinion.

Thus, the drive of the New Deal toward war once again reshuffled the ideological spectrum and the meaning of Left and Right in American politics. The left and liberal opponents of war were hounded out of the media and journals of opinion by their erstwhile allies, and condemned as reactionaries and Neanderthals. These men, as well as old progressives hailed by the Left a few short years before (such as Senators Nye, LaFollette, and Wheeler) found themselves forced into a new alliance with laissez-faire Republicans from the Middle West.

Damned everywhere as "ultraconservatives" and "extreme Rightists," many of these allies found themselves moving "rightward" ideologically as well, moving toward the laissez-faire liberalism of the only mass base yet open to them. In many ways, their move rightward was a self-fulfilling prophecy by the Left. Thus, under the hammer blows of the left-liberal Establishment, the old progressive isolationists moved laissez-faire-ward as well. It was under this pressure that the forging of the "old Right" was completed.

And the ugly role of the Communist Party as spearhead of the smear campaign understandably turned many of these progressives not only into classical liberals but into thoroughgoing and almost fanatical anti-Communists as well. This is what happened to John T. Flynn and to John Dos Passos, what happened to some extent to Charles A. Beard, and what happened to such former sympathizers of the Soviet Union as John Chamberlain, Freda Utley, and William Henry Chamberlin. To a large extent, it was their uncomfortable "Third Camp" or isolationist position on the war that started such leading Trotskyites as Max Schachtman and James Burnham down the road to the later global anti-Communist crusade, and that led the Trotskyist-pacifist Dwight MacDonald to his bitter opposition to the Henry Wallace campaign of 1948.


John T. Flynn (1882–1964)

The venom directed against the opponents of war by the left-liberal Establishment war coalition was almost unbelievable. Responsible publicists regularly and systematically accused the isolationists of being "fascists" and members of a "Nazi transmission belt." Walter Winchell, at the beginning of his longtime career as calumniator of all dissent against American war crusades (he was later a fervent supporter of Joe McCarthy and always, early and late, a devoted fan of the FBI), led in denouncing the opponents of war.

While Communist leader William Z. Foster denounced isolationist leaders General Wood and Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh as "conscious Fascists," interventionist publicist Dorothy Thompson accused the America First Committee of being "Vichy Fascists," and Secretary of the Interior Harold C. Ickes, the bully boy of the Roosevelt administration, denounced Wood and Lindbergh as "Nazi fellow travelers," and pinned the same label on his old friend Oswald Garrison Villard.

And Time and Life, whose publisher Henry Luce was an ardent supporter not only of our entry into the war but also of the "American Century" which he envisioned as emerging after the war, stooped so low as to claim that Lindbergh's and Senator Wheeler's salutes to the American flag were similar to the fascist salute. An organization that became almost a professional vilifier of the isolationists was the left-liberal Rev. Leon M. Birkhead's Friends of Democracy, which denounced the America First Committee as a "Nazi front! It is a transmission belt by means of which the apostles of Nazism are spreading their antidemocratic ideas into millions of American homes!"[7]

The oppression of the isolationists was not confined to vilification or loss of employment. In numerous cities, such as Miami, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Portland, Oregon, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, the America First Committee found it difficult or impossible to obtain halls for public meetings. Another tactic that was used systematically before, during, and immediately after the war was private espionage against the Old Right by interventionist groups. These agents employed deception, abused confidences, stole documents, and then published sensationalistic findings.

Sometimes these agents acted as agents provocateurs. The most famous use of private secret agents was that of the Friends of Democracy, who sent Avedis Derounian into the isolationist groups under the name of "John Roy Carlson"; Carlson's report on his adventures was published as the bestselling Under Cover by Dutton in 1943. Carlson's book lumped isolationists, anti-Semites, and actual pro-Nazis together, in a potpourri of guilt by association, as constituting the "Nazi underworld of America." Under Cover was dedicated to the "official under cover men and women who, unnamed and unsung, are fighting the common enemy of Democracy on the military front abroad and the psychological front at home," and the book opened with a quotation from Walt Whitman:

Thunder on! Stride on, Democracy!

Strike with vengeful stroke!

