In 1927 The Survey Graphic published an entire issue devoted to the new political movement of state-run capitalism that was gaining in strength from its inception by Benito Mussolini in 1921 and rise to power in Italy that year. This special issue saw the new trends in populism and anti-elitism as a “new challenge to the spirit of 1776.” The world was trying to come to grips with a unique form of dictatorship designed to overturn the chaos in governing after the Great War. Mussolini was not looked upon as a joke but rather a serious challenger to the liberal order. The Survey Graphic was graphic in the literal and figurative senses. It provided a healthy diet of photographs, drawings and charts, but more important were its writers, who wrote both critically and analytically about the shifts in the socio-political landscape.
There were many people here and abroad who strongly believed that Fascism was a means to cure the ills of the antiquated systems of haves and have-nots that ruled the world. There were others who rightly saw that Fascism’s authoritarian antipathy towards liberal democracy would lead directly to dictatorship.
I just finished reading Sinclair Lewis’ 1936 book It Can’t Happen Here, an eerily prescient novel (down to a Steve Bannon character) about the specter of a similar revolution occurring in the United States after the Great Depression. I urge you all to read it. For me, it was partly a portrait of a present that hopefully will not get worse. But it also sheds light on the reasons why an otherwise free citizenry would fall in line with a dictatorial, corrupt regime.
It is illuminating to read how Fascism was received during its early incarnation. Literature such as this and Lewis’ book are cautionary tales that need to be taken seriously.
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