America may be, as Francis Scott Key wrote in 1814, the home of the free and the land of the brave … but Key was also a slaveholding lawyer from an old Maryland plantation family who supported and profited from his human property. In 1931 those fabled words became part of the National Anthem. It was a year when the country was reeling from a devastating depression and Germany was but less than two years away from Fascist dictatorship.
Survey Graphic was an American magazine on social and political issues that began continuous publication in 1933 (it first appeared in 1921 as a visually rich spinoff special of the The Survey, and in 1927 published an issue devoted to the emerging Fascist menace in Europe).
The issue below, dated February 1939, focused on the threat to democracy from the German and Italian assumptions of power that held the continent in a firm grip and threatened to spill over the ocean to America. The issue included stories warning of the America First homegrown fascists who threatened the freedom of immigrants, Black citizens and native-born minorities.
"These are ominous times and, unless the pace of events is deceptive, they are heading to crisis which will break upon mankind within a year or two years," writes special editor Raymond Gram Swing, "and will be more serious than the modern world faced in 1914. … At stake is the future of the free human mind and spirit. This means more than merely law-abiding nonconformity, though that is precious."
Articles included stories on "Majorities Under Tyranny," "Labor Under Fascism," "Plight of a People" (about the years of warfare upon the Jewish people in parts of Europe), "Minorities: Pawns of Power," and "The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism" that was on the increase in America.
The publication was a prelude to and caution of the war against Democracy, which echoes the current wave in the U.S. It included intellectuals who actually opposed democratic culture, such as Thomas Mann, who admitted that "Culture for me meant music, metaphysics, psychology; meant a pessimistic ethic and an individualistic idealism in the cultural. From it I excluded everything political."
I write this post not as nostalgia for old magazines and obsolete ideas, but as a testament to the fact that Democracy is constantly in jeopardy. So if, like me, you want to keep it, look to the past and keep your focus on the future. It doesn't matter whether the wanna-be tyrants are here, there or anywhere. There are always sinister people in the world who seek power despite human cost.