Carlson and his cohorts were certainly being avid in pursuing Whitman's injunction.

So virulent was the smear campaign that at the end of the war John T. Flynn was moved to write an anguished pamphlet in protest called The Smear Terror. It was typical of the time that, while Carlson's farrago was a bestseller that received sober and favorable appraisal in the pages of the New York Times, Flynn's rebuttal could emerge only as a privately printed pamphlet, unknown except to what would now be called an "underground" of dedicated right-wing readers.

One of the most common accusations against the isolationists was the charge of anti-Semitism. While the ranks of the Old Right included some genuine anti-Semites, the prowar propagandists were hardly scrupulous or interested in making subtle distinctions; all of the isolationists were simply lumped together as anti-Semitic, despite the fact that the America First Committee, for example, included a great many Jews on its staff and research bureau. The situation was complicated by the fact that the vast bulk of American Jewry was undoubtedly in favor of American entry into the war, and virtually deified Franklin Roosevelt for entering the war, as they thought, to "save the Jews."[8]

Influential Jews and Jewish organizations helped agitate for war, and helped also to put economic pressure upon opponents of the war. This very fact of course served to embitter many isolationists against the Jews, and again create a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy; this resentment was intensified by the hysterical treatment accorded to any isolationist who dared to so much as mention these activities by Jews. In early 1942, the Saturday Evening Post printed an article critical of Jews by the liberal pacifist Quaker Milton Mayer, an act that was used by the Establishment to fire the conservative and isolationist editor Wesley N. Stout and his entire editorial staff (which included Garet Garrett) and replace them with conservative interventionists.


Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974)

The most famous case of flak on phony charges of anti-Semitism stemmed from the celebrated speech of Charles A. Lindbergh at Des Moines on September 11, 1941. The most popular and charismatic of all opponents of the war and a man who was essentially nonpolitical, Lindbergh had been subjected to particular abuse by the interventionist forces. The son of a progressive Congressman from Minnesota who had staunchly opposed entry into World War I, Lindbergh particularly angered the war forces not only for his charisma and popularity but also because of his obvious sincerity and his all-out position against any aid to Britain and France whatever.

While most of the isolationists temporized, favoring some aid to Britain and worrying about a possible German attack on the United States, Lindbergh clearly and consistently advocated absolute neutrality and hoped for a negotiated peace in Europe. The matter was made still more piquant because Lindbergh was in a way a "traitor to his class," since his wife, Anne Morrow, also a distinguished opponent of the war, was the daughter of a leading Morgan partner and virtually the only member of her family and circle not enthusiastic about the war.

After many months of unremitting abuse (e.g., the ultrainterventionist playwright Robert E. Sherwood had flatly called Lindbergh a "Nazi" in the august pages of the New York Times), Lindbergh calmly mentioned the specific forces that were driving the United States toward war. It is obvious from his memoirs that poor, naive, honest Charles Lindbergh had no idea of the hysteria that would be unleashed when he pointed out that

the three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt administration. Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that their future, and the future of mankind, depends upon the domination of the British Empire.

Neither did it help Lindbergh that he added,

It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race. No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution the Jewish race suffered in Germany.[9]

The abuse of Lindbergh was a veritable torrent now, with the White House press secretary comparing the speech to Nazi propaganda, while the New Republic called upon the National Association of Broadcasters to censor all of Lindbergh's future speeches.

Frightened General Robert E. Wood, head of America First, almost dissolved the organization on the spot.[10]

Calumny, social obloquy, private espionage — these were not all the hardships faced by the isolationist "Old Right." As soon as the war began, the Roosevelt administration turned to the secular arm to smash any remnants of isolationist dissent. In addition to routine FBI harassment, such isolationists as Laura Ingalls, George Sylvester Viereck, and Ralph Townsend were indicted and convicted for being German and Japanese agents respectively. William Dudley Pelley, along with 27 other isolationists, was tried and convicted in Indianapolis of "sedition" under the Espionage Act of 1917. The infamous Smith Act of 1940 was used, first to convict 18 Minneapolis Trotskyists of conspiracy to advocate overthrow of the government (to the great glee of the Communist Party), and then to move, in the mass sedition trial of 1944, against an ill-assorted collection of 26 right-wing isolationist pamphleteers with the charge of contriving to cause insubordination in the armed forces.

The prosecution of those who were universally described in the press as the "indicted seditionists" was pursued with great zeal by the Communist Party and its allies, the Old Left generally, and such Establishment hacks as Walter Winchell. To the chagrin of the Left and Center, the trial fizzled as a result of the spirited legal defense, especially the defense led by the brilliant defendant Lawrence Dennis, a leading isolationist intellectual who has generally, and with little foundation, been called the "leading American fascist." The death of presiding Judge Eicher — a signal for the Left to charge that he had been "murdered" by the persistent defense — provided the opportunity for the government to drop the case, despite the insistence of the Left that the persecution be resumed.[11]

All in all, the Old Right was understandably gloomy as it contemplated the inevitable approach of war. It foresaw that World War II would transform America into a Leviathan State, into a domestic totalitarian collectivism, with suppression of civil liberties at home, joined to an unending global imperialism abroad, pursuing what Charles A. Beard called a policy of "perpetual war for perpetual peace."

"…written in the midst of the war he had done so much to forestall."

None of the Old Right saw this vision of the coming America more perceptively than John T. Flynn, in his brilliant work As We Go Marching, written in the midst of the war he had done so much to forestall. After surveying the polity and the economy of fascism and National Socialism, Flynn bluntly saw the New Deal, culminating in the wartime society, as the American version of fascism, the "good fascism" in sardonic contrast to the "bad fascism" we had supposedly gone to war to eradicate. Flynn saw that the New Deal had finally established the corporate state that big business had been yearning for since the end of the nineteenth century.

The New Deal planners, declared Flynn,

were thinking of a change in our form of society in which the government would insert itself into the structure of business, not merely as policeman, but as a partner, collaborator, and banker. But the general idea was first to reorder the society by making it a planned and coerced economy instead of a free one, in which business would be brought together into great guilds or an immense corporative structure, combining the elements of self-rule and government supervision with a national economic policing system to enforce these decrees…. This, after all, is not so very far from what business had been talking about…. It was willing to accept the supervision of the government…. Business said that orderly self-government in business would eliminate most of the causes that infected the organism with the germs of crises.[12]

The first great attempt of the New Deal to create such a society was embodied in the NRA and AAA, modeled on the fascist corporate state, and described by Flynn as "two of the mightiest engines of minute and comprehensive regimentation ever invented in any organized society." These engines were hailed by those supposedly against regimentation: "Labor unions and Chamber of Commerce officials, stockbrokers and bankers, merchants and their customers joined in great parades in all the cities of the country in rhapsodical approval of the program."[13] After the failure of the NRA, the advent of World War II re-established this collectivist program, "an economy supported by great streams of debt and an economy under complete control, with nearly all of the planning agencies functioning with almost totalitarian power under a vast bureaucracy."[14] After the war, Flynn prophesied, the New Deal would attempt to expand this system to international affairs.

Foreseeing that the federal government would maintain vast spending and controls after the war was over, Flynn predicted that the great emphasis of this spending would be military, since this is the one form of government spending to which conservatives will never object, and which workers will welcome for its creation of jobs. "Thus militarism is the one great glamorous public-works project upon which a variety of elements in the community can be brought into agreement."[15] Hence, as part of this perpetual garrison state, conscription would also be continued on a permanent basis. Flynn declared:

All sorts of people are for it. Numerous senators and representatives — of the Right and Left — have expressed their purpose to establish universal military training when the war ends.

The great and glamorous industry is here — the industry of militarism. And when the war is ended the country is going to be asked if it seriously wishes to demobilize an industry that can employ so many men, create so much national income when the nation is faced with the probability of vast unemployment in industry. All the well-known arguments, used so long and so successfully in Europe … will be dusted off — America with her high purposes of world regeneration must have the power to back up her magnificent ideals; America cannot afford to grow soft, and the Army and Navy must be continued on a vast scale to toughen the moral and physical sinews of our youth; America dare not live in a world of gangsters and aggressors without keeping her full power mustered … and above and below and all around these sentiments will be the sinister allurement of the perpetuation of the great industry which can never know a depression because it will have but one customer — the American government to whose pocket there is no bottom.[16]

Flynn unerringly predicted that imperialism would follow in militarism's wake:

Embarked … upon a career of militarism, we shall, like every other country, have to find the means when the war ends of obtaining the consent of the people to the burdens that go along with the blessings it confers upon its favored groups and regions. Powerful resistance to it will always be active, and the effective means of combating this resistance will have to be found. Inevitably, having surrendered to militarism as an economic device, we will do what other countries have done: we will keep alive the fears of our people of the aggressive ambitions of other countries and we will ourselves embark upon imperialistic enterprises of our own.[17]

Flynn noted that interventionism and imperialism had come to be called "internationalism," so that anyone who opposes imperialism "is scornfully called an isolationist." Flynn went on:

Imperialism is an institution under which one nation asserts the right to seize the land or at least to control the government or resources of another people. It is an assertion of stark, bold aggression. It is, of course, international in the sense that the aggressor nation crosses its own borders and enters the boundaries of another nation…. It is international in the sense that war is international…. This is internationalism in a sense, in that all the activities of an aggressor are on the international stage. But it is a malignant internationalism.[18]

Flynn then pointed out that countries such as Great Britain, having engaged in "extensive imperialist aggression" in the past, now try to use the hopes for world peace in order to preserve the status quo.

This status quo is the result of aggression, is a continuing assertion of aggression, an assertion of malignant internationalism. Now they appeal to this other benevolent type of internationalism to establish a world order in which they, all leagued together, will preserve a world which they have divided among themselves…. Benevolent internationalism is taken over by the aggressors as the mask behind which the malignant internationalism will be perpetuated and protected…. I do not see how any thoughtful person watching the movement of affairs in America can doubt that we are moving in the direction of both imperialism and internationalism.[19]

Imperialism, according to Flynn, will ensure the existence of perpetual "enemies":

We have managed to acquire bases all over the world…. There is no part of the world where trouble can break out where we do not have bases of some sort in which, if we wish to use the pretension, we cannot claim that our interests are menaced. Thus menaced there must remain when the war is over a continuing argument in the hands of the imperialists for a vast naval establishment and a huge army ready to attack anywhere or to resist an attack from all the enemies we shall be obliged to have. Because always the most powerful argument for a huge army maintained for economic reasons is that we have enemies. We must have enemies.[20]

A planned economy; militarism; imperialism — for Flynn what all this added up to was something very close to fascism. He warned:

The test of fascism is not one's rage against the Italian and German war lords. The test is — how many of the essential principles of fascism do you accept…. When you can put your finger on the men or the groups that urge for America the debt-supported state, the autarchial corporative state, the state bent on the socialization of investment and the bureaucratic government of industry and society, the establishment of the institution of militarism as the great glamorous public-works project of the nation and the institution of imperialism under which it proposes to regulate and rule the world and, along with this, proposes to alter the forms of government to approach as closely as possible the unrestrained, absolute government — then you will know you have located the authentic fascist.

"The drive of the New Deal toward war once again reshuffled the ideological spectrum and the meaning of Left and Right in American politics."

Fascism will come at the hands of perfectly authentic Americans … who are convinced that the present economic system is washed up … and who wish to commit this country to the rule of the bureaucratic state; interfering in the affairs of the states and cities; taking part in the management of industry and finance and agriculture; assuming the role of great national banker and investor, borrowing billions every year and spending them on all sorts of projects through which such a government can paralyze opposition and command public support; marshaling great armies and navies at crushing costs to support the industry of war and preparation for war which will become our greatest industry; and adding to all this the most romantic adventures in global planning, regeneration, and domination all to be done under the authority of a powerfully centralized government in which the executive will hold in effect all the powers with Congress reduced to the role of a debating society. There is your fascist. And the sooner America realizes this dreadful fact the sooner it will arm itself to make an end of American fascism masquerading under the guise of the champion of democracy.[21]

Finally, Flynn warned that while the Communist Party was an enthusiastic supporter of his new dispensation, it would be a mistake to call the new order "communism"; it will rather be "a very genteel and dainty and pleasant form of fascism which can not be called fascism at all because it will be so virtuous and polite." In his concluding sentence, Flynn eloquently proclaimed

my only purpose is to sound a warning against the dark road upon which we have set our feet as we go marching to the salvation of the world and along which every step we now take leads us farther and farther from the things we want and the things that we cherish.[22]


Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School. See his archive. Comment on the blog.

This article is taken from chapter 5 of The Betrayal of the American Right.

Notes

[1] Elizabeth Dilling, The Roosevelt Red Record and Its Background (Chicago: Elizabeth Dilling, 1936).

[2] For the grisly record of the liberal flip-flop, see James J. Martin, American Liberalism and World Politics , 2 vols. (New York: Devin-Adair, 1964).

[3] Clyde R. Miller, "Harry Elmer Barnes' Experience in Journalism," in Harry Elmer Barnes: Learned Crusader , A. Goddard, ed. (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Ralph Myles, 1968), pp. 702–04.

[4] Martin, American Liberalism and World Politics , pp. 1155–56; Michael Wreszin, Oswald Garrison Villard (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965), pp. 259–63.

[5] Albert Jay Nock, "The Amazing Liberal Mind," American Mercury 44, no. 176 (August 1938): 467–72.

[6] Quoted in Martin, American Liberalism and World Politics, p. 1278.

[7] See Wayne S. Cole, America First (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1953), pp. 107–10.

[8] In fact, Roosevelt's devotion to saving the Jews was minimal, as can be seen from such recent "revisionist" books on the subject as Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died (New York: Random House, 1968).

[9] Quoted in Wayne S. Cole, America First: The Battle Against Intervention, 1940–1941 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1953), p. 144).

[10] Lindbergh's puzzled reaction to criticisms of his speech by more politically minded isolationists was characteristic. Thus:

John Flynn … says he does not question the truth of what I said at Des Moines, but feels it was inadvisable to mention the Jewish problem. It is difficult for me to understand Flynn's attitude. He feels as strongly as I do that the Jews are among the major influences pushing this country toward war…. He is perfectly willing to talk about it among a small group of people in private. But apparently he would rather see us get into the war than mention in public what the Jews are doing, no matter how tolerantly and moderately it is done.

Also his conversation with Herbert Hoover:

Hoover told me he felt my Des Moines speech was a mistake…. I told him I felt my statements had been both moderate and true. He replied that when you had been in politics long enough you learned not to say things just because they are true. (But after all, I am not a politician — and that is one of the reasons why I don't wish to be one.) (Charles A. Lindbergh, The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970], pp. 541, and 546–47)

[11]

An excellent and detailed account of the mass sedition trial can be found in the totally neglected book, Maximilian St. George and Lawrence Dennis, A Trial on Trial (National Civil Rights Committee, 1946). St. George and Dennis were astute enough to see the irony in the fact that "many of the defendants, being fanatical anti-Communists," had openly supported the Smith Act of 1940 under which they were to be indicted. "The moral," St. George and the "fascist" Dennis added,

is one of the major points of this book: laws intended to get one crowd may well be used by them to get the authors and backers of the law. This is just another good argument for civil liberties and freedom of speech. (Ibid., p. 83)

One particularly striking parallel of this mass sedition trial with the Chicago conspiracy trial a generation later was that Justice Eicher, notably hostile to the defense, had Henry H. Klein, a lawyer for one of the defendants who had withdrawn from the case, hauled back to the court and jailed for withdrawing from the case without the judge's permission. Ibid., p. 404.

[12] John T. Flynn, As We Go Marching (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1944), pp. 193–94.

[13] Ibid., p. 198.

[14] Ibid., p. 201.

[15] Ibid., p. 207.

[16] Ibid., p. 212.

[17] Ibid., pp. 212–13.

[18] Ibid., p. 213.

[19] Ibid., p. 214.

[20] Ibid., pp. 225–26.

[21] Ibid., pp. 252–53.

[22] Ibid., pp. 255, 258